Chamorro Cereal Killer

Craig Santos Perez
June 22, 2013
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I wouldn’t be a writer today if it weren’t for Cheerios. My mom used America’s favorite cereal to teach me the “pincer grasp,” a motor skill I would later use to pick up a pencil and, eventually, compose my first poem.

During my far-flung island childhood, my mom poured me Cheerios and milk everyday for breakfast. My mom would even pack a ziploc baggie of Cheerios for me to take to school as a snack, which never lasted very long (hence my nickname, “cereal killer”).

When I learned how to read, the sunny yellow box of Cheerios became my favorite literary genre: “cerealiture.”

“Cereal” refers to both edible grains (such as wheat, oats, or corn), and the grass from which those grains are born. They say the word itself comes from “Ceres,” the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain, fertility, and motherhood.

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General Mills introduced “Cheerioats” in 1941; four years later, the cereal was renamed “Cheerios.” This new kind of “ready-to-eat” cold cereal offered a breakfast option that was much more convenient than cooking warm porridge or grits. In fact, one of the slogans for “Cheerioats was “No Cooking!”

In one of my favorite ads, cereal mascot “Cheeri O’Leary” meets Uncle Sam and assures him that she will help feed the nation (and, in my case, its hungry territories). The ad reads: “Start Your Day Right…with a Breakfast Food that Meets All of Uncle Sam’s Requirements!”

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In addition to being puffed with nationalism, Cheerios were also enriched by militarism. During World War II, special one-ounce packages of Cheerios, known as “Yank Packs,” were given to soldiers. Hitler didn’t stand a chance against General Mills. #gastromilitarism.

Despite my exaltation of Cheerios, the most famous cereal in Pacific literature is actually Corn Flakes. Samoan writer Sia Figiel’s acclaimed novel, Where We Once Belonged (1999), narrates the coming of age story of three young Samoan girls: Lili, Moa, and Alofa. Lili is a housekeeper for Mr Brown, a palagi (white) economist who works for the Bank of Western Samoa. One day, when Mr Brown is away from the house, the girls look for some food to eat in his kitchen. When they open a cupboard, they find a box of cereal on the top shelf.

Alofa remarks: “I had never seen cornflakes in real life. I’d always seen them on TV. A woman pouring milk into a bowl of cornflakes. A man smiling at the woman. The woman smiling at a boy. The boy smiling at a girl. The girl smiling at a big dog. Happy music everywhere. Cornflakes made palagi people happy. I wanted to see what it could do to Moa and me.” (10-11).

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Ready-to-eat cereals are technological marvels in and of themselves, but Figiel also connects this marvel to the introduction of television, marketing, and global food trade in the islands. As a result, these Western foods are fortified with a sense of prestige and modernity.

Personally, I’m not a Cornflakes fan.

Last year, General Mills created a Cheerios Facebook page for consumers to share our childhood memories of Cheerios: “What does Cheerios mean to you?” Comments would appear in the famous Cheerios typeface. I was very excited because not only am I a Cheerios addict, but nowadays my favorite thing to read while eating my bowl of Cheerios is Facebook. I planned on writing “Chamorros Love Cheerios”: each “o” in “Chamorro,” would appear in the shape of Cheerios!

My plan was unpoured when I went to the page and saw that anti-GMO activists had used this commemorative occasion to criticize General Mills for contributing more than a million dollars to defeat Proposition 37 (the GMO labeling bill in California). Even more devastatingly: Cheerios likely contains GMO ingredients! #occupycheerios.

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I have not eaten a bowl of Cheerios since then. Yes, it was hard at first, but I’ve found alternatives (non-GMO ready-to-eat cereals, green smoothies, oatmeal). Over time, Cheerios faded from my consciousness—until a few weeks ago.

An adorable young multi-racial girl asks her White-American mom if Cheerios is good for the heart. Her happy mom smiles and assures her it is “heart-healthy.” The young girl smiles and runs over to her African-American dad, who’s sleeping on the couch, and pours the box of Cheerios on top of his heart. Too cute, right?

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Wrong. This commercial led to many racist comments. Which then led to an outpouring of support for the commercial and for Cheerios. I nearly ran out and bought a post-racial box of Cheerios myself.

I stopped myself because I also realized that more and more commercials from food companies that do not support GMO labeling (because their products contain GMO ingredients) are featuring mixed race families. Why is that? One of the main pro-GMO arguments is that GMO foods are just like naturally “hybrid” foods. In fact, their hybridity makes them special—even modern. Which is to say, GMO foods are just like cute, “hybrid” offspring.

Cheerios are not so cheeri o’leary anymore. American cereals, in general, no longer represent the happy image of the happy modern family; instead they represent the industrialized food system, GMO food chain hegemony, gastromilitarism, and the coloniality of cereal. American breakfast is the new American nightmare.

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You do look, dear reader, in a moved sort, as if you were unpoured. Be heart healthy, friend. Our blog is now ended. These words, as I forewrote, are all spirits and melted into clouds, internet air. We are such stuff as cereals are made of, and our heart shaped bowl is rounded with an “o”.

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