Food » Object of Desire

Monster cereals and the death of Lou Reed

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It's Monday morning and Lou Reed has been dead for less than a day. I poke a spoon into a bowl of Boo Berry cereal, thinking, Well, Lou had a good ride. He burned through two livers, but he lived to 71—remarkable when you consider the amount of chemicals he ingested.

Speaking of chemicals, I notice this bowl of Boo Berry contains Red 40 and Blue 1 and 2. Lou Reed mainlined heroin and shot speed, but I bet he never did Blue 1 and 2.

We '70s kids all did Blue 1 and 2—and Red 40 and Yellow 5 and 6—found in Boo Berry, Count Chocula and Franken Berry, the triumvirate, the trifecta, the hat trick of monster cereals.

For 30-some years, these eye-popping boxes of fake flavors and artificial colors, masquerading as a healthy breakfast, packed grocery shelves year-round. Now General Mills resurrects them only during Halloween, a masterful manipulation of us Gen Xers—people born between 1965 and 1980 who, increasingly aware of our own mortality, are emotionally retreating to first grade.

I had just entered first grade when Count Chocula debuted in 1971 with his roommate and sometimes rival, Franken Berry, whose fingernails glittered with strawberry appliques. Later commercials featured the Count and Frank eating breakfast in bed together—just like Lou and David Bowie.

Count Chocula ranked as my favorite monster cereal because it fulfilled two basic desires: chocolate—I had taken to drinking Hershey's straight from the can—and vampires. Rapt by reruns of Dark Shadows, I harbored a secret crush on Barnabas Collins, a foreshadowing of my preference for dangerous, complicated men—men like Lou Reed.

So, many mornings I devoured a heaping bowl of chocolatey corn meal, its crunchy mouth feel balanced by soft chocolatey marshmallows made addictive by Yellow 5 and 6, Red 40 and Blue 1. All of these "sweeties," as General Mills called them, were loaded with enough dextrose to send my tender heart into defib, transform my tiny hands into fluttering hummingbirds and make my primary molars ache. Suddenly, that 35-minute school bus ride felt like 35 seconds.

Sweet Jane! Whoa-oh-oh! Sweet Jane!

Eventually, dieticians, concerned about the silos of sugar in Count Chocula, forced General Mills to reduce the amount to a measly 16 grams per cup. The company then embarked on a greenwashing campaign, posing a question on the cereal box: "Which has more sugar? Count Chocula or an apple? An apple."

See, Count Chocula, even with its Red 40, Blue 1 and Yellow 5 and 6, is healthier than an apple.

We now know that sugar is as addictive as heroin.

White light, white light goin' messin' up my brain. White light, aww white light it's gonna drive me insane.

My younger brother Matt turned on to Franken Berry—and even slurped the milk from the bottom of the bowl, which portended his propensity for doing mat shots as a drunken law student. Fortunately Matt's palate for artificially flavored "fruit" developed well after the 1972 Franken Berry stool debacle. Much to the horror of mothers, some kids' digestive tracts couldn't break down one of the dyes used in the original strawberry-flavored cereal, thus transforming the color of their poop to pink. General Mills subsequently removed the dye.

Guess what else turns poop pink? Beets.

One hundred grams of beets contain 3 percent of recommended daily allowance of zinc; the same amount of Franken Berry, 75 percent. Franken Berry is healthier than beets!

Boo Berry made the scene in 1973, the same year Lou issued Berlin, a bleak album that explored themes of drug use, prostitution and suicide.

With his heavy, hooded lids, Boo Berry looked like he knew that album by heart. And in TV commercials when Boo Berry dropped by unannounced to the Count and Frank's castle bachelor pad, he was wrapped in chains. Whoa! Boo Berry was into bondage (safe word: Blue 2). The Count always wore pointy boots, just like a character in the Velvet Underground's anthem to sadomasochism, "Venus in Furs."

Kiss the boot of shiny, shiny leather
Shiny leather in the dark ...
...Taste the whip in love not given lightly
Taste the whip now plead for me.

We now know that blueberries contain significant amounts of antioxidants that may help prevent cancer and thwart liver disease. Not Boo Berry: No blueberries were killed in the making of this cereal. There's not a real blueberry in the bowl.

Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy later joined the supergroup (1974 and 1987, respectively) but were primarily side players. (They are to monster cereals what Billy Yule was to the Velvet Underground.) They were discontinued.

I too, quit monster cereals in the mid-'70s, tired of the brittle, metal machine aftertaste, the 11 o'clock crash that inevitably followed the 9 o'clock high. As an adult, I switched to steel-cut oats, a sure sign of encroaching age.

But this morning, the air is crisp and Halloween is a few days away. It seemed like an apt time to break out the Boo Berry.

Linger on, your pale blue eyes.

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