Friday, July 28, 2006

Breakfast Cereal 101

This morning, while I was pouring myself a bowl of multi-grain Cheerios, I made a tragic mistake; in a brief absent-minded moment I miscalculated the ‘float-factor’! What is the float-factor you ask? The float-factor refers to the phenomenon where, as you pour milk into a bowl of cereal, the cereal rises, concealing the milk, and consequently making it difficult to accurately determine whether one has achieved the correct milk-to-cereal ratio. The upshot is that one may unwittingly find oneself in violation of Article 114 of the International Cornflakes Convention (ICC), the prohibition against eating cereal with a disproportionate amount of milk.

Many of my readers may be unfamiliar with the ICC (or what has come to be called the ‘Cereal Code’), so let me briefly spell out the essentials. Most breakfast cereals fall into two classes. First, there are the flake-type cereals, which manifest low milk-displacement relative to their mass. As a result, flake-type cereals have comparatively low float-factors. Second, there are the puff-type cereals which have lower density and therefore displace a much greater amount of milk relative to their mass. Consequently, puff-type cereals have very high float-factors. Cheerios, which falls into the second class, exhibits a mind-blowing level 5 float-factor, thanks in no small part to their buoyant life-preserver shape. This makes Cheerios a particularly dangerous brand of cereal for those seeking milk-cereal equilibrium.

Despite what one might think given this morning’s poor performance, I’m no tyro when it comes to creating a well-balanced breakfast bowl. However, it had been a while since I worked with a variety from the puff group. Combine my lack of practice with the fact that I was slightly distracted by the Power Rangers episode that was showing on the telly, and you’ve got a recipe for morningtide disaster! Needless to say, I was completely flummoxed when, thinking all was well, I pressed my spoon against the top of my General Mills medley only to witness the milk swirl up and swallow the entire oat, barley and wheat pasticcio. It was truly a sad moment, one that would have made John Harvey Kellogg weep … if he wasn’t so busy being dead and all that.

Those who don’t know better would attempt to remedy such a situation by simply adding more cereal. But as every seasoned cerealneer knows, once one has missed the initial window of opportunity, one can never again attain the delicate balance needed for genuine milk-cereal homeostasis. One inevitably finds oneself stuck in an endless cycle of adding more milk then more cereal then more milk (and so on) until in exasperation one is forced the throw in the spoon. Of course one could avoid all of this by pouring the milk first and then adding the cereal, a practice that many self-professed flake-o-philes engage in. However, this practice goes against every fundamental principle of proper breakfast cereal protocol and is certainly not something that any self-respecting connoisseur of the antemeridian arts would adopt.

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