IN ALL the controversy about the amounts of sugar used on breakfast cereals, everyone against them has mentioned the danger to children's teeth. But no one has brought forward the argument against what they have done to the moral fiber of our youth.
When I was a child, all dry breakfast cereals came uncoated. My generation put its own sugar on cornflakes and Wheaties. This required one of the first important decisions each of us had to make. How many teaspoons or tablespoons should one sprinkle over the flakes? Each child in our family handled the problem differently.
My sister Doris used to start with a half-teaspoon and claim that was all she wanted. But as she got halfway through her puffed wheat, she would put on another teaspoon when no one was looking.
When I pointed this out, she would threaten to spill her leftover milk on me. My sister Edith always seemed to use up whatever was in the sugar bowl, and wouldn't leave any for the rest of us. When I told her she had to fill the sugar bowl if she used the last teaspoon she treatened to spill her leftover milk on me. My sister Alice was different. She refuse to pass the sugar unless I said, "Please." In those days no self-respecting brother ever dared say, "Please," to his sister, so I had to reach across the table and grab the bowl, and spill all her leftover milk on her.
It wasn't just a question of how much sugar you wanted on your Post Toasties. The beauty of the nonsugar-coated flake was that it gave you something extra to do at breakfast.
Putting your own sugar on your cereal gave one a sense of responsibility, and when doing it you were always reminded about "The starving people in China."
The head of the house would say as you were doing it, "Don't waste the sugar. Remember the starving people in China."
To this day, every time I eat dry cereal my thoughts go immediately to the starving people of China, and I wonder how they're doing.
It seems to me that something went out of the backbone of American children when the cereal companies decided to "frost" their flakes. They took away the joy of sprinkling. It was the first of many big brother acts that large corporations in this country have been guilty of, and I date the decline and fall of the American spirit to the day the cereal companies began sweetening their own products.
Today's kids are so used to having their own cereal sugar-coated that they cannot conceive of a time when their parents actually had to fight for the sugar bowl.
In my house, every time I have made the point that one had to dig in and scoop out every grain of sugar for himself, I get nothing but yawns.
The kids don't want to hear what it was like to hold your hand over the cereal bowl and have to sprinkle the sugar evenly, not only in the middle, but around the sides as well.
Our children have grown up to believe that for the rest of their lives there will always be somebody else to put sugar on their food. It comes as a terrible shock when they reach puberty and discover that life is not all frosty flakes.
Speaking for myself, I know that if someone had coated my flakes when I was a kid I would have never known the joy of sprinkling, and also the teeth in my mouth most probably would not be my own.