Celebrate National Cereal Day with Marty Gitlin, author of The Great American Cereal Book
Happy National Cereal Day, everyone! We don’t know how you celebrated, but here at Cereal Fix we’re comemmorating this most holiest of holy days on the cereal calendar with an exclusive interview with writer Marty Gitlin, author of The Great American Cereal Book.
You may remember us mentioning the book a few months back. Marty was gracious enough to send us a copy to look over. It’s not only a handsomely-designed reference, but a fun read as well. Between the encycopedic list of nearly every cereal ever sold in America are fun little informative essays and cereal trivia, such as a compilation of fictional cereals and a comprehensive list of Corn Flakes copycats. We can’t recommend the book enough, and are happy Marty was able to spend his National Cereal Day with us (and you!). So pour yourself a bowl and read on.
Cereal Fix: In your book you mention having a desire since childhood to sort-of catalog every cereal on the shelf; what was the spark that got you to finally fulfill that ambition now, dozens of titles into your career?
Marty Gitlin: My passion for cereals was the driving force in my desire to undertake this project. The way I look at it, everything about cereals is fun. Eating cereal is fun. Reading the back of the box while you’re eating cereal is fun. And the cereal spokescharacters are fun (how many morose thoughts can go through your mind while Sonny the Cuckoo Bird is exclaiming “I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs”?). I wanted to create a book that would embrace that notion of fun. I also knew in my heart and mind that a fun, colorful coffee table book about cereals would sell. It had never been done before and cereals are the number-one food item bought in America.
CF: The art direction in the book is phenomenal. How much input did you have in that?
MG: I found our two main photographers, both of whom did a sensational job (as did the Harry Abrams photographer who did some more work). I accompanied Robb Ritzenthaler to the homes of cereal box and memorabilia collectors in Battle Creek, Michigan and Duluth, Minnesota. They took wonderful photos of more than 350 boxes and pieces of memorabilia we have in the book. But great credit also goes to Harry Abrams, the publisher. They designed an unbelievable book that turned those boxes and pieces of memorabilia into fine art.
CF: Notably absent from the book (and in most cases, probably unmissed) are a lot of knock-off and store-brand cereals, which I’m sure could fill a whole book unto themselves. Was this a matter of time and resources, or conscious cereal snobbery? (No judgment&emdash;every Cap’n Crunch knockoff I’ve ever tried tasted like paste!).
MG: We just decided to go with the primary manufacturers and other noteworthy ones. As it is, the book is 368 pages and we have about 800 cereals (including varieties and All in the Family cereals). If we had placed generic brand and store brands in there, we would have had to put them all in there. Those cereals would have lengthened the book too much and would have watered down the cereal selections.
CF: When you were writing the book, how many boxes did you have to personally buy and eat for the first time as part of your research?
MG: None. It was all based on research. And there was plenty of that. I’d already eaten just about every cereal ever made! When I was a kid, I had a rule that I had to eat at least one bowl of every cereal that hit the market. When I saw a commercial for a new cereal, I made my mom go to the store and buy it. One time a cereal called Wackies came out in 1965 when I was eight years old. It was banana flavored (a Lucky Charms clone only banana-flavored). I knew I wasn’t going to like it because I hated banana-flavored everything. I told my mom that she had to buy it, I would eat one bowl, and she would have to throw the rest out. That’s exactly what happened. I disliked it intensely, but I maintained my rule. That’s the kind of thing that made this goofy eight-year-old kid proud!
CF: Of the cereals listed in your book that were gone before your time, or came and went too fast to get your hands on, are there any you wish you could have tried? Any that you’re glad slipped by uneaten?
MG: As a baby boomer, I ate all the cereals that I yearned to eat (see above). It would have been kind of interesting to test all the Corn Flake clones that were produced in the 1910s, but they probably didn’t taste much different than Corn Flakes!
CF: Were there any cereals we should know about that didn’t make it into the book? Maybe something you only learned about afterwards, or something that’s been released since the book initially went to press?
MG: Nope. We got all the ones that we knew about. I’m sure there were a few that slipped through the cracks, but we don’t know what they are.
CF: Are there any cereal avenues yet unexplored? There are dozens of cereals on the shelves right now that imitate other foods: Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Reese’s Puffs, Cinnabon Cereal… where do we go from here?
MG: People ask me what direction cereals are headed and I tell them I have no idea. I don’t think there have been any unexplored avenues. Right now there aren’t a lot of new cereals being made… just varieties of already existing cereals.
CF: Quaker famously decided last year to stop marketing Cap’n Crunch to children. Do you see this as the beginning of the end for the Cap’n, or the start of a new chapter? Do you think other cereals will follow suit?
MG: I have no idea. There is definitely a greater awareness by cereal manufacturers that most parents have become very concerned about sugar content and the overall health of their children. But maybe if kids were outside playing like we were when we were kids instead of just exercizing their fingers with video games, we wouldn’t have an obesity problem. We ate sugary cereals like crazy as kids, but we also played outside until the sun went down! And we didn’t have an obesity problem.
CF: Do people look to you as a cereal guru now, asking where they can buy Rice Krispies Treats Cereal and Boo Berry and things like that? What kinds of questions do you get asked?
MG: Right now the book has only been out for five weeks. I’ve basically been just asked about the book and my inspiration for it.
CF: Why is Boo Berry so much harder to find than the other monster cereals?
MG: No idea.
CF: What are your top 5 cereals of all time?
MG: In order:
- Froot Loops
- Sugar Jets
- Lucky Charms
- Cocoa Krispies
- Puffa Puffa Rice
Thanks to Marty Gitlin and all of you readers out there for spending your National Cereal Day with us here at Cereal Fix! You can buy The Great American Cereal Book on Amazon or a bookstore near you.
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