This is the story of a love affair, my love affair, a passion that I admit embarrasses me.
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What was so special? Why did I get so attached?
It was the firmness, the sweetness, the hint of spice. But, like every romance, it wasn’t perfect. The first serving, before I got to the honey oat clusters, was always a little chalky, and the end of the box had too many broken flakes. But the mid-section — about 7 servings’ worth — was firm, sweet heaven.
I enjoyed six years of bliss, eliminating other breakfast foods, becoming a one-cereal gal. I had an even better relationship with Smart Start than with my husband, because it snapped and crackled but never talked back.
This all began with one box of Toasted Oat flavor that got into my house I don’t know how. I liked the taste but planned to cut myself off when the box was empty. Then one day I found myself tiptoeing down the cereal aisle at Nugget, checking for possible column readers. When I was sure I was alone, I slipped a new box into my cart.
You may wonder why I cared about column readers.
One month earlier I had written a scathing column about what I viewed as the Kellogg Co.’s revolting manipulation of our emotions to sell cereal.
Kellogg’s owns the Smart Start brand. In a TV ad, they used a grief-stricken middle-aged woman (possibly an actress) to imply that Smart Start was part of the “balanced diet” that might have kept her sister alive.
Smart Start claimed that part of their mission was to prevent heart disease in women, but it all seemed money-grubbing and hypocritical to me. I wrote the column in a self-righteous rage.
After publishing that column, I should never have allowed a crumb of Smart Start cereal to cross my lips. Instead, I began to eat it because I loved the flavor.
I bought more boxes and nobody caught me. Soon I had abandoned other breakfast foods and was eating Maple Flavor or Toasted Oat every morning. I even had my own special way of mixing it with Ezekiel 4:9 cereal to reduce the calories and add whole grain. I did this for six years.
I could have kept this quiet forever, except for what happened next.
In 2011 Kellogg’s began readjusting their offerings. Maple flavor became harder to find and Toasted Oat started jockeying for shelf space with Smart Start AntiOxidants, a self-serving hussy of a cereal with lots of gobbledygook about health benefits and a lousy, sticky consistency.
Then Maple disappeared entirely and Oat became elusive. I looked all over and found it at Rite Aid. When my local Rite Aid emptied (they had plenty of AntiOxidant), I drove to more distant Ride Aid until I couldn’t find it there, either.
However, when visiting my daughter in Madison, Wis., I ran across it at the local supermarket, unfortunately 2,000 miles from home.
My family joked about my visiting every two months with a large suitcase. My daughter asked which was more important, my grandchildren or my cereal.
The large luggage was cumbersome, so I was thrilled when I discovered that Amazon.com not only carried Toasted Oat but would regularly send me a carton with six individual boxes inside.
But last week, they send me an e-mail.
“We’re writing to let you know that we are no longer able to offer Kellogg’s Smart Start Cereal, Toasted Oat, 15.2-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 6) as part of the Subscribe and Save program at Amazon.com. We have canceled your subscription and no new orders associated with this subscription will be created. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
“Inconvenience” my foot.
I rushed to my computer and checked Kellogg’s “discontinued products” list. Toasted Oat wasn’t on it. So I scoured the Internet looking for other distributors. In the end, the only place I found that claimed to still have the cereal was the supermarket in Madison, Wis.
I’m in Madison right now and yesterday we shopped. I planned to buy every box of Toasted Oat. I knew I was postponing the inevitable, but don’t we all do that when we feel we’re losing something, but haven’t lost it yet? As we began down Aisle 6, I got nervous.
My 2-year-old grandson stated the terrible truth. “Grandma’s cereal isn’t here.”
The shelves overflowed with AntiOxidant. Toasted Oat was gone.
“Should we ask a manager?” my daughter said, looking sympathetic.
“No,” I sighed. “It’s too late.”
“Write a letter to Kellogg’s,” my daughter suggested. Normally, I’d agree: when you lose something you love through no fault of your own, it’s wise to write a letter.
But I shook my head. This was different. I’d been financially supporting a product whose advertising I condemned in print. I had been hypocritical; I deserved this fate.
Nevertheless, if you see a lost soul wandering the cereal aisle, please say “hello.” I need sympathy. I need help.
Marion Franck is a columnist for the Davis Enterprise. She is a part-time resident of El Dorado County.