On Monday, podcast host and comedian Jensen Karp tweeted a photo of what he referred to as “shrimp tails” found in a sealed package of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. “Why are there shrimp tails in my cereal? (This is not a bit)“ he asked. Karp took this bit of misfortune and ran with it, accusing Cinnamon Toast Crunch of “gaslighting” him and also claiming that his wife found dental floss in a “taped-up” bag of the same family pack where the shrimp tails came from.
I sympathize with Karp because it is jarring to find something you weren’t expecting in a packaged food, but the real issue here is not with the shrimp tails. It’s the cereal. Cereal is disgusting. Fuck cereal!
Cinnamon Toast Crunch and I are sworn enemies, and have been since roughly 1987, when I ate some for breakfast and then promptly threw it up on the green rug during storytime in kindergarten, in front of the entire class. I recall feeling ill on the way to school and spending a fair amount of time in the restroom once I arrived at school, thinking, stupidly, that my stomach troubles would be resolved if I could simply execute a solid and satisfying number two. Though the more concrete details of this memory are lost to the sands of time, I recall with clarity the feeling of shame, coupled with sweet relief, as I stood at the edge of the green rug, which was now carpeted with my cinnamony vomit.
A mean girl named Pamela, whose cubby was next to mine, made fun of me for throwing up in front of everyone. I cried as I gathered my things, embarrassed that I had exhibited weakness in front of my peers. I cried in the car when my dad came to pick me up and took me to his work. I cried as I fell asleep on the floor of his classroom, covered in his jacket, silenced by the pleasant drone of his voice lecturing about the Yangtze River, and maybe, Elvis. When I woke up, it was time to go home, and I had changed: I was newly galvanized against a scourge that plagues me everywhere I go. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Cereal absolutely sucks.
My reason for hating cereal is not only because of my uneasy history with it but because of the transformation it undergoes when in contact with its natural companion, milk. Cow milk blows, alternative milks are fine, but pouring liquid onto crunchy to make soggy doesn’t make sense. Why change the texture of a sharp, crunchy little hand snack to be that of spit-up? Connoisseurs inform me that the extra milk leftover at the end of a cereal binge can be enjoyed as is, tepid, sweet, and maybe, if you’re lucky(?), flecked with solids from the cereal you just consumed. To me, this sounds EXACTLY like the substance I produced from my small body over 30 years ago in kindergarten. I have never understood why anyone would willingly do this to themselves with gusto, with joy, or with pleasure.
I make two notable exceptions in this realm, which has made my life difficult when it comes to “breakfast.” Grape Nuts are less a cereal and more an edible gravel, and are best enjoyed with maybe a tablespoon of milk, tops, nuked in the microwave for a minute, topped with sliced strawberries if you are my mother, or enjoyed as is if you are my white grandma (may she rest in peace.) Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs are a perfect snack item—small corn balls that taste like a peanut butter cup but dustier, perfect for eating out of the box or a Ziploc bag, for the woman on the go. I will eat both these options if put in front of me, as long as they are prepared to my exacting standards.
It’s not pleasant to be this difficult, and I take little pride in my recalcitrance, but there are better options to be had for breakfast and beyond: Yogurt and granola; a large coffee and one to three cigarettes; two big bites of the shallot pasta popularized by Alison Roman; tail-on shrimp. Anything other than cereal. It’s disgusting. It’s not for me.