For last month's Inviting Writing series, we asked you to recall the most memorable meal of your life. For this go 'round, dig into your memory banks once again for traces of lost foods—products that are no longer on the market, perhaps, or foods that you once loved but can't seem to enjoy anymore. Or foods that were once-in-a-lifetime taste opportunities.
If you're feeling creative and want to describe an experience that somehow fits this theme, please send your true, original personal essays to FoodandThink@gmail.com with “Inviting Writing: Lost Foods” in the subject line by Friday, April 29. We’ll read them all and post our favorites on subsequent Mondays. Remember to include your full name and a biographical detail or two (your city and/or profession; a link to your own blog if you’d like that included). I'll take a first crack with the following memory of a childhood food product that (thankfully) is no longer on the market.
Holy Batman Breakfast Cereal By Jesse Rhodes
Aside from cartoons, much of the fun of the Saturday morning entertainment of my childhood came from television spots for toys, upcoming movies and, yes, food. I hope that whoever wrote the catchy jingles to sell those goods was handsomely compensated, because twenty years later, the ditties for Ring Pops and Tootsie Rolls are still fresh in my head. And then there were the spots for breakfast cereal—notably one for a cereal spinoff of Tim Burton's Batman.
The television commercial was, in my humble opinion at the time, pretty spectacular. It was perfectly clear that this wasn’t just any cereal—it was a cereal that promised bowlfuls of corn-puffed adventure. And the corn puffs were bright yellow bats! The mere shape of the stuff transcended the alphabet letters and spheres that held the prefab morning food market in its mundane grip. Of course I was going to beg my mother for this stuff.
But my mother, before she was my mother, was a similarly minded child who knew all the tricks to get Trix and Froot Loops and Lucky Charms out of her mother. My mother was very well aware of the sugary nutritional wasteland that was being attractively packaged and hawked to wide-eyed children watching Saturday morning television. So by and large, she kept only things like Rice Krispies and Cheerios in stock. But eventually—and I wish I could remember if I used a more clever ploy than the whine/beg one-two punch, though that's doubtful—she picked up a box on the condition that I had to eat it.
And oh, the box. The packaging itself was so adult. Sleek black, gold accents—none of those tired, overdone Technicolor tones on those children's cereals. Surely playboy/crime-fighter Bruce Wayne would have approved. The excitement was too much as my first bowl of Batman was poured and set before me.
The cereal was too sweet, even for my five-year-old tongue. The concept was—and still is—absolutely inconceivable. It was like sugar-fortified Karo syrup puffs baked into unnaturally yellow hulls that collapsed into a lumpy, mealy mess once it hit your mouth. And the milk took on the flavor of the corn puff bats, so there was no escaping. While stomaching that first bowl, I had to consider the unfortunate truth that I was technically obligated to finish the whole box, and pondering the proportion of a child's size cereal bowl to the size of a cereal box made this prospect all the more disconcerting.
Of course I was going to beg my mother to not make me eat it. But working my way out of a verbal agreement required tact and subtlety—and making funny, contorted faces is about as subtle as a preschooler gets. To my credit, I put a small dent in the cereal supply—maybe a quarter, certainly no more than half the box was consumed—before it got tossed. I don't know if the garbage man made a slip or if there was a tear in the plastic trash bag, but a bunch of the bats spilled out into the street, serving as as some tragicomic reminder of my deflated hopes and expectations. It was weeks before they were all crushed by passing cars and washed away. And, like all movie tie-in merchandising, the cereal in turn disappeared from store shelves.