Mon 7 Dec 2009
When my awesome American family came to visit us in Australia, one thing they all agreeed on was how great they thought the food in Australia was. The last time we were in the States, Kim and I also noticed that American bookstores tend to stock quite a few Aussie cooking magazines and recipe books. And in general, I think the quality of food at restaurants Down Under is at a pretty high standard compared to the USA. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss certain American foods.
We brought back quite a few kilos of American food back to Australia, but it’s not the kind of stuff that most gourmets would drool over. We could only bring back the kinds of processed, boxed-up, grocery store food that would withstand a 24-hour transcontinental trip, but fortunately this included one box Life cereal, a food I have loved since childhood.
In America there are whole supermarket aisles dedicated to the cult of the breakfast cereal. As a kid I could rattle off the names of dozens of different sugary cereals and the cartoon mascot associated with each one, even though most of them remained were banned from our household for exceeding my mom’s limit of six grams of sugar per serving. Although we were limited to more subdued fare like Kix, Rice Crispies and Crispix, choosing which breakfast cereal I would enjoy with milk, toast and a glass of OJ was always a cherished part of my morning routine.
Australia has breakfast cereals to be sure, but Aussie youth are not well-acquainted with the likes of Cap’n Crunch, Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam. Australian super markets have about as many kinds of cereal as American supermarkets have kinds of salsa. Which is to say they have 12, rather than 120. And crucially, they do not have Life cereal.
Life is not an especially interesting breakfast cereal. It’s just flat little brown squares of processed flour and sugar. When I was a kid, Life was promoted as being a cereal which stayed crunchy in milk for a long time, but I did not find this to be true. It starts out crunchy, but does not stay that way. The best thing you can say about Life is that, though boring, it is not tasteless. The taste is pleasant, but not particularly memorable.
Crucially, Life doesn’t even have any mascot to speak of. It probably owes most of its market share an almost inexplicably popular commercial which ran from the early 70s clear through to the mid-80s.
I personally don’t think that commercial is as good as this, earlier one, which at least makes an attempt at introducing cartoon mascots for Life. Unfortunately, they are probably the lamest cartoon mascots ever:
Both of those commercials were off the air before I was introduced to Life as a child, but it still managed to become my favorite cereal. I’ve liked this cereal for so long that I couldn’t really tell you why it’s always been my favorite. But I’d hazard a guess that its sugar content, which nearly exceeds Mom’s strict six gram limit, played a large part in gaining my favor in my formative years.
Because I ate it so much as a child, Life has attained a place in my reptilian brain as a kind of ur-cereal, the original, truest standard by which all others are to be judged. Its very lack of remarkable characteristics is what makes it so appealing. To me, Life is THE cereal.
It’s a comfort food in every sense of the word. I would not recommend it to anyone who does not already love it. But I love it, and I guess I always will.
And as far as I know, I have the only box of it in all of Australia.