Since I was about 5 years old, I have been eating Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios most days of my life.
The ritual is always the same: I mix the two because Honey Nut alone is too sweet for me. Usually I down a small bowl or two right after dinner or as a bedtime snack. I have a glass of cold milk on the side. Yes, I know I’m weird.
During my childhood Cheerios felt like a currency of parental affection. When my mother cuddled up with me on the couch to watch the Spiderman animated series (the 90s one), her love was sweeter when we shared a bowl of my cherished cereal.
As I grew into adulthood the “lower your cholesterol” value of Cheerios became more appealing. Because they weren’t Cocoa Puffs or something like that, I figured Cheerios were a relatively healthy cereal. They didn’t seem to be contributing to the tire around my belly that had bloated from bicycle to car-size.
My emotional attachment to the brand defied all logic. I wasn’t ready to deal with the harsh reality that Cheerios had let me down, that it might no longer deserve my loyalty.
Recently one of my co-workers informed me that Cheerios had used a controversial pesticide that was EPA-approved but linked to cancer, according to a report from the Environmental Working Group [EWG].
I didn’t want to hear it. With a tone that wavered between comical and serious, I asked him to stop talking about the issue so I could continue my state of blissful ignorance. Even as I’m writing this, part of me is hoping I will forget about the problem.
On the way home from work I considered switching Cereals. After all, I had done it before. My wife and I occasionally shop at Trader Joe’s. When we do, I often pick up their imitation brand of Cheerios. It costs less and tastes about the same.
Then my mind started rapidly rationalizing my desire to cling to consistency. Shopping at Trader Joe’s is time-consuming because of the long lines and distance from my apartment. I haven’t developed cancer yet, so I’m most likely not going to.
The thought of dumping one of my favorite brands triggered a feeling that was vaguely similar to withdrawal, and this is coming from someone who has experienced actual withdrawal.
That night I scarfed down my usual bowl. I didn’t even think about the news story again until the next day.
Big brands must love people like me.
Big brands must love people like me. Lately I have imagined a Cheerios marketing executive talking about my demographic during a presentation.
He or she might say something like this:
“As you can see, despite the recent negative PR around the pesticide issue, our numbers for the Joseph persona remain strong. I recommend we increase our spend on targeting stubborn, routine and ritual-obsessed millennial men who have an emotional attachment to the brand. Some of them are at the age where they’re about to get married and have families. If they buy for the family, they’ll become even more valuable.”
Big brands and their monopolies have created a consumer landscape where risking our health is the convenient choice. I can pick up Cheerios at the deli on the corner near my home, but it takes about two hours to purchase a healthier and cheaper version from Trader Joe’s.
It’s not only Cheerios, though. Since working at Public Goods, I have become more educated on products, which is sometimes more horrifying than enlightening. My Head & Shoulders shampoo is full of unhealthy ingredients such as sulfates. Kleenex is clearing forests to make their tissues, despite the option of sustainable alternatives. The Kraft parmesan cheese I used to sprinkle on my pasta is crammed full of wood pulp.
If you have similar problems or concerns, I want you to join me in an ongoing challenge: conduct some research on all the brands you are loyal to. If you find anything troubling, try adopting an alternative. You might improve your health, save money and discover something that brings you more pleasure and peace of mind.
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