Welcome to #NotAnAd, where we post enthusiastically and without reservation about things we’re obsessed with from the world of food.
Like that of “fake news” or “woke,” the definition of “self-care” has seen considerable shifts in meaning alongside the phrase’s meteoric rise in popularity post-2016-election. At one time, just a few short years ago, it mostly appeared in the context of basic anxiety coping mechanisms, such as taking deep breaths, exercising, or maybe drawing a nice candle-lit bath. Now, at the peak (so far) of late capitalism, it’s a buzzy consumerist hashtag thrown on gift guide listicles and Instagram ads for expensive essential oil blends, herbal “dusts,” $67 candles, $90 silk pillowcases, $150 weighted blankets.
But the core concept still stands. And I’m asking you to unclench your jaw, release all the tension from your shoulders, take off your shoes, and take a leisurely self-care journey with me back to 1994. Turn on your boombox, flip the dial to your favorite FM station, and groove to the soothing sounds of All-4-One’s “I Swear” or the Cranberries’ “Linger.” Remember the bittersweetness of Forrest Gump taking Forrest Jr., who’s named after his daddy, to the very bus stop where he, too, had stood. (I promise this will all be about cereal soon.) On a cultural level, 1994 was a year of gentleness, levity, and earnestness.
(Of course, not all was well in 1994. Unspeakable war crimes were rampant in Bosnia. The murder trial of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman kicked off a media frenzy unlike any other, one that pitted football hero OJ Simpson against the internal racism of the LAPD. Nancy Kerrigan wept after having her knees bashed in by Tonya Harding’s cronies. But doesn’t it all now seem like quite the cakewalk, that pre-9/11 world?)
It was in that year, when I was about to turn eight years old, that I first saw the commercials for Blueberry Morning cereal. At this point in my childhood, I believe my absorption of the messaging in commercials peaked. I was well on my way to becoming an emo (again, listened to a lot of the Cranberries), but was not yet numbed from being pummelled with thousands of ads, both subliminal and overt, every day for many years to come. And this one hit me hard.
The commercial starts with the threat of winter, but it quickly dissipates—quite literally—to reveal scenes of children romping through fields of blueberries, rowing on a lake, and enjoying breakfast with some smiling adults who are ostensibly their loving parents.
“Winter’s just around the corner, but you can still taste a little bit of summer. The golden sunshine, the sweet summery blueberries. It’s there in new Blueberry Morning cereal, a cereal with real, whole blueberries ripened by the summer sun,” the breathy, ASMR-friendly narrator murmurs in a tone teetering between maternal and erotic, like a recording from a 1-900 number for breakfast fantasies.
At the time of Blueberry Morning’s release, there were plenty of cereals on the market, and I was most attracted to the flashy, sugar-drenched ones. (Rice Krispies Treats cereal, which was unapologetically just candy, was a favorite.) But I had never seen a cereal with dried fruit in it, let alone the *serif font* Real, Wild Blueberries */end serif font* boasted about on these boxes, and shown repeatedly in endless, juicy, bouncy cascades in its commercials. I became mystified.
When I finally spotted it at the grocery store, I snatched a box off the shelf and stuffed it into the cart my mother was pushing.
“What… what is this?” she asked, clearly failing to understand that this wasn’t just a box of bland grain flakes sprinkled with old, wrinkly blueberries. This, I struggled to explain, was Blueberry Morning. The name alone was like poetry to me, evoking a memory, a future, an indulgent occasion, a sensual ritual, the closest equivalent to an afternoon delight that an eight-year-old girl could understand. I needed a taste of summer. Anyway, she eventually shrugged—do you, kiddo—and bought it.
Eating Blueberry Morning is a highly sensory experience. As you pour the cereal into the bowl, you’ll see the crispy flakes you’d expect (in its current incarnation, they kind of just look like Special K), but also almond slivers, oat clusters, and if you look closely, the tiny, chewy, dried blueberries you were promised. Do they look like “real, whole blueberries ripened by the summer sun”? I mean, not now, but you can kind of tell they once were. They make tiny ping, ping, ping, ping, pings as they hit the bowl.
When you add milk, they emit a hint of purple color into the sea of white, and the various elements of the cereal sink or float at different levels, making each bite unique. Some people may detest this, but I like to let the milk soak for a bit so that it almost turns into a porridge, and the blueberries become slightly reconstituted and a little more flavorful, and I can pretend that the field that they came from is just beyond the ridge.
I know what you’re thinking: “You’re asking for me to use a lot of imagination in order to enjoy this cereal.” And you know what? I am. But people are asked to do the same to enjoy the healing powers of crystals, or the restorative effects of a moisturizing face mask, or the impossibly complicated plot of Game of Thrones. If you meet Blueberry Morning halfway, it, too, gives back. Blueberry Morning is a form of self-care in the most conventional sense.
It’s not flashy like avocado toast, nor is it low-calorie or Whole 30-appropriate; make no mistake that this is supermarket food. It’s made by Post, which is also responsible for Fruity Pebbles and Oreo O’s and, no joke, a Hostess Powdered Donettes cereal. But it’s wholesome enough to keep away the scaries about eating it even as an adult—at least there’s nuts and berries and flakes instead of tiny pastries. It’s something more than a cereal and less than a granola or a trail mix. And for its psychological benefits and comforting synthesis of textures and flavor, I find it to be the only cereal worth the carb content.
The cereal itself has changed formulas at least once throughout the years, to the dismay of some serious Blueberry Morning enthusiasts. While it continues to possess a cult-like following, fans are divided between those unfettered by the recipe change and those who think it completely ravaged the flavor and quality.
“This cereal saved me so long ago and it's still the best I've had. In my saddest hour, this cereal made me see sweet things can be found again. Still the one!” writes a user called J.L.S. on the database mrbreakfast.com. “I would give up cereal completely if they ever stop making it,” writes muffin2012. “It is the only cereal that I have ever liked…” adds Bummer27. “The best cereal I've ever tasted,” writes user elad.
Meanwhile, purists mourn the formula change in varying stages of grief.
“The original version of Blueberry Morning was like Heaven [sic] in a bowl… there is nothing that could have replaced it… Now, the revised version hurt my soul… words can't explain. Oh ‘it's just cereal’… clearly i'm not the only one that feels this way,” writes one emotional and aggrieved Amazon user on its product page.
“POST have killed (in the wrong way), this marvellous and epic cereal doing this. There are fewer almonds that before, and less blueberries… What a shame… the oldy POST Blueberry Morning will remain in my memories as the best cereal of all times," says another scorned devotee.
But my love never wavered.
In those commercials that I obsessed over, the cereal’s slogan was “a little taste of summer,” or sometimes, “a little taste of summer right when you need it most.” As generic as that might sound, this saying, repeated over images of warmth and comfort, still elicits a Pavlovian response in me more than two decades later that I would now liken to the effects of about a quarter milligram of Xanax. The edge: gone. The mood: lifted.
“Ah, blueberries. A taste of summer. Wouldn’t that feel good right now?” one Blueberry Morning commercial from 1995 asks.
As I decide to make breakfast—and try to find mental solace amid tweets about Trump, or breaking news about school shootings, or gripping evidence of Earth’s demise, or whatever else Bird Box’s you—I think, yes, yes it would.
Maybe winter is always just around the corner. May every morning be a Blueberry Morning, anyway.
Follow Hilary Pollack on Twitter.