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Cereal (City) Cravings

Postcard from Michigan

By Margaret M. Rossman

BATTLE CREEK, Mich.—My Harvard roommate e-mailed me the other day to alert me to her new-found knowledge, courtesy of a television commercial sponsored by Kellogg’s Company, that Battle Creek is where “apple is considered a real word.” The source of this “fact” and her amusement was an advertisement for the new Fruit Harvest cereal that threw my little hometown back onto the map.

Battle Creek is the cereal capital of the world, headquarters to both Kellogg’s (once called the “Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Co.”) and Post—a fact I point out soon after meeting new acquaintances.

While being from the Midwest is a characteristic preyed on for many a joke by my Harvard compatriots (usually revolving around my “odd” vocabulary), more often than not the Midwest itself is simply ignored altogether by my college friends. No matter how many times I—like every good Michigander—use the palm of my hand as a rough map, I have a friend who still lumps the various states together as “Wiscons-esota-gan.”

So, of course, to back up this announcement with Battle Creek’s claim to fame is a desperate attempt to make my city appear as more than just another blip on the map. My sense of pride runs deep despite my dedication over the past few years to get as far away from Battle Creek as possible—Cambridge is not exactly our sister city.

Yet leaving made me realize that my corner of the country is more unique than I had thought. Now I delight in telling tales of a city where the smell of cereal cooking often wafts through the air and every June the World’s Longest Breakfast Table is staged downtown treating thousands to a cereal feast. In fact, until I began to inform my new friends of rituals like this one, I had never even noticed that this cereal centricity was bizarre.

I’ve returned home for the summer, to the comfort of everything I know, but the feeling that nothing is really the same. Maybe that’s why I love the Fruit Harvest commercials so much. In these ads, you see vast fields or orchards, where cereal grows from small box sprouts to full sized boxes of cereal.

“The idea was to create a mythical place where farmers earnestly tend to their crops,” said Gary Doyle, executive director for the commercials.

The thought of a magical place where cereal grows on trees, and its correspondingly idyllic moniker of “Battle Creek,” perfectly captured the cereal attitude that I have lived with my whole life.

Of course, the commercials have a rather glaring flaw. As the camera pans the landscape, a mountain appears. We have lots of fields and trees in Michigan, but we most certainly do not have any mountains. The commercials were actually shot in New Zealand in January—I guess winter in Michigan would not yield the appropriate “harvest.” Still, it’s a shame that our own scenery couldn’t be recognized.

I’m always excited when the Battle Creek name rings a tone of recognition, a phenomenon that had been waning since 1991 when Kellogg’s last named the city in a commercial. Nothing is more refreshing nowadays than to announce where I live and have someone follow it with, “That’s where they make the cereal, right?” Obviously, some people have been paying more attention to the side of the box—or where they send their box tops to get the free prize—than I thought.

There are always a few mix-ups. “That’s where General Mills is, isn’t it?” Sadly, Minneapolis stakes this claim, preventing us from holding the cereal Triple Crown and I always feel a tinge of guilt stemming from the almost sacrilegious box of General Mills cereal that is wedged into my cupboard.

It’s easy to feel lost in the Midwest, especially when you don’t live in once of the big cities whose names people would recognize. But I will continue to proclaim that my birthplace is also the birthplace of cereal and with these commercials behind me, maybe I can retire my hand from its position as an atlas.

Margaret M. Rossman ’06, a Crimson editor, is an English concentrator in Mather House. When she’s not gallivanting off to visit friends across the country, she is spending her summer writing for the local newspaper and enjoying the intoxicating smell of Froot Loops baking in the morning.

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