A new book by a Missouri S&T researcher delves into the history of breakfast cereals and the role they have played in society and culture. Breakfast Cereal: A Global History by Dr. Kathryn Cornell Dolan examines the entirety of cereal, from the beginning of agricultural history in the Fertile Crescent to modern sugary snacks.
Dolan’s new book, recently published by The University of Chicago Press, opens approximately 10,000 years ago with the agricultural revolution when people stopped living in a daily hunter-gatherer mindset and began farming.
“There was no such thing as cereal until grain storage such as clay pottery developed,” says Dolan, an associate professor of English and technical communication at Missouri S&T. “The creation of cereal was relatively recent in the geological timeline – wheat, rice and corn porridges all led to what we recognize today as corn flakes, oatmeal and froot loops.”
Besides history, Dolan’s book covers etymology such as the slang term “granola” for hippies, literary references to cereal, advertising campaigns and even 1940s-era recipe booklets from major food brands.
“Old recipe books provide a great insight into what the cultural and societal needs were like in the 1890s and early 1900s, during the early stages of the Kellogg’s-Post battles over cold cereals,” says Dolan. “And these booklets also show us a deep interest in advertising to have consumers use these products in all sorts of ways, such as toppings on casseroles or rice crispies treats.”
Dolan says that cereal sales had seen a bit of a decline in until very recently. She theorizes that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a resurgence in breakfast cereal popularity since time and speed were less of a factor for many who would otherwise opt for more mobile or easy to grab breakfast choices.
“COVID made breakfast cereal cool again,” she says. “Grape-nuts were as scarce at times as toilet paper during the pandemic. People saw cereal as a comfort food and a lot of factories were facing shortages, leading to a resurgence in popularity in Western cultures – though the multinational cereal companies are still having a hard time selling cold ready-to-eat cereals to new markets such as Asian/Pacific areas, with traditionally hot, savory breakfasts.”
Dolan earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of California-Santa Barbara in 2010. Her research interests include U.S. literature, food studies, global studies and environmental criticism. Dolan’s first book, Beyond the Fruited Plain: Food and Agriculture in U.S. Literature, 1850–1905, was published in 2014. Her second book, Cattle Country: Livestock in the Cultural Imagination, was published in 2021.
About Missouri University of Science and Technology
Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System and located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri S&T offers 101 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top 10 universities for return on investment, according to Business Insider. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu.