The ’80s were a simpler time. Super Mario and his 8-bit cohorts were good enough for a generation of gamers; MTV exclusively played music videos; the 1980 Oscar for Best Picture went to a film literally called “Ordinary People.” Sure, there was the ever-present threat of nuclear holocaust, but I grew up in a decade that celebrated the natural brow of Brooke Shields. Kids played outside unsupervised and carbohydrates and “free sugars” (O, fructose! My fructose!) made up the sturdy, unpretentious base of the food pyramid.
Thanks to the priorities of the World Health Organization (the USDA didn’t get in on the Food Pyramid action until 1992), I had 24/7 access to every sugary cereal I could ever want. Froot Loops, Cocoa Krispies, Golden Grahams—you name it, and it was in the cupboard. Snap, Crackle, and Pop were my breakfast buddies. Sometimes after a particularly enervating day or week, my mother would throw up her hands and serve us (herself included) a bowl of Frosted Flakes for dinner.
Did this make her a bad parent? Emphatically not. Those meals were a lifeline for both of us. She got a night off from cooking, and I got an outlet to assuage both my sweet tooth and my nascent OCD.
First, I would pour ice-cold milk over the bowl in a spiral pattern, ensuring equal dispersal of wet to dry foodstuffs. Next, I’d gently tap the back of my spoon along the surface to fully submerge any rogue flakes. Then, I would wait a minute. A long, tantalizing minute as the magic happened—but no more than 60 seconds, lest the milk grow warm or the cereal overly soggy. I’ve always liked a saturated flake, its consistency amplified but not overpowered by added liquid volume. Each cloying bite was a victory for my slavish devotion to ratios.
Honestly, what kind of mother would she have been to deprive me of such bliss?
By contrast, very few of my 21st-century parent friends indulge their offspring even once in a while, let alone daily, in such a sweet, sweet ritual. Today we’re living in a sugar-free, gluten-free war zone with modern parents and their unlucky children caught in the crossfire. The newest Food Pyramid issued by the USDA doesn’t even acknowledge sugar as a category, and they’ve added “exercise” as a component. I mean, in the ’80s we didn’t have to be told to go outside and run around; that was all there was to do.
And yet, as much as my child-self fetishized those bowls of Frosted Flakes, my grown-up self prefers a savory morning meal. Omelets with tangy goat cheese filling, toast drenched in salted butter, potatoes dipped in garlicky aïoli, greasy sausage links, and the wondrous umami of perfectly cooked bacon. You’ll rarely catch me ordering a plate of French toast or pancakes. No, the breakfast I go to bed dreaming of the night before is the Cochon de Lait Eggs Benedict at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. It features 12-hour barbecued pork shoulder and Hollandaise for days.
When I think about it that way, maybe my mother was onto something.
Maybe her willingness to let me eat all that sugar-coated cereal in my formative years somehow quenched my thirst for it and, I don’t know, allowed me to open new neural pathways as an adult. (Is that a thing?) All I do know is that, in my thirties, I tend to stay away from sugar when I could have salt, acid, or fat; whereas my husband, denied Cap’n Crunch as a child, can be counted on to do shots of maple syrup whenever the opportunity arises. Consequently, I often compare him to a toddler—especially when he’s bouncing off the fucking walls at 9 a.m. after his customary bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats.
Thanks to my mom and the more relaxed standards for 1980s breakfast staples, I got all my sugar highs out of my system before I turned ten, when it was socially acceptable to run around like a maniac and then nap it off each day.
What if my friends, parenting in the Whole Foods Generation, are actually setting their progeny up for bigger trouble down the line? Imagine one morning in the UCLA dining hall, Baxter from Brooklyn—deprived of gluten and refined sugar for 18 years—finds himself face-to-face with a dry cereal bar and goes cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs (which, for the record, contains two grams fewer of sugar than it did in 2007). They won’t be able to scrape that kid off the rafters with his own lacrosse stick. And what will become of little Penelope from Portland when she trundles off to Oberlin and gets her first taste of the forbidden? Next thing you know, she’ll be crushing up Corn Pops (fun fact: called Sugar Corn Pops from 1978 to 1984) and snorting them like kids in my day snorted Adderall.
I picture rehab facilities of the 2030s filled with hollow-eyed twenty-somethings gnashing their molars to dust on sugar-free gum, accepting thrice-daily paper cones filled with puffed rice. They’ll be huddling in alleys smoking illicit candy cigarettes, sweating out their high-fructose DTs each night as visions of cartoon tigers, leprechauns, and toucans dance in their heads. The best minds of a generation destroyed by late-in-life access to Apple Jacks.
Good luck in there, kids. Just know that whatever happens, Hollandaise will be here for you when you get out.
Sarah Knight is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MCSnugz.