I was watching the BBC2 series on food last night that goes into how big business captured the food industry – last week it was the bottled water industry, next week the pointless pro-biotic yoghurt industry. Last night, it was the turn of the breakfast cereal industry.

A thought struck me as I was watching it.

Before the rise of the breakfast cereal, most of us would have had a “hearty breakfast”, almost certainly of meat, eggs and fish if we could afford it, or of the previous supper’s left overs if we couldn’t.

Then in 1906, the corn flake was invented by someone who could be politely described as a religious quack doctor, but commercialised by his more worldly wise brother. Over the next hundred years, society switched to an ever widening range of corn and wheat based cereals for our breakfast.

What was for many people the largest meal of the day not only shrunk in importance in favour of supper/dinner, but another significant change occurred. A meat rich breakfast was supplanted by a diet dominated by vegetarian options.

Without even thinking about it, we all became vegetarians. At least for one meal of the day.

It makes me wonder, if there is a lesson here.

Breakfast cereals are the triumph of marketing over substance. Some talk about healthy eating, but mainly the products targeted convenience and memorable slogans. Never once did they mention the V word.

Is there a lesson there, to convert the rest of our meals over to the V option by stealth by avoiding all mention of it and simply sell a packaged product that is convenient?

Yes, it means more commercialisation of food, and more food driven by marketing instead of substance, which I know will be an anathema to many of the more activist sorts within the vegetarian lobby. What is more important though, curbing the consumption of meat, or fighting a somewhat lefty battle against capitalist corporations?

You might not like it, but there is no denying that the big breakfast corporations have done more to cut the consumption of meat than all the vegetarian activism combined could have ever achieved.

It was just a thought – and I am sure people will rip it to pieces below.

Incidentally, the classic fried breakfast of bacon and eggs has only been around since the 1920s, and is itself a product of marketing, and American marketing at that.

To promote sales of bacon, early marketing pioneer, Edward Bernays conducted a survey of doctors and reported their recommendations that people eat hearty breakfasts. He sent the results of the survey to 5,000 doctors, along with publicity touting bacon and eggs as a hearty breakfast.

The traditional fry up was born – as a result of an advertising campaign.


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  1. David Waldock says:

    I’d love to know what the correlation(/causation) of the change in diet is to obesity in society 😉

  2. Terence Eden says:

    I wonder what effect the 5-a-day campaign is having.
    I’ve been veggie for over 10 years – and I still enjoy the occasional fry up 🙂

  3. Forest Pines says:

    So if breakfast cereal is only about 100 years old, and the fry-up only 90 years old, what did the Victorians eat? I’m betting that those that could had a fishy breakfast – kippers or kedgeree.

    • IanVisits says:

      cold meats, left over supper, fish, porridge if you could get it.

      The idea of a breakfast as a specific meal that is defined by the food that is served is a comparatively modern concept.

  4. Frank says:

    And the Terrible Conspiracy Theory of the Year award goes to…..

  5. Annabel says:

    Victorian breakfasts in country houses always sound so lush – kedgeree, devilled kidneys, eggs of various kinds. And, of course, porridge has always been around, particularly in Scotland. As I dislike sweet cereals, I tend to breakfast on egg and toast, which suits me just fine!

  6. SteveP says:

    Speaking as a person who isn’t hungry until 11AM, I almost never eat breakfast. Despite being lectured that it’s “the most important meal of the day” I’ve managed to make it into my 60s with a slim BMI, low blood pressure and zero health issues,only some of which I attribute to a healthy intake of real ale and decent wine.

    I sometimes do eat breakfast if I’m doing some very physical work for more than a day – that’s because the next morning I’m hungry! Don’t eat because the commercials tell you to – eat when you are hungry.

    Probiotics are the posh shampoos of yogurt. Same stuff, fancier bottle

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