I was a funny kid. I didn’t eat much.
Though I was ravenous about candy, it wasn’t unusual for me to barely touch my breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
It was a constant worry for my mother, who was assured by wise Dr. Wendleton to not worry, he’ll eat when he’s hungry.
One of the treats that would wake up my taste buds was a steaming bowl of Malt-O-Meal, complete with milk and, of course, sugar. I also enjoyed Cream of Wheat, and honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the two competitors.
Malt-O-Meal got its start in 1919. That year, the Campbell Cereal Company was founded by by John Campbell, a miller in Owatonna, Minnesota. He invented a hot breakfast cereal which consisted of a combination of malted and farina wheat. He called it Malt-O-Meal. Campbell intended to compete with Cream of Wheat, which had gotten its start in the 1890’s.
Malt-O-Meal was a hit. It sold competitively alongside Cream of Wheat, and both brands did a brisk business.
And, as I mentioned before, whichever one my mom served didn’t matter much to me. I assume she bought one brand over another based on current sales prices.
However, I have a softer spot in my heart for Malt-O-Meal. That’s because the company which produces it, officially known as Malt-O-Meal, continues to exist in its privately owned state today, through the Great Depression, 1970’s stagflation, and a recent salmonella recall (every food manufacturer’s worst nightmare).
I too work for a family-owned business, one that has been around since the 1930’s, and I am familiar with the challenges of remaining independent despite economic upheavals. My hat’s off to Malt-O-Meal for surviving.
The aroma of either cereal cooking on a cold winter morning helped drag my sleepy bones out of bed to face another drudgerous day at school. No matter how hungry I was (or wasn’t), I could always make a bowl of the curiously warm-on-the-bottom, cold-on-the-top milk-drenched concoction disappear.
I can’t remember any Malt-O-Meal commercials from my childhood, though there must have been dozens of different ones. I do recall a Cream of Wheat jingle, and one brand or the other made a TV ad about a woman living in International Falls, Minnesota, and how she enticed her kid to go to school in the subzero temperatures by serving him hot cereal.
Cream of Wheat has a spokesman, Rastus the chef, who was once presented in a very politically incorrect manner. The stereotypical figure, common among food manufacturers of the early-to-mid twentieth century, would promote the cereal with Stepin Fetchit type dialog.
As racial equality came to the forefront, Rastus, like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, was either silent, or spoke dignified English. The chef’s name is still Rastus, but only because he was never renamed. His name hasn’t been featured in an advertisement since before most of us were born.
I don’t have time for breakfast any more. I’m out of bed and on the road to work by 4:00 AM. But I did enjoy the sweet aroma of Malt-O-Meal and Cream of Wheat when my wife would prepare it for our kids when they were small. May that aroma always exist somewhere in the world.