I don’t eat cereal. We might as well get that out into the open now. One of the things that disgusts me most in life is to see someone else fill a bowl with cereal and then cover it in milk. There’s a certain smell to it I can’t handle, not to mention something very graphic and disturbing about the noise of someone chewing on grains soaked in liquid. If this person is really into their cereal—like my husband and son sometimes are—they might even end this treat by drinking the milk out of the bowl. That’s when I have to leave the room. I guess this aversion makes me a really strange, suspect kind of person. Most people think so. That’s why for months I’ve been avoiding a Royal Warrant I’m not sure what to do with: Kellogg’s. The American cereal company has held a warrant from HM the Queen, since 1955, as “Purveyors of Cereals.”
The best possible outcome for my experimentation with Kellogg’s cereal would be that I come away from this project actually liking cereal, right? If I start eating it with milk, even better. If you’re holding your breath expecting this conclusion, I should let you down now. This isn’t the same story as Wilkin & Son’s. But it’s still a great story. Do you know anything about Kellogg’s? I didn’t. This is a fantastic company with an amazing history.The cereal company got its start in Battle Creek, Michigan, in the late 19th century, at a sanitarium connected with the Seventh Day Adventist church. The sanitarium offered a program of physical exercise and convalescence to strengthen patients sick with myriad diseases. According to The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (a book I found somewhat offensive both because of the corn-on-the-cob on its cover and the entries on “Kentucky Fried Chicken” and “ketchup” that followed that on “Kellogg’s”), its famous patients included Henry Ford, J.C. Penney, and Thomas Edison. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg managed the institution and worked in the so-called “experimental kitchen and food laboratories in which original research is constantly bringing out new facts and products.” Kellogg eschewed the typical diet of late 19th century Americans, which he believed to be too heavy on meat and dairy products. He instead advocated a vegetarian lifestyle and the benefits of eating fiber. Kellogg worked to make grains more palatable for the sanitarium’s invalid patients, many of who could not chew hard, crunchy grains. Together with his brother William Keith (W.K.), he invented flaked cereal by pressing grains of wheat and corn between rollers to flatten them before baking them in the oven.
According to the company’s website, W.K. Kellogg began Kellogg’s in 1906. As American consumers shifted from eating protein-heavy breakfasts to those that centered on whole grains, Kellogg’s continued to expand its presence in a growing market by catchy advertising campaigns. The company also sold each box of its cereal with W.K.’s signature appearing on the front so that customers could distinguish his boxes of cereal from his many competitors’.
So many of these Royal Warrant holders have a company story marked by a time of intense prosperity and then decline. If Kellogg’s is currently in decline, is a thing of the past, that’s not obvious. Just last year the company made an aggressive move into the world of snack foods by acquiring the Pringles brand from fellow Royal Warrant holder Proctor & Gamble. A company with historical roots in a small sanitarium in Michigan is today a worldwide powerhouse.This mention of sanitariums reminded me of Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Greece. When I read Robert Lacey’s biography of Queen Elizabeth, Monarch, I was struck by the paragraphs describing the very difficult life Alice had after her family was forced out of Greece. Alice suffered an emotional breakdown after her marriage ended, and she spent a good deal of time in a Swiss sanitarium under the care of Sigmund Freud. Philip’s relationship with his mother was strained; she was remarkably absent from his young life because of her own problems. When an aged and declining Alice came to live with the royal family at Buckingham Palace in the 1960s, it was awkward to say the least.
Lacey writes, maybe somewhat coyly, that Alice “added an illuminating dimension to the family life.” Alice was near-deaf and a chronic smoker, and her presence was often announced by “clouds of tobacco smoke, accompanied by fits of bronchitic coughing.” Alice had founded an order of Greek nursing nuns, and before her death she took to wearing the habit associated with their order. The image of a Greek nun smoking and playing her favorite card game, Canasta, in Buckingham Palace created something of a spectacle, as did Alice’s tendency to fight bitterly with Philip even if she did call him by his childhood nickname of “Bubbikins.”Princess Alice might have spent her last years acting just as flakey as the cereal invented by the Kellogg brothers in Battle Creek, but she was welcomed at Buckingham Palace. According to Lacey, Queen Elizabeth was respectful and kind to her ostentatious mother-in-law and known to keep her company and chat with her animatedly. Members of the palace staff wondered how they could communicate so easily since Alice was so hard of hearing. Lacey writes that “Elizabeth II enjoyed getting to know her unusual husband’s highly unusual mother, and she supported her religious charities generously” and that they were known to have animated conversations “despite her deafness.” The young princes Edward and Andrew grew fond of their grandmother and frequently went to her quarters to play Chinese Checkers.
It’s really interesting that a family so concerned with its image, with how it looks to other people, made room for someone like Princess Alice and ignored her oddities. It wasn’t until well after Princess Alice’s death in 1969 that the royal family learned just how deserving she was of her last comfortable days in the palace. Lacey writes that: “the princess had given shelter, while living in Nazi-occupied Athens, to the widow and children of Haimaki Cohen, an Athenian Jew, rebuffing the enquiries of suspicious gestapo agents by playing up her deafness and appearing to be less than bright. She saved the Cohens from transportation...”I’m left wondering (and maybe Queen Elizabeth was too) if Princess Alice wasn’t also playing up her deafness and pretending to be less than bright while she lived at Buckingham Palace with the royal family. Was the smoking, card-playing nun pulling one over on her uptight Protestant relatives each time they turned their backs? I hope so. Or maybe Alice’s age and lack of inhibition finally left her room to freely be herself, just as unique as W.K. Kellogg hoped his signature would appear on every box of his cereal.
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