Part of This Balanced Breakfast

by Larry Hehn on January 30, 2013

breakfastAs a youngster I remember seeing dozens of cereal commercials on TV. Some had to get pretty creative to make their product sound nutritious.

“They’re a source of food energy!” (So are sticks of deep-fried butter.)

“One ounce of ________ with four ounces of milk is a good source of protein.” (So is four ounces of milk.)

“A drug-free way to promote regularity.” (In other words, it helps you poop.)

But my all-time favorite was when the camera panned across a breakfast table laden with fruit, eggs, milk, grains, yogurt, and a tiny bowl of cereal. And we heard those five magic words, “Part of this balanced breakfast.”

Which was a clever way of saying, “Your breakfast will actually be nutritious if you eat all this other stuff along with our cereal.”

I think it was the same PR firm that came up with the idea of Al Gore having a “neutral carbon footprint”.

It’s like the old joke about two actuaries who go duck hunting. Both shoot at a duck that flies overhead. One’s shot misses 20 feet to the left. The other’s shot misses 20 feet to the right. They give each other high fives, because on average they shot it. (My brother-in-law works with actuaries. He loves that joke.)

There’s something not quite right about this whole “balanced” thing.

But we do it all the time, don’t we?

Not just with breakfast. With our overall behavior. Making up for – even justifying – our unhealthy habits by trying to do enough “good” stuff to balance things out. Always keeping score. Spinning plates.

It can be downright exhausting.

I don’t want a “balanced” breakfast. I want a healthy breakfast.

Maybe it’s time to lose the Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs…

Dear Mister Language Person: I am curious about the expression, “Part of this complete breakfast.” The way it comes up is, my 5-year-old will be watching TV cartoon shows in the morning, and they’ll show a commercial for a children’s compressed  breakfast compound such as “Froot Loops” or “Lucky Charms”, and they always show it sitting on a table next to a some actual food such as eggs, and the announcer always says: “Part of this complete breakfast.” Don’t they really mean, “Adjacent to this  complete breakfast,” or “On the same table as this complete breakfast”? And couldn’t they make essentially the same claim if, instead of Froot Loops, they put a can of shaving cream there, or a dead bat?

A. Yes.

- Dave Barry
What is your favorite breakfast cereal?
Where do you find yourself doing the “balancing” act?

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