Subtle Coolness · chrono index · alpha index

Letʼs talk about Malt-O-Meal.

by William Jackson on 2007-10-11

I was walking across campus on my way from work to choir. I was passing Painter Hall — home of biology and computer science laboratories. I was strolling along with my bag over my shoulder when I inhaled the unmistakable odor of Malt-O-Meal.

I have no idea where it came from, or if it was, indeed, the Malt-O-Meal I perceived it to be. But that short moment of olfactory sensation triggered a chain of thoughts as I proceeded to the Music building.

I didnʼt even eat very much Malt-O-Meal as a kid, yet it is a smell and food product I associate with my childhood. My mother was much more likely to prepare plain old oatmeal. I know I consumed that particular grain in large quantities, especially when it was made into granola — but that is the subject of a rhetoric session for another day.

I did, however, get my fair share of Malt-O-Meal. To this day I wonder exactly what it is. I remember watching Annie and thinking, when the evil woman who ran orphanage said, “Youʼre not having hot mush today,” that surely she was referring to Malt-O-Meal. I imagined that when Oliver Twist held out his bowl and humbly pleaded for “more,” he was asking for more Malt-O-Meal. Any unidentifiable mixture, not quite solid and not quite soup, was, in my mind, Malt-O-Meal.

I never ate Malt-O-Meal plain. Cinnamon and sugar — lots and lots of sugar — was my most frequent flavor. Fresh peaches were exceptionally rare; fresh strawberries even more so.

Today, given a choice, I would probably never buy Malt-O-Meal for myself. Give me oatmeal. Give me bran flakes or corn flakes or puffed wheat. But please donʼt give me Malt-O-Meal.

And really, please, donʼt give me Grape-Nuts, either. Please.