Peter York on Ads

Wholegrain breakfast cereals – the sign of a better class of bowel
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I am, most of the time, extremely uptown top-ranking, as you might expect. What this used to mean, within living memory, was everything smooth and subtly shiny, rich and discreetly super-fatted.

Seriously uptown meant grand-manner French food and, for the seriously rich everywhere, real-thing French furniture (not too much, though, or it gets bling). A whole range of tastes and textures, sights and sounds, smoothed and sieved and sweetened by expert hands is what the world's toffs and plutocrats, artists and celebrities (think Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, etc) thought the good life was like until well into the 1950s.

Of course, there were always nuts and ideologies, early followers of Dr Kellogg, Brits who favoured hairy bullet-proof tweeds. There were charlatans and revolutionaries, fell-walking Fabians and pursed-lipped Presbyterians. Swaths of culture were dissed by the Soviets for being altogether too bourgeois, but we know that the post-war East European elite mainlined all those Belgian chocolates, the French wine and the Charvet shirts – while their compatriots were living on a rouble a day. The prevailing idea, however, remained that the ultimate real thing looked like the Ritz dining room, with all the glories of 18th- and 19th-century high life deliciously puréed for the Edwardian Golden Age.

The opposite of all this was anything knobbly, bobbly-wobbly or lumpy-bumpy. The hessian, calico, unbleached linen, peasanty side of life. It's the same in food, fabric and furnishings, with the emphasis on authenticity, humble roots and truth to materials, purpose or whatever. In practice what this means is everything a) granular and b) porridge-coloured.

It took for ever for those ideas to move from the mad margins to the centre. It took a huge change in working patterns (if you worked down the pit or in a steel foundry, you'd want to dress smartly at the weekends) and attitudes and access to democratised luxury (farmed salmon, industrialised prawn-gathering, battery chicken, high-street cashmere) to put the other stuff on the aspirational agenda. You knew, for instance, a new line had been crossed in the 1980s when young working-class men bought ripped and frayed jeans as mainstream weekend fashion. It showed a first generation that had never seen rags as the outward and visible sign of poverty. And as traditional luxuries became everyday mass, the smarter, more evolved rich looked for new ways to demonstrate status, cleverness ... and moral superiority.

Which means it took us about a hundred years to realise that wholegrain is the high point of civilisation. Wholegrain cereals are obviously at the heart of food reform, fantastically good for you and brimming with moral tone. That flaky, crunchy, woodchip-textured thing grows healthy children into concerned citizens with perfect bowels.

Everyone knows what happens to obese proles with bad bowels. They get humiliated by the terrible Gillian McKeith, or they die at stool, their interiors backed up for yards with compressed clay like poor-boy Elvis, punished for his supersize-me diet.

Suddenly, practically all the cereals except Cocopops seem to be wholegrain. Nestlé, the people who gave you sweetened condensed milk and every sort of choccy, are boasting in their new commercial about the absolutely wholegraininess of their whole range – I counted nine cereal brands – while a lot of mumsy types mutter about its essential rightness, and fields of corn wave in the sun. They've all got wholegrain guaranteed.

"Not all cereals do," they say guardedly. Who can they mean? Haven't Kellogg's and Weetabix and the other lot been saying something like that too? Or were they on about multi-grains? Or just grains? And how grainy exactly is wholegrain? "You're on your way to three a day," say Nestlé. But weren't Weetabix saying they'd help you to five a day only last week? Or perhaps that was something about the experts' fruit and veg quotient. And now we all know that vegetables are saints.

Comments