Here’s a secret that most of your Jewish friends won’t share with you: During Passover week we eat sawdust. Lots and lots of sawdust.
It dates back to the Hebrew slaves, you see. After 400 years toiling in Pharaoh’s non-union shops, Moses brought them on a 40-year retirement hike through the desert. In sandals. No snacks. Every morning they’d slurp the dew, marketed as “manna,” off the sand. But for the first week or so, they had access to carbohydrates – in the form of flattened bread. In the mad rush to scoot out of Cairo, there was no time for the bread to rise in the ovens. Crispy, brittle “matzah” was born.
Slurping moisture off the grass never caught on with the Jewish people. But to commemorate our freedom, we still choose to eat only unleavened bread for the week. Coming from the oven or even a freshly opened box, matzah tastes pretty good. A French toast version of matzah – soaked in water and fried in egg batter – tastes even better. But its versatility ends there. When matzah meal (flour with no yeast) is used to bake cookies, cakes and other starchy staples, the result is wallpaper paste mixed with the aforementioned sawdust.
Two New Jersey food manufacturers think they have the alchemists to change that reality, using “Passover cake meal” as the primary ingredient in breakfast cereal. The problem is a heartbreaker for Jewish kids: Passover means no Cheerios, no Lucky Charms, no Frosted Mini-Wheats.
Manischewitz, making kosher stuff since 1888, is best known for its holiday wine that tastes like melted lollipops. No surprise then, that they opt for “FRUITY’s” as their marquis cereal. Similar in texture and shape to Kix’s corn-flavored spheres, “FRUITY’s” taste sweet at first, but their starchy aftertaste brings us back to the wallpaper bucket. The brand’s chief competition is T. Abraham’s “CRISPY-O’s,” a fruit flavored Cheerios hybrid. Those, too, taste okay in the first few chews, but later come back to haunt you.
Both cereal boxes tout that their contents were “Prepared for Passover under strict rabbinical supervision of The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America,” a fact I hardly consider impressive. I’d rather see the words, “Spiderman Prize Inside!”
Breakfast cereals are supposed to be fun – and that means having top-notch cartoon mascots. “CRISPY-O’s” features a very conservatively dressed cow – her blouse buttoned to the neck — holding a giant spoon. She beckons kids to have “MOOORE FUN IN THE MORNING.” If you missed the humor, the cow sound “Moo” is subtly hidden within the extended word “more.” Meanwhile, “FRUITY’s” put a pair of sunglasses on a piece of its cereal and calls it a “cool dot.” Imagine the promotional tie-ins! The cool dots are smiling at the prospect of being digested. Their daring leader is balancing on a spoon like a surfboard; another fun-loving dot buoyantly replaces the dot in the “i” in the cereal title.
For a holiday with such dynamic Biblical characters, a prudish cow and California Raisin wannabe don’t cut the horseradish. Allegedly, there is a tremendous amount of creative talent in the Jewish community, a fact that led to the paranoid stereotype (professed by Marlon Brando and others) that the Jews control Hollywood. Other crazed conspiracy theories have 12 Jewish bankers in Zurich running the world economy and 15 Jewish copyeditors in Milan controlling the world media. Comprising just one-fifth of one percent of the world’s population (13 million out of 6 billion), the Jews simply don’t have enough manpower to staff even one of these conspiracies. But back to breakfast cereal.
Steven Spielberg showed the kid-friendly potential of Passover with his 1998 animated feature, “Prince of Egypt.” His portrayal of Moses during his rambunctious teenage years (racing chariots with the Pharaoh’s son) was sort of a Scrappy Doo meets the Book of Exodus. That’s the type of imagination Jewish kids deserve at the breakfast table.
How about “Plague Flakes,” a crumbled matzah base with locust and frog-flavored marshmallows? Or “Red Sea Crunch,” an opportunity to drown the Egyptian infantry in milk to simulate what happened when they tried to recapture the fleeing Israelites? Moses could be the cartoon pitchman for either brand, yelling “Theyyyrrrre Greaaaaatttt!” ala Tony the Tiger. Or if you prefer the Trix route, Moses could be bugging some of the younger Israelites in the desert for a taste of their cereal. “Silly Moses,” the children would reply. “Red Sea Crunch is for kids!”
Regardless of their poor mascots, the kosher food manufacturers are betting that most of us would rather have pasty cereal than nothing at all. As far as my breakfast bowl goes, they bet wrong. The Hebrew slaves didn’t have Rice Krispies Treats, and for one week, neither will I.
MORE EXCLUSIVE PASSOVER COVERAGE:
** Why I would have been a horrible Pharaoh !
** Schlock Flashback: Steven Spielberg’s Country Music Moses
** The Joys of Plastic Lice: Passover toys celebrate Ancient Egypt’s regime change
** Schlock Flashback: Origins of the Moses Duck
** Let My Tastebuds Go: I dare you to try Passover breakfast cereal!