Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Return of French Toast Crunch!

The long-discontinued breakfast cereal has returned to supermarket shelves ... but is it really as good as we (want to) remember it? 

Kids, let's talk about the 1990s for a moment. The same way children who actually grew up in that decade had some completely fantastical perception of how great the 1970s were, today's grade schoolers and middle schoolers likewise believe the Clinton years were some kind of magical, glorious golden era, where everything was just peachy keen across the board. 

The problem here is oh-so-apparent. You see, kids naturally believe that pop culture is the only kind of culture that exists, and since people played the Sega Genesis and listened to Nirvana back then, it unequivocally had to be the best time to be alive in human history. Unfortunately, once you move beyond "All That" and Pop Qwiz Popcorn, you are left with what is at least two-thirds of a shitty decade, bogged down in a strangely forgotten recession made worse by a minimum wage that was practically half what it is today. And that's not to mention a much higher national violent crime rate, the absurdly higher prices for consumer products (dollar for dollar, just about every form of hardware and software was more expensive back then than today) and of course, the complete and utter lack of anything even remotely resembling the virtual social framework we can't live without for more than five minutes today. Oh, and did I mention the Rwandan Genocide, the Somalian Civil War and corresponding famine, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the exploits of Jeffrey Dahmer, the Waco Siege, Columbine, the Rodney King race riots, and the Oklahoma City bombing? Hard to believe, I know, but there was actually a rather vicious, unsavory world going on around "Animaniacs" and Dunk-a-roos, no? 

Alas, the resurrection of French Toast Crunch is but yet another feeble attempt to recapture the alleged magic of the mid-1990s -- you know, that glorious epoch that gave us, among other things, Seal and a John Travolta movie where everybody white was treated like they were black and everybody that was black were pretty much acting like white people. As the name suggests, French Toast Crunch was/is an offshoot of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch brand from General Mills. Personally, I have never been a fan of that particular line (although undiagnosed, I am pretty sure I am actually allergic to that spice), and frankly, the only thing I really find interesting about the cereal is how it makes an uncredited appearance in "Super Mario Bros. 3." Just as you would imagine it, the cereal tastes ... well, nothing at all like French Toast, actually, since it's basically just the regular Cinnamon Toast Crunch foodstuff marinated in a synthetic maple syrup coating.

Granted, there are some noteworthy things about the cereal, but we will get back to that (and a formal taste-taste) towards the end of the article. First, I would like to bring your attention to the back packaging of the product, which contains among the finest, most absurd chronological reductionism in the history of mass-manufactured goods. 

The same way "Saved by the Bell" became a cultural phenomenon by giving children an uncomplicated, thoroughly sanitized conceptualization of what the American high school experience is, the "Remember the '90s?" quiz on the back of the relaunched French Toast Crunch boils down a rather intricate (and for the most part, morose) decade down to nothing more than anachronistic technologies, passe lingo and outmoded fashion. Strangely, I am not quite sure if the back packaging is trying to appeal to those who actually grew up with product or give the wee-ones of today some sort of painfully inauthentic primer on the pop cultural trends that, frankly, didn't have that much sociocultural import to begin with. 

Right off the bat, we have a bit of a chronological paradox going on. Since the product originally came out in the mid-1990s, at least half the things mentioned in the quiz would have been completely irrelevant by the time the original cereal actually came out. By 1995, both grunge and gangsta rap (here, referred to by the much more parent-friendly term "hip hop") were considered dying musical trends (the hottest act at the time the cereal came out, it is perhaps worth noting, was actually Hootie and the Blowfish), and the references to baggy, backward and god help us neon apparel are completely historically inaccurate, since as early as 1993, Kriss Kross was already considered a musical and fashion laughingstock. Additionally, I am pretty sure "Talk to the Hand" didn't really become a part of the white person lexicon until at least 1999, and that little factoid about gasoline being under a dollar? Nice try, but the average cost of a gallon of gas was actually $1.15 when French Toast Crunch was first released.

A lot of the remaining items on the quiz are just flat out contextually incorrect. The whole Y2K hullabaloo didn't really become a popular idea in the collective conscious until at least 1998, so if you were already preparing for the computer crash that never happened in 1995, you were probably living on a survivalist compound or something.

As far as the references to video stores, "the running man," and boy bands, pretty much all of those could be just as easily applicable to the 1980s and early 2000s, as well. In fact, I would argue that the item about frosting hair is much more a trapping of the 2000s than the 1990s, and that crack about playing more video games at home than at an arcade? I'm pretty sure that was the case even during the heyday of arcades back in the mid 1980s. The "chillin' at my crib" and "Wayne's World" nods, however, are pretty faithful -- if not rather insignificant -- aspects of the '90s experience, so I will give them proper acknowledgement on those, I guess.

The score chart, as you would expect, uses some very outdated verbiage to rank your 1990s expertise. Strangely enough, pretty much all of the terms really weren't commonplace until the late 1990s, so if you actually said "you're all that and a bag of chips" when the original cereal first came out you were either clairvoyant or considered a retard.

All right, so what to make of the cereal itself, you may be wondering? Well, to the uninitiated, it's pretty much everything you would expect it to be. It's more or less the exact same as Cinnamon Toast Crunch, albeit with an ever-so-slight pancake tincture. In terms of taste, it's not really my bag, but I have to admit: the overall texture on these things are just goddamn incredible. We will have to examine the product more in-depth, for sure.

No matter your opinion of the product or processed food, you have to admit: these cereal bits are absolutely gorgeous. They really do resemble miniature versions of toast, complete with a high-gloss, super-shiny exterior coat that almost makes them resemble plastic toys. In an era where most cereal manufacturers just throw out generically shaped puffs of wheat with undefined marshmallow blobs, you gotta' give General Mills their props here -- I may not like the way French Toast Crunch tastes, per se, but I can certainly appreciate its aesthetics.

At the end of the day, I am kinda on the fence about the reemergence of French Toast Crunch. For one thing, I really didn't enjoy the product as an actual meal-time offering, but I at least liked the idea of relaunching discontinued 1990s consumer products (I can't explain it, but holy shit, have I been craving Brach's Rocks for the better part of the year.) Let's just hope and pray that sales of this cereal are strong enough to convince other manufacturers to trot out some more obscure defunct brands -- anything that gets us one step closer to the second coming of Pepsi A.M., of course, is A-OK in my book.

This new-wave French Toast Crunch is really indicative of a unique phenomenon in contemporary consumer relations, with fringe Internet groups successfully lobbying for the return of old-school foodstuffs. Lest we forget, a gaggle of committed cereal aficionados actually CONVINCED a multi-billion dollar a year company two Halloweens ago to re-release and MASS MARKET two obscure cereal brandings that hadn't been seen on store shelves for at least a quarter century. That is a lot of power, when you really stop and think about it -- the fact that we are using that collective will to simply bring back retro food product says WAY more about Generation Y than I think any of us would like to dwell upon.

The inauthentic and fairly misplaced '90s adulation aside, however, I can get behind the core concept behind French Toast Crunch redux. It's one of the few form of nostalgic revivalism that actually make sense, seeing as how the experience of eating the product disappears forever as soon as the item leaves the marketplace (something you just can't say about solid-state media, such as music and film.) Personally, I've always wanted to sink my teeth into a Bell Beefer and wash it down with a can of Coke II, and who knows? As long as we keep a clamoring for the long-gone foods of yore, perhaps its only a matter of time until the Gods of the Marketplace shine their heavenly glow upon all of us.

Today, it's French Toast Crunch, tomorrow, it might just be Pop-Tarts Crunch Cereal and the return of the Wendy's Super Bar. With spoils that magnificent, I'd say that's a cultural battle well worth fighting, if you ask me...

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