We all know the “process” of cereal, from the buying to the making to the eating, because it’s a routine most breakfast-lovers have had down from a very early age, and probably one of the first breakfasts we were allowed to “make” for ourselves. It’s a routine—some would perhaps even argue it could be called a “recipe”—that we’ve honed over years, when we’ve needed comfort, nutrition, energy, self-care, and everything in-between. First you unfurl the plastic bag in the cardboard box; then you pour the cereal out into a cold bowl and watch the puff of cereal dust float up, and then you pour in your milk, and watch pieces of cereal bob like abandoned ships before you dunk your spoon in.
That’s how it is and how it’s always been. So it’s no wonder people become confused and outraged over a recent television advert by Nestle, that shows Shredded Wheat, Cheerios, and Shreddies, three fundamental British cereals, being poured into a pre-milked bowl.
There’s a long-fledged, well established etiquette when it comes to cereal. There is some flexibility, of course. Everyone has their preferences over details like their milk-to-cereal ratio, milk temperature and type, and whether to add toppings. But there are some things that aren’t to be messed with, including the tried-and-tested method of cereal first, milk second. It’s one of life’s fundamental rules; without it we’d be in chaos.
Nestle faced inevitable backlash online, and the faux pas inspired as dozens of articles. One Twitter user wrote that, for anyone who does this, “I hope you enjoy your sad, lonely existence you goddamn monster.” Another branded it “madness,” and there were cries for the ad to be banned.
But it wasn’t just an emotional response; the cereal-first method is practical, too. Putting in the milk first would prevent you from being able to gauge how much cereal you would need. And let’s not forget that the cereal is the most important ingredient here, and how much of it we want to eat should dictate how much milk is needed, not vice versa.
This might seem like faux outrage when there are bigger things going on in the world, but it’s when there is such upheaval that we need to feel like things are in order.
The lesson to take away from this is that the art of making cereal is not to be messed with, not by our favorite brands, nor by anyone else. It’s a morning routine we hold dear. “Cereal first, milk second” is a mantra as good as any in these tumultuous times.
This article originally appeared in Extra Crispy.