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Cereal for Dinner

Photo: Bruno Scramgnon

"The cereal category has always been quite affordable, and it tends to be a great destination when consumers are under pressure. If you think about the cost of cereal for a family versus what they might otherwise do, that's going to be much more affordable." These are the words of Gary Pilnick, CEO of Kellogg's, who is currently being roasted online for suggesting that families choose to eat cereal for dinner due to the rising prices of...well, everything.

Multimillionaire Pilnick is just the latest in what seems like a never-ending tide of out-of-touch people giving unsolicited recommendations to "the average American," but that's only one part of what is irritating about these sorts of incidents. The other part is that there are often many people surrounding these out of touch individuals but for some reason, no one suggests that maybe they should...I don't know...pipe down. Or, even better, recognize a problem and come up with an actual solution.

Pilnick, in his statement, is recognizing that food prices have risen. His company's prices have risen over the years. Perhaps, if he wants to be helpful to consumers, he could suggest lowering prices for Kellogg's products. And that's the thing- many of these companies like to put the onus on the consumer. They recognize that the average person is having difficulty making ends meet, but companies are constantly chasing higher prices and shareholder expectations, so they spout useless advice (which is sometimes mercilessly mocked, but in my opinion not mocked mercilessly enough) and pretend that the situation is out of their hands while they rake in more profits.

The fact is, inflation has affected many consumer goods, including food. And we need food to, know, survive. So people are trying to figure out ways of feeding their families without taking out a loan. What advice can we give Americans in this time of financial difficulty? Well, PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta suggests using junk food as part of weekly recipes. And at the beginning of 2023, the Wall Street Journal suggested skipping breakfast. I guess maybe this advice could actually tie in with Pilnick's eat cereal for meals idea- maybe people can skip breakfast entirely and eat the cereal for lunch and dinner instead! This sort of obtuse advice isn't anything new- in 2017, Australian real estate mogul, Tim Gurner suggested young people could afford a house if they stopped buying avocado toast. (How dare they?! They should be subsisting on one boiled egg a day until they save up enough pennies to become millionaires!) And in 2013, McDonald's worker resource website provided tips to employees on how much to tip au pairs. Because of course, everyone can afford an au pair, right? Especially on a low hourly wage.

It's painful to hear suggestions like those of Pilnick and the others, because more than likely, there will be people out there who will blame themselves for somehow failing in this game of life. It's because you got that coffee, Danielle. It's because you bought that croissant, Kendrick. It's because you don't work 6 am to 10 pm every day, [insert generation]. Of course, most people can't go on a shopping spree on a weekly basis and hope to be financially sound- but these unsolicited pithy comments saying things like "well, if you just stopped taking hot showers, you'd be able to retire on time," just come off as out-of-touch, rude, and quite frankly, dumb.

At some point, our society will have to come to terms with the fact that we are failing many people. Yes, some of us are exorbitantly wealthy, but if you have to shame or blame people to explain why there is a large swath of the population that will be unable to afford a house ever in their lives or you're out here trying to peddle cereal as a viable alternative for a full, nutritious meal, there is something very wrong. And the fact that no one is tapping these multimillionaires, multibillionaires on the shoulder to say...ahem...maybe let's not say that particular thing, is really unfortunate. There is a line between asking people to be self-sufficient, to work hard, and to plan for their futures and treating people like they're ne'er-do-wells because they are struggling to win in a difficult economy.

I've long been a proponent of diversity in the board room, in the meeting rooms, in houses of state, in legislative meetings, in the places where decisions are made because it's important for companies and governmental entities/representatives to have a broader perspective of the people they are selling to and/or serving, and this diversity should include a diversity of life experience. Because some of these people who are in charge of making big decisions are very out of touch with real life and don't realize that there are people struggling to just afford basic necessities. And when the only people in the room are gazillionaires, they probably won't be sensitive to the needs of the general public, many of whom are not only lacking yachts but are struggling to pay bills.

My hope is that somehow, some way, some of these so-called leaders will take a step back from advising and instead try to listen and assist. Because at some point, if everyone is struggling and they have no money to feed themselves, there also won't be any more money to feed the machine.


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