Let Them Eat Flakes: Inflation, Nutrition, And Reality

By Julianne Malveaux

(Trice Edney Wire) – Remember the parable of the blind men and the elephant? As each approached an elephant and tried to describe it, they came up with wildly disparate answers. One thought it a snake, another a tree, another a trunk. Because they were blind, they could not see the big picture; they described the part of the elephant they could touch.

Inflation is something like that. People describe it based on the way it hits them, and it hits each family differently. Those with incomes below the median salary of $56,420 per year are hit hardest and most likely counting their pennies. Those with higher incomes shrug off some of the ways inflation hurts. But make no mistake, it hurts. Grocery prices are up by 25 percent in the past four years, so you are now spending $125 for food you paid $100 for four years ago. To be sure, inflation is waning. Groceries increased by 2.6 percent between January 2023 and January 2024, compared to 10 percent the year before. The Federal Reserve has been grappling with ways to lower inflation, but they need help fixing supply chain issues and corporate greed.

Still, inflation reminds us how disparate our lives are. Some chafe at inflation, while others shrug it off. Then, a corporate CEO, Gary Pilnick, who earns at least $4.9 million a year as CEO of Kellogg, offered a novel solution for families fighting inflation. Let them eat cereal, he says. Really? Ceral, he says, is nutritious and delicious. And it’s also relatively cheap. A bowl of cereal and milk is not an adequate replacement for a protein, vegetable, and starch (say chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans), nor is it quite as rib-sticking. But Pilnick arrogantly and glibly dared offer a Marie Antoinette-like solution to family meal planning. Let them eat flakes.

A 13-serving box of Kellog’s Sugar Frosted Flakes costs $18.70, or about $1.45 a serving. Six ounces of milk costs about 40 cents. So a bowl of cereal costs $1.85, maybe more depending on the kind of milk you use (low-fat, almond, skim). In contrast, a chicken leg, mashed potatoes, and green beans will run you about $2.50 a serving, and it has more protein than the cereal dinner, which may have as few as two grams of protein. I am trying to figure out what Pilnick was thinking or if he has any children. His rather glib response to many working families’ daily challenges was out of line, out of order, and highly self-serving.

Sure, some families occasionally do breakfast for dinner and even have fun with it. But offering flakes is no solution for families who are fighting inflation. Pilnick has been appropriate flack for his careless remarks, but those remarks reflect how divided our nation is. Some say, “Let them eat flakes,” while others may not even be able to afford the flakes the $4.9 million dollar-earning CEO so glibly offers. Cereal prices have risen 27 percent in the last four years, faster than other grocery prices. Flakes are not a nutritious substitute for a balanced meal; some are so laden with sugar that they are a health risk. Frosted flakes, for example, have 13 grams of sugar per serving. Healthy? Hardly.

The COVID pandemic sparked inflation-related challenges, and those challenges, while decreasing, continue. Wages have not risen as quickly as inflation has, and those on the bottom are encountering significant difficulties. Hunger is a national problem that requires income supplements for people experiencing poverty, like the child tax credit. It certainly doesn’t need the glib myopia of an intellectually challenged CEO who perhaps thought he was being cute. His solution, let them eat flakes, is no solution for the already nutritionally threatened folk on the bottom, especially those with children.

Gary Pilnick earns more than $94,000 a week. He could donate some of that to a food bank. Letting them eat flakes is no solution to our nation’s hunger situation. Forty-four million of us, including one in five children, experience hunger. While we brag about our international prowess, the reality is that 12 countries – Finland, Ireland, Norway, France, the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, Canada, the UK, Portugal, Switzerland, and Austria do better at providing citizens with nutritious meals. Instead of offering flakes, Pilnick should offer policy solutions. Or he should just shut up.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist and author based in Washington, DC.  Contact her through juliannemalveaux.com.