Mac and Cheese and World Domination

Aug. 6, 2020

If we don't watch out, we'll be eating it for every meal.

When I first read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” I was a little grossed out by Huck’s description of his first breakfast with Jim: “I catched a good big catfish, too, and Jim cleaned him with his knife, and fried him.”

My first thought, as a sheltered white suburban boy: Who eats catfish for breakfast?

Well, a lot of people, apparently. If you Google “catfish breakfast,” you get 36 million hits. But I think Mark Twain’s point is that Huck and Jim were in desperate circumstances and had to eat whatever they could find.

That came to mind when I saw this item about Kraft Heinz positioning mac and cheese as breakfast food. This iconic product, dating to Kraft’s early days, had been in decline for years, but it caught a pair of updrafts from the pandemic situation: more people eating breakfast (as well as lunch and dinner) at home, and more people seeking comfort foods.

Kraft Heinz put out a release stating that “56% of parents have served their kids Mac & Cheese for breakfast more often during COVID-19 related state lockdowns than previous months.” That’s one of those statistics where you’d like to see the base figure, but no matter; it’s still startling. Kraft Heinz, whose marketers know opportunity when they see it, is putting out a limited-edition “Breakfast Box” that includes a mug, a color-in placemat, and a refrigerator magnet with “topping suggestions” like crumbled sausage or bacon bits.

If you’re recoiling in horror over a breakfast that is, nutritionally, a complete farce, you probably don’t have young children. At this point, the majority of parents trapped at home with the little monsters will feed them anything to get them to shut up and eat. I’m certainly not going to judge anyone in those circumstances.

No, what concerns me is something broader: how mac and cheese is making a bid for world domination.

The sales boost from the pandemic is just the beginning. It’s now being touted as a topping for hamburgers, pizza and heaven knows what else. PepsiCo is releasing mac and cheese flavored/branded with Cheetos. There’s even a dispenser, labeled with Nestlé’s Stouffer’s brand, that pours the stuff with the pull of a handle. This is something to keep an eye on. Unless we’re vigilant, mac and cheese will become the central element of our diets.

Calvin Trillin, the great food writer and humorist, is so fond of spaghetti carbonara that he suggested serving it in place of turkey on Thanksgiving. Mac and cheese, of course, often appears on Thanksgiving tables as a side dish. But if it starts to displace the turkey, we’ll know we’re in trouble.

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