December 7, 2004

New York Times Bullshit Flakes — Now with 100% more bullshit!

Last month I went on a little rant about a New York Times article that claimed there is a new trend of college students eating cereal. Today Brian Lehrer did a segment about this on his NPR show (to his credit, he recast it as the "persistence" of cereal's popularity, not something new) that contained a very telling moment.

One of my pet peeves about trend stories is how easy it is to find quotes supporting any trend you want to invent. Here's one from the Times article.

While NPD Foodworld does not specifically break out college-age consumers, anecdotal evidence of cereal's popularity on campuses abounds.

College officials who oversee food services say they are constantly restocking sweet, kid-friendly cereals. Nick Mennillo, the senior director of dining services for the State University of New York at Purchase, said he offered a few sugary options, as well as two ''health cereals'' like granola or Raisin Bran.

''The most popular one is Cap'n Crunch, by far,'' he said. ''And if you put Cocoa Puffs and Fruity Pebbles out, they fly through the stuff.''

But here's Mennillo on Leher's show.

Leher: So the people in the dorms at Purchase eat a lot of breakfast cereal?

Mennillo: At Purchase College, not necessarily, not like other campuses I've been on. The students at Purchase are exteremely aware of nutrition and there's a large segment of our population are vegetarian, and they eat less cereal than other campuses i've been assigned to.

Talk about going off message. I wonder if Menillo told this to Times writer Lisa W. Foderaro and she just blew it off, or if she didn't even think to ask.

Menillo did confirm that of the students who eat a lot of cereal, the sugar cereals seem popular, but he's now going to do a survey because after the Times article came out, he realized that he doesn't REALLY know what the students prefer.

Attempting to take accurate measurements before making sweeping claims? Don't be absurd.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


It sounded to me like Menillo was saying Cap'n Crunch is the most popular out of what they offer, but he's starting to wonder if people might prefer some cereal that the SUNY Purchase dining hall doesn't currently stock.

And speaking of trend spotting, MemeFirst has toosed the old rule that three occurences makes a trend, and lowered the standard to "two=trend and three=meme."

One thing I don't get: Why would vegetarians eat less cereal?

I mean, specific cereals, like Bullshit Flakes and Chick'n Crunch and Cowhide Chocula, sure. But most cereals would, it seems, be pretty benign to vegetarians, no?

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