Blessed is the Endosperm

Janet Manley falls in love with a Hebrew, fiber-rich cereal called Ezekiel 4:9 — delicious and strangely religious.

Illustration by Yael Levy

I was a child of Weetabix and godlessness. Since graduating from the beginner breakfasts of my childhood to adult offerings of greater sophistication, I have adhered to a secular lineup of grain-based repasts. Raisin Bran was an early revelation, while Honey Nut Corn Flakes pushed the envelope on just how much sweetness I permitted in my morning bowl. Occasionally dabbling in untoasted bircher muesli, but fretting about the guilt that came with the Nordic womp of calories, I stumbled onto Bob’s Red Mill Nine-Grain Hot Cereal one especially frigid winter. Mealy in a good way, husky like a ride on your uncle’s tractor as you watched his blistered, freckled arms steer, making tracks through the wheat fields, there was something affirming about dumping a bale of fiber into your system at daybreak.

Bob and I had an understanding. He was my go-to in hot weather and cold, unquestioned until a fateful stroll through Vitamin Cottage one Sunday. With my dog patiently tethered outside, I wandered, lost, betwixt soycheese singles and bags of unmilled teff, pulled from my daze as something caught my attention. There, on the middle shelf of the breakfast aisle, lit by a flickering fluorescent bulb overhead, was the insoluble idolatry of a Cereal for the Ages; a portent for people fanatical about chomping down a wicker broom each morn. “Ezekiel 4:9,” the package trumpeted. Millet! Barley! Lentils! An all-star cast had been assembled for this second coming. I looked closer at the box: “As described in the Holy Scriptures: ‘Take unto thee Wheat and Barley and Beans and Lentils and Millet and Spelt and put them in one vessel and make bread of it.’ ” I was perplexed.

Did this box mean to tell me that Old Testament God, of burning bushes and locusts, endorsed the protein-rich germ of spelt? And if I and Old Testament God could agree on this, what did that mean for my traditionally adversarial stance toward all religion?

I picked up a box of the cinnamon raisin Ezekiel 4:9 and sped to the checkout, waiting for a lightning bolt to smite me. Unsmote in the queue, I placed a kombucha next to the cereal, lest the checkout fellow think I was conservative or judgmental. “Whoa-oh, I get down with caffeine and trace alcohol amounts,” I caught his eye and directed it toward the conveyer belt with a wink.

I paired the sprouted-grain wonder the next morning with some Blue Diamond “Original” almond milk — the 60-calorie version, because I think I both deserve and can afford the reduced transparency that 20 extra calories offer over the light version. I allowed the foggy non-milk to commingle with the grains for a minute, conjuring a latter-day Mesopotamia in my special breakfast bowl (painted at a friend’s pottery party). When I angled for my first spoon, I could already tell it would be good.

Like moist date loaf, the mouthful was strong and earnest, with undertones of a hipster playing a wash-tub bass on a pedestrian mall. The fibrous pulp of the cereal washed down as a muffin-streusel bird’s nest doused in morning dew. I fished raisins out of the dense pap like Moses from the reeds, bite by bite, over and over again. This was an exceptional cereal.

I held the box close, examining its markings. “This Biblical Cereal is Truly the Staff of Life,” read the box-side. “Inspired by the Holy Scripture verse Ez. 4:9,” proclaimed the front.

But there, in the middle of the holy marketing copy, a serving suggestion to melt the mouths of gentiles the middle world over: Ezekiel 4:9 in a spoon with the plump promise of raisins floating on a photoshopped homage to milk; suggestive of a heavenly bounty. I resolved to put these grains in a vessel and make bread of it on a daily basis, burying my cognitive dissonance deep, as might a churchgoer in the midst of conversion therapy.

The box went with me everywhere: to work, on camping trips, to sleepovers, onto the common shelf at my in-laws’ (I live with my in-laws). Before long, I was converting people: “Just try it! One spoonful and you will understand. What have you got to lose?” I was fervent and ecclesiastic.
At work, a colleague paused at my cubicle one day. “What the hell is that? Bible cereal?” He chuckled, grabbing the box from my desk, where a family photo may have sat were I less aloof. Jewish himself, my colleague knew me to be a frivolous, godless heathen, negligent of all observance of organized religion.

Spoon in hand, I stammered back, “But it’s so crunchy and nutty. It holds up so well under the milk while I check my Outlook in the mornings.”

“There’s a dove holding a sprig on the box.” He exclaimed to himself, seemingly amused. Just like that, the demons settled deep at the bottom of my breakfast bowl with concrete blocks tied to their ankles began to stir. The hypocrisy of my passion arose like a long-lost soggy Rice Krispy. I fell silent.

Enveloped in an existential crisis, my walls were tumbling down like those of the jerk who built his house on the sand. Here I was, a mouthy progressive, hooked on the protein-rich sprouted superiority of a cereal that didn’t pick out one supergrain, but elevated a laudable nine grains of antiquity to transcendent glory — a cereal of divine and sacred origins. Every bite I took was an act of digestive blasphemy. I was flummoxed, my soul caught in the crosshairs of proud post-theism and love for a delectable bark that tasted the way the hardy needles of a porcupine might, were they sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg. I was a morality inverted; the banjo-playing Williamsburg beatnik with the Jesus beard — the end-of-days sandwich-board prophet advertising acai berries. Like an Urban Outfitters insta-bohemian, I was entirely without conviction or cause, snapping pictures of an empty universe on my Holga.

Following a weekend of soul-searching and a low point during which I watched Blue Crush 2 (“from the makers of Blue Crush”) while eating tater tots and salsa, I began my ascent as a new person, reborn. Let the detractors come at me, I called. Let them ridicule me before my fellow man. Let them shake the stilts on which I have erected my fickle, biblically inclined appetite and nonspecific philosophy. I would come at them with a second box of Ezekiel 4:9, conveniently stowed inside whatever satchel or backpack I was carrying. I would ask for “just a moment of their time” and offer it to them, at no charge, to keep, with no promises required, other than that they just try a bowlful. After that, they could pay me what they thought it was worth. And if they really liked it, maybe they could tell their friends about it. Or just get them to read the box.

Illustration by Yael Levy

Janet Manley lives in New York and can outwalk the best of them. She tends to croissant and Twitter habits. For solicited commentary on the state of open-toed boots, contact her via her website.