Milking It: Clifford Crunch

Clifford Crunch Cascadian Farm Organic Rating: Two-and-a-half spoons out of four:

Cereal description: Light-tan oat and barley bits formed into a variety of shapes; they resemble an arrowhead, a clover and a fish that could be mistaken for a Christian symbol by those who want to make eating a prayerful experience. What does any of this have to do with Clifford, a certain oversized, carrot-topped (and -bottomed) pooch? Somewhere between "nothing" and "absolutely nothing." C'mon, guys: Give the dog a bone.

Box description: The container's backdrop is predominately white -- the better to set off the Cascadian Farm Organic logo, which features a photo of a lush green farm-field and the slogans "Founded in Skagit Valley, Wa." and "Since 1972." (What since 1972? Voting against Richard Nixon?) The words "Clifford Crunch" are forced into a subordinate position, at a midpoint on the left, above supporting characters Cleo, a female poodle (you can tell by the red bow in her bouffant), T-Bone (a grinning bulldog) and Emily Elizabeth Howard, token human child. Clifford's on the right, beside a bowl of cereal larger than he is: confusing. The pieces float in actual milk, not the semi-solid advertising milk favored by most box designers, and they're interspersed with blueberries -- a sign that it need extras to taste like... anything. (Surprisingly, that's not true in this case.) The side panel opposite the nutrition information features more illustrations of the aforementioned characters interspersed with text about "Why Kids Eat Organic." Actual reason: Because their parents make them. The back, meanwhile, is highlighted by a maze far too tiny for Clifford to negotiate. The endpoint is near the Skagit River, which, frankly, sounds like a superfund site. Or a good location for a whorehouse.

Taste: Due to a dearth of fun new cereals (i.e., ones that include lots of sugar and cartoon characters as mascots), I've been forced to explore the world of healthy munches lately, often with terrifying results; I gave Arrowhead Mills Puffed Millet Cereal my first-ever no-spoon rating. I was expecting a similar bummer this time around -- but I found Clifford Crunch more edible than anticipated: mildly sweet (which is better than "not sweet at all"), with a pleasing texture that holds up when wet. Then again, Cascadian Farm isn't the most hardcore health-food firm on the market. Although the box doesn't acknowledge it, the brand is a subsidiary of General Mills. That explains the striking resemblance between Crunch and the grain-based part of Lucky Charms. Indeed, the cereal is pretty much Lucky Charms sans marshmallows -- meaning, of course, that it's not nearly as good. But after what I've been through lately, I'm sure not complaining.

Conclusion: Better than the average dog food.

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