When you think of Canadian cities that are perfect for a summertime culinary adventure, what comes to mind? Toronto, probably, maybe Vancouver, and probably Montreal (oh, and Quebec City, of course!). But what about Winnipeg? Well, let me tell you — when you know the right people, the Manitoba capital is a delicious destination.
Happily, I know the right people. The folks at General Mills invited me (along with several other food bloggers) to join them in Winnipeg to learn more about the process by which oats become cereal. (General Mills paid for my travel and accommodations and all that jazz, but let’s be clear — I’m under no obligation to write about the trip. I just learned a lot and wanted to share!)
And this wasn’t some PowerPoint presentation in a conference room. No sir, this was hands-on. We ventured out to a local field, farm and grain elevator. We sat in tractors. We met a couple of the farmers responsible for a full 25 percent of the oats that go into Cheerios!
One of the things that seemed to resonate with so many of us on the trip was that, you know, when we think of cereal, we think of it as processed food. It’s in the middle of the store, it comes in a colorful box, it has a list of ingredients. But the first ingredient in all Big G cereals is whole grain, and seeing this process drove home the point that whole grain — which the vast majority of Americans don’t get enough of even though we know it’s important for heart health, weight management and more — comes directly from a plant that grows in the dirt. Does that make cereal a completely clean food? Well, let’s not go overboard. But when you consider the fact that these Big G cereals contain less sugar than they did back when I was a kid (seriously, a serving of Cheerios has just 1 gram) … cereal isn’t exactly a dirty word around here.
In addition to spending some time in an oat field, learning about what goes into planting and harvesting a crop of oats, we also dined (twice — lunch and dinner … and maybe a little bit of happy hour, too!) at and toured Lefley Farms, which is one of the farms providing General Mills with those oats, and visited Paterson Grain Elevator, where we not only saw how those oats are transported, but also learned a bit about all the steps required to make Cheerios gluten-free. Let me tell you, it is not a simple process, but these folks are committed and it was pretty cool to hear about the tweaks they’re constantly making to the machinery in order to ensure no naughty barley is getting through.
Of course, we also enjoyed a fab cereal smorgasbord for breakfast (because how else are you gonna start your day when you’re hanging with General Mills), and while touring Lefley Farms, I snuggled the heck out of their sweet dog (you’ll see him in the video above) and got as close as I ever want to get to the front of a combine. It’s funny — despite the fact that I grew up in a farming community in Michigan, this was the first time I’d ever been up close and personal with so much farm equipment or really learned what each item did.
Once again, I’ve gotta give a huge thanks to the folks at General Mills for bringing me up to Winnipeg, and also to the farmers who opened their businesses (and homes!) to all of us. Seeing this part of the supply chain gave me a new appreciation for what shows up in those bright yellow boxes.
Are you guys cereal eaters? I’m more likely to snack on it than eat it for breakfast, but I do love that satisfying crunch! And Cheerios with bananas? Kind of an all-time fave over here. —Kristen