The International Intrigue of French Toast Crunch

On Monday, General Mills announced the return of its only French-themed cereal. The timing is perfect.

General Mills/Wikimedia/TheAtlantic

On Monday, Americans got the long-awaited news that French Toast Crunch, a beloved and discontinued cereal, would once again line the shelves of supermarkets.

In a press release, General Mills explained that the return of the product had to do with the "passionate fans [who] created a 'Bring French Toast Crunch Back' Facebook page, gathered thousands of online petition signatures, and contacted the General Mills customer service center in droves with calls and e-mails."

But the period in which French Toast Crunch was discontinued also coincided with a U.S. political era in which French things were considered snooty at best and treasonous at worst. The return of the cereal, fittingly, comes as the U.S. and France are strengthening ties.

Observers of the historic low points in French-American relations might point to the XYZ Affair, the diplomatic episode that almost brought the two countries to war in the late-18th century. Then there was the Vichy Government's severing of ties with the United States during World War II.

A familiar and more contemporary nadir between Yankee and Frenchman was during the run-up to the Second Iraq War, during which French opposition to the war spawned a campaign to turn French fries into Freedom fries.

If you think anti-French animus went away after that, you were missing the signs. Who can forget 2004, when Commerce Secretary Don Evans and countless others determined that former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry "looks French?" In Roger Cohen's round-up of the attacks, he noted:

For some months now, the Republican House majority leader, Tom DeLay, has been opening speeches to supporters with an occasional routine. He says hi, then adds: "Or, as John Kerry might say, 'Bonjour.'"

The unseemliness of being French or French-seeming had nearly as long of a shelf life as French Toast Crunch itself. In late 2011, some eight years after Freedom fries first showed up on menus in Congressional cafeterias, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was targeted in an attack ad for his ability to speak French. The ads ran in Iowa and New Hampshire, which was odd given the latter's proximity to French-speaking parts of Canada.

General Mills

All the while, French Toast Crunch continued its storied run in Canada, where it was never taken off the market. In Monday's press release, General Mills acknowledged the American addicts of French Toast Crunch that had made a habit of "spending $20 a box to get the cereal sent from Canada."

French Toast Crunch first debuted in 1995, the very same year that Jacques Chirac, who would become France's most anti-American premier in recent memory, came to power. The cereal lasted until 2006 before it was discontinued, just months before Chirac left office.

Had General Mills known that Nicolas Sarkozy⎯who was known as Sarko l'Américain for his love of American things⎯would follow Chirac, perhaps French Toast Crunch would have never been separated from its less politically divisive sister Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

This year has been a difficult one by many accounts. But the turmoil may have set the table for the return of French Toast Crunch. It started in February when, for the first time in nearly two decades, a French head of state visited the United States. As the United States has pursued nuclear negotiations with Iran and waged a campaign against ISIS, it has found a surprisingly muscular ally in its French brethren.

I mentioned this renewal of strong ties between France and the United States when I spoke with General Mills marketing manager Waylon Good and asked if it had anything to do with the re-release of French Toast Crunch.

"For us, it was more of a business decision," Good told me. The same could be said for France's aiding of the colonies during the American Revolution and the Louisiana Purchase, without which, French Toast Crunch would never have been possible.