- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

At the end of another college semester, students across the country have nearly finished stumbling from bleary-eyed, all-night study sessions to exams and will soon have time to reflect upon the meaning of the past four months.

For three University of Maryland sophomores, it’s been all about cereal. That’s right, the stuff you eat for breakfast.

Erik Westlund, Samy Muaddi and Nick Fernandez, all 19, have at last count eaten 224 boxes of cereal since early September. Better yet, they have decorated the living room of their dorm suite with each box cover, creating a kaleidoscope memorial to their breakfast-eating prowess.

“A lot of people buy their beer and put the boxes on the wall and think it’s cool. We think this is infinitely cooler,” said Mr. Westlund, who is not old enough to buy alcoholic beverages.

Cereal has bonded these three young men and alienated their fourth suite mate, a lactose intolerant senior who they now call “the other guy.”

“We go to bed many times and look forward to eating,” Mr. Muaddi said. “Many times Erik will wake me up and say, ‘It’s cereal time.’ And Nick is already in [the living room] pouring a bowl. It’s, like, a great feeling.”

As founding members of the campus running club, the students run an average of nine miles a day, increasing their bodies’ need for carbohydrates.

“When you run as much as we do, you get crazy cravings for carbohydrates,” Mr. Fernandez said.

Jane Jakubczak, a registered dietitian at the University of Maryland Health Center, who is a runner and works with the cross-country team, said carbohydrates are “one of the most important nutrients for a runner, because carbohydrates are what our body uses as fuel. It’s like high-octane fuel for our muscles, very clean burning.”

To satiate their carbohydrateneeds, the cereal boys eat sevento 10 bowls of cereal a day and consume about 15 boxes of cereal a week.

“It would be OK as long as they’re getting protein and fat as well,” Mrs. Jakubczak said. “If they’re eating this many carbohydrates it might be tough. Their diet might be a little off balance.”

Even when the boys run, they talk mostly about cereal.

“We talk about the mascots, who’s the best and who’s the worst,” Mr. Muaddi said.

They agree that Cap’n Crunch is the best.

“He’s been around for a long time and he’s pretty hard working,” said Mr. Westlund, pointing out that the Captain is featured on five different kinds of cereal.

“We think he should be promoted to admiral,” Mr. Westlund said.

All cereals known to man, and some unknown to most — Cornfetti, Kaboom, Sir Grapefellow and King Vitaman to name a few — are represented on the wall.

The ritual would not be complete without the revered chalice, or cereal bowl.

Mr. Fernandez has written the initials “MVCE” on his bowl, to stand for “Most Valuable Cereal Eater.” Mr. Westlund called that “narcissistic,” but said his buddy still deserved the title.

Mr. Muaddi eats out of a blue dog bowl.

“It’s a gimmick as far as I’m concerned,” Mr. Westlund said. “He’s the LVCE.”

Though the cereal boys claim to eat “other stuff” besides cereal, their two refrigerators recently were filled only with a carton of skim milk, a cup filled with milk, a carton of water, tomato sauce, jelly, cheese and soda in a styrofoam cup.

Their unopened boxes of cereal sit on the floor around a bare metal pole, their substitute for a Christmas tree. It is a “Festivus” pole, an idea taken from an episode of the TV show “Seinfeld” in which the father of character George Castanza thought a tree and tinsel was too distracting, and put up only a pole.

The cereal boys hope to finish off 450 boxes by the end of the school year, and plan to dismantle the cereal wall, piece by cardboard piece, so they can remount it in their suite next year. They are also looking for a new suite mate who eats cereal to replace “the other guy.”

Though they are shrewd and cutthroat in achieving greater cereal success, Mr. Westlund still found time to wax Zenlike on the meaning of their new hobby.

“Often in life, too much focus is put on the ends,” he said. “I like the process. Eating cereal is great.”

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