Setting breakfast free: Kellogg’s and the enfolding of otium into negotium

Kellogg’s have released a new liquid breakfast product creatively called “To Go”. Unlike “for here” breakfasts such as cereal, pancakes or eggs, “To Go” enables mobility when consuming the so-called most important meal of the day.

What interests me about “To Go” is the commercial. I don’t particularly care about its taste or nutritional value. And I will most likely never eat/drink or purchase a “To Go”. Yet the commercial, with its energetic music, attempted profundity, and predictable cast of Joe and Jane go-getters, provokes a visceral rage in me.

This reaction is not simply due to the fact that I like breakfast while seated. What disturbs me is Kellogg’s answer to its own questions – ‘What if breakfast was set free? Where might it take you? Where might you go?’ According to Kellogg’s, the freeing of breakfast comes through a liquid that you can drink on the go. Where might you go? Well, it is pretty clear that you are going to work.

At face value these are stupid questions developed by marketeers and focus groups. But pausing over these questions illuminates features of our predicament and produce lines of inquiry that disrupt the narratives multinationals that think a liquid breakfast or other consumer products are the answer.

‘When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love’ – Marcus Aurelius

In asking us to imagine a world where breakfast has been set free, Kellogg’s unwittingly provides us an opportunity to ponder our current world where breakfast has been enslaved. Or more accurately, the time to prepare and eat breakfast while sitting, reading and conversing has been abducted and taken from us.

The morning hours and the breakfast meal have long been considered a time for self care or otium. Morning practices of prayer, reading, writing, meditation or contemplation have been encouraged by religious and non-religious sources as ways to cultivate the self.

‘Otium cum dignitate’ (leisure with dignity) – Cicero

In the past, otium distinguished, cultivated and separated the self from the ordinary and everyday concerns of negotium.  In our age, however, practices of the self are increasingly subsumed into negotium that focus on subsistence. Bernard Stiegler defines negotium as human commerce that is focused on ‘the imperative of subsistence’ to the degree that ‘it can render inaccessible the dignity of existence’ (Stiegler, The Decadence of Industrial Democracies, Polity: 2011, 100).

Stiegler (among others) contend that the ‘modern age’ or ‘industrial democracy’ has made it increasingly difficult to establish a form of life that is shaped by logics other than those of the market and the practices of consumption. Otium has been incorporated in the culture industry that repackages practices of the self into consumer items or relations – yoga (Lulu Lemon), alternative agriculture (Whole Foods), feminism (Lean In), and so on.

The dominance of negotium does not destroy otium, but makes it indistinguishable. That is, otium no longer shapes an existence that is separate from the subsistence of negotium, but existence and subsistence are conflated. Hence, Kellogg’s sets breakfast free from the old notion of time that held breakfast as part of otium and distinct from negotium. “To Go” enfolds breakfast into work and frees us from the indigestion of hurridely scoffing our eggs down our throats to make the bus in time or to beat the traffic.

Where will we go? To work with dignity.

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One Comment

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  1. This is a very interesting article. Something I have noticed in France (different to the US or Australia) is that they work very hard to preserve a sense of ‘otium’ separate from ‘negotium’. This is expressed in businesses closing down for 2-3 hours in the middle of the day, most people take this time to enjoy a meal, tend to their plants or read books. You have put your finger on something very profound.

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