Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Oatmeal and the persistence of writing

This morning, in my quest for sore throat-friendly foods, I made some instant oatmeal. While waiting for the water to boil, I sifted through the various flavors (when did French Vanilla become an oatmeal flavor? I don’t think we had anything other than an extremely suspicious “maple” when I was a kid), and in a moment of perceptual fuzziness, stopped focusing on the names of the flavors and actually noticed what else was printed on the packets. Dinosaur facts.

About eight years, some marketing person at Quaker Oats was in desperate need of several hundred cute little dinosaur facts, to put on the sides of a new Dinosaur Egg oatmeal. I kid you not: it’s like the eggs were sugar, and dissolved to reveal tiny baby dinosar skeletons or something– the kind of notion that may sound cute in theory, but is pretty questionable in practice, like having a Cinderella pinata at a birthday party. Anyway, they called someone at Britannica (our global marketing director was a Quaker Oats alum, so I suspect that’s how we got called), and eventually the request hit my desk.

Now, Britannica was not a place that did a lot of this kind of work: it was, after all, the creator of the Macropaedia and Micropaedia, otherwise known as “history’s most hostile act of publishing.” Dino facts were not on our agenda. I don’t remember how it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to just throw this in the circular file, but eventually it became clear that I was actually going to have to find someone to do this.

Fortunately, my friend Victoria has had recently been hired, was a budding herpetologist, an amateur paleontologist, and most important, was slightly underused at the time; so I was able to give it to her. Not surprisingly, she did a bang-up job, and we were able to send them a big bunch of dino trivia.

I suspect that the Dino Egg oatmeal concept has gone the way of the dinosaurs themselves, but curiously, the dino facts have taken on lives of their own, and have outlived the product they were created to support. They’re still entertaining kids at breakfast tables every morning. And they’ll probably be the most-read thing I ever have a hand in creating. Not Britannica, not the Mac archive, certainly not my book, not even the Red Herring column. Dino facts.

Literary immortality and anonymity all in one neat package. It’s like being the guy who invents the phrase “right turn only,” or “this end up:” read every day, but not in a way that leaves any lasting impression. Kind of like eating instant oatmeal.


  1. “Fortunately, my friend Victoria has recently been hired, was a budding herpetologist, an amateur paleontologist, and most important, was slightly underused at the time…”

    Would simply like to note that your “has” should be “had” (ever the editor, I!), and that I’m wildly underused AND overworked at the moment. Save those packets and remember my slavish devotion to that project! Ah, how I did love the work I did for Britannica. And now I see that I’m missing the opps to give myself props by buying oatmeal in bulk instead.

  2. A Good Read..Thank you.

  3. who invented oatmeal

  4. This was funny! You write well. The “Cinderella pinata at a birthday party” was my favorite part.

    I found your article while trying to find out if oatmeal had healing properties in it for a sore throat. I have had this one for almost a month and it’s painful when I swallow, so I ate a bowl of oatmeal last night, took my vicodin, and went to bed without brushing my teeth (not something I usually do. I was really out of it). When I woke up, my throat was much better and I can eat solid foods again! So next time you have a sore throat, oatmeal is the way to go.

  5. Ginna Greenbaum

    April 5, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    As a point of interest, Dino Egg Oatmeal has not “gone the way of the dinosaurs themselves.” Anyone with small children who are picky eaters needs to know about this wonderful product, which takes a very boring (albeit tasty) product a makes it fun and appealing to young children. Despite your scepticism, the invention of this product was in my humble opinion an act of sheer brilliance. So much so, that I was compelled to search the web for the story of its invention, thus leading me to your quite humorous story about this little facts that the younger children simply ignore, but which facinate the 9-year-old set of breakfast eaters.

    When the “egg” melts away, a little baby dinosaur of varying different colors is revealed (not skeletons.) The children eagerly chew their way quickly through an entire serving looking for all the babies and identifying their colors. Bonus points if you get more than two on your spoon at a time.

  6. Amazing that they’re STILL around. I’ll have to look for some. My 9 year-old would probably like to read the packages….
    TITLE: and before I forget
    BLOG NAME: kev
    DATE: 10/06/2005 01:14:08 PM
    Who knew there was so much interest in dino oatmeal, and oatmeal in general?

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