by Sarah Nove ‘20
While modern radio dramas and political news shows seem to be at the forefront of podcasting, “The Empty Bowl” defies genre. It’s all about cereal –– not to be confused with “Serial,” the popular investigative journalism podcast –– and that’s it. There’s no punchline or underlying storyline; it’s just two guys talking about the latest in breakfast news. And it’s actually pretty great.
Justin McElroy, of “My Brother, My Brother and Me” fame, and food blogger Dan Goubert of cerealously.net host this strangely compelling podcast. The pair discuss breaking news in the cereal industry, review various breakfast foods, and respond to audience questions. Unlike McElroy’s other works, “The Empty Bowl” is not based in comedy; rather, it is a self-described “meditative” podcast, where listeners are encouraged to set their worries aside. It’s easy to get swept away in the spa-music that plays in the background –– so easy, in fact, that I’ve actually forgotten to listen to the hosts a few times. But that’s part of the appeal: the laid-back topic means that it’s okay to zone out, because you don’t have to worry about missing essential information.
Don’t get me wrong, shows that have listeners hanging on to every word are fantastic, but they aren’t what I want to listen to as I fall asleep. There’s something to be said for a program that gives listeners an opportunity to forget their stressors and fears. In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, it’s nice to think about something as low-stakes as cereal.
You don’t need to be a cereal fan to enjoy “The Empty Bowl.” Though the topic of discussion is breakfast-based, the hosts sprinkle in charming anecdotes of their own experiences outside of the realm of food. However, for those non-cereal fans, enough of the podcast revolves around delicious and underrated cereals that it might make you change your mind about marbits and oats.
Aside from the fact that it may make listeners hungry, the biggest downside to “The Empty Bowl” is that, by nature, it can be a bit boring. Cereal is not exactly a nail-biting subject, so those who seek thrilling podcasts should definitely look elsewhere. Occasionally McElroy and Goubert will idle a bit too long on one subject, which, when paired with the calming background music, may cause one’s mind to wander. That being said, the podcast is still fairly new, having only premiered in September of 2018, so the pacing will likely improve.
Regardless of its flaws, “The Empty Bowl” has amassed a fairly significant following. It seems that despite –– or perhaps thanks to –– its unusual premise, McElroy and Goubert have found success with “The Empty Bowl,” a podcast that will have listeners coming back for seconds.