Ice cream makers are not our moral arbiters

In today’s 'woke' world, even ice cream involves political activism, writes Monica Porter

May 13, 2021 14:06

Let’s talk about ice cream politics. You thought it was merely an inoffensive frozen dessert? Not anymore. In today’s “woke” world, even ice cream involves political activism. Or at least one brand does: Ben & Jerry’s.

You may be familiar with the success story of the company’s Jewish founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, hippie pals from Long Island, New York. In the late 1970s they took a five-dollar correspondence course in ice cream making and opened their first ice cream parlour in Vermont. True to their hippie values, they were all about ethical sourcing and helping the local community, fair pay for their workers and being kind to dairy cows. So far, so happy-clappy. But then they hit the Big Time. The company went public and in 2000 they sold to the global food giant Unilever, making their fortune.

That’s often the way it goes in business and I’ve no problem with that, as long as the product they make is still good. I’m a long-time fan of B & J’s. But I will never again buy their gloop, because they keep ramming their strident agitprop down our throats and I refuse to swallow any more of it.

They have been doing this for quite a while, hectoring and preaching, telling us what to think and how to act and in the process further polarising society.

They will bring out a new flavour with a cutesy punning name, all the better to pontificate with. For example, in the run-up to the US midterm elections in 2018, they created an anti-Trump flavour called Pecan Resist, with the statement: “Together, Pecan Resist! We honor & stand with women, immigrants, people of color, & the millions of activists and allies who are courageously resisting the President’s attack on our values, humanity & environment.” The carton featured an illustration of an angry-looking black woman. So now we are glared at by packaging.

Ben Cohen, under his own Ben’s Best label, has twice put out ice cream flavours in support of Bernie Sanders. Last year’s offering was called Bernie’s Back, in which a streak of toffee running down the ice cream’s centre symbolised Bernie’s “backbone” and his “steadfast determination to un-rig our economy”. Oh, please.

Naturally Ben & Jerry’s has been in thrall to the Black Lives Matter movement, so BLM has had a flavour dedicated to it (dark and chocolatey, natch), thus providing new opportunities for moralising and guilt-tripping — because we are all white supremacists, dontcha know.

But what finally did it for me was the company’s recent condemnation of the UK government for its “inhumane” treatment of the migrants and asylum-seekers arriving here illegally from across the Channel. This took the form of a personal attack on Home Secretary Priti Patel, who was made out to be some sort of mini Heinrich Himmler, herding hapless refugees into concentration camps. (Oh the irony! Four years ago Ben & Jerry’s was taken to court in the US by migrant workers claiming to be exploited through underpayment; the workers won their case.)

But throughout this hateful saga, one thought kept recurring to me: how radically different Ben and Jerry’s tune was when I met them, in 1995, at a press event in London. They were here to launch their latest flavour, Cool Britannia (vanilla with strawberries and shortbread).

I recall the pair as jolly, paunchy, middle-aged hippies in baggy Hawaiian shirts. I remarked that my then favourite B & J’s flavour, cookie dough, never contained enough cookie dough chunks for my liking; couldn’t they put more in? No, they explained, the ingredients had to be in certain precise proportions in order to produce the right consistency. I thought about this. Ok, I said. But can’t you just add more anyway? They chuckled.

Well, it’s all changed now. We’ve gone from Cool Britannia to Cruel Britannia, finger-wagging Ben & Jerry’s tells us. But its accusations against the UK are ignorant, biased and plain wrong. The truth is that however well it started out, B & J’s has become a hypocritical company, blowing with the fashionable socio-political wind of the times.

And today that means depicting the West — and especially the Brexity, Boris-ruled UK, with its irredeemable colonial past — as the fount of the world’s ills.

Our government doesn’t deserve that portrayal, but if B & J’s must mix puddings with politics, why not target genuinely evil regimes? There are some humdingers to choose from. For starters, there’s Xi Jinping’s genocidal dictatorship and Putin’s brazen kleptocracy.

As a helpful gesture, I’ll even suggest the appropriate flavours, along with their cutesy names. How about Uighurs ‘R’ Creamed (creamy vanilla shot through with blood-red raspberry swirls), and Putin on the Glitz (golden caramel stuffed with dollar-sign-shaped chocolate pieces)?

Do you think they might go for those?

Me neither.

May 13, 2021 14:06

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