99 Cone Square

Political ice cream is a hypocritical confection

ICE CREAM is a joy that ought not to be spoiled by poor ingredients and self-serving sanctimony.

It should be velvety and smooth, not coarse and gritty. It is best fresh from the chilled churner not allowed to melt and be rechilled so it has freezer burn.

And, be it sinful dark chocolate laced with liquor or innocent but reliably satisfying Vanilla, it is decidedly best if it is honest rather than corrupted.

Ice cream should not be political and to those who think – like Ben & Jerry’s – that you can build a brave new world on the back of your ice cream choice, I say you are destined to find reality has a habit of melting such confected tosh on first contact with the heat of the suns purifying rays.

It is a pleasing to learn that Unilever is at last getting out of the ice cream business and leaving Ben & Jerry’s to fend for itself with new owners who can take the risk of being a political food brand. Let the market speak.

Rather than it sliding down sweetly as solo scoops or accompanying another dessert, Ben & Jerry’s has always been a brand I’d rather go without than let pass my lips.

As a communicator I work in politics much of my time; I write, read, speak, listen and watch politics – but I shall not eat it. I won’t be spoon-fed politics – for my pleasure I want my sport, my music, my art and my cars to give me a break from the endless campaigning.

I just want honest to goodness pleasure from the craft, the creativity and the authenticity of food and will not be lectured by filthy rich hippy-types about the politics of what I should and should not eat because they think they no better.

Sometimes I value a McDonald’s at particular moments and at other times an Edinburgh Fish or Haggis supper (with chippy sauce, of course).  I adore my Cod Roe, my Tripe, my Kippers, my Mussels and Oysters from the Ocean’s larder. And I will defend Foie Gras and Caviar for those who want it. And when it comes to desert I will more likely order a Welsh Rarebit or Scotch Woodcock than have a Crème Brulé or a Floating Island. But when it comes to Ice Cream I look for home made or one with proper unadulterated dairy ingredients. Indeed I’d rather make it myself – and do, regularly.

What I cannot stomach is being told communist tosh about all the things wrong with this world by a manufacturer who has the temerity, like so many others of its ilk, to use the oil-based and dairy sourced resources courtesy of hard-working people but think we should live our lives to a different supposedly higher standard.

Unilever bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000 but it remained an autonomous subsidiary, meaning its independent board was able, over the past 24 years to run a series of campaigns that embarrassed its parent company. Now Unilever will gain my admiration for saving itself $870m over the next three years as it divests itself of five of the world’s top ten ice-cream brands by sales, including Ben & Jerry’s.

And no wonder the ownership is melting away, Ben & Jerry’s has repeatedly shown itself social justice crusades ahead of their bottom line. From advocating the defunding of the police to promoting out-there socialist policies or boycotting markets such as the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip to signal its support of Palestinian causes, Ben & Jerry’s has made it clear  it values virtue signalling over serving its customers. It forgot its primary purpose was to make ice cream, not to lecture us on how to think or live our lives.

It doesn’t limit itself to politics and social issues. It’s also prone to environmental sanctimony – and this is where the hypocrisy really kicks in.

It decries palm oil as an environmental villain, ignoring the fact that even the WWF believes that sustainable palm oil production can actually benefit the planet. Instead of engaging constructively with the issue and supporting sustainable practices as we all make our way in the world, it opts for sensationalism and grandstanding, furthering its reputation as a purveyor of empty gestures.

The ice cream maker hates palm oil, due to its past links to deforestation. But the rate of deforestation in places like Malaysia has been trending much lower for some time, with Global Forest Watch reporting in June 2023 a sharp reduction in forest loss, showing that reversing deforestation is achievable.

The initiatives employed by the Malaysian government and oil corporations are bearing fruit with some 83% of palm oil refining capacity now operating under a ‘No Deforestation, Peat and Exploitation (NDPE)’ commitment.

Even Hannah Ritchie, the star number cruncher at the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data research unit, says in her book ‘Not The End of the World’ that palm oil isn’t the villain it’s portrayed to be. Dr Ritchie argues that cutting out palm oil will lead to it being replaced it with other oils and the alternatives are no better.

If companies boycotted palm oil to replace it with alternatives, we would need 5 to 10 times as much land devoted to oil crops. Hardly a good optic for environmentalism and saving the forests!

To illustrate this, Ritchie came up with a thought experiment: the world currently uses 322 million hectares (an area the size of India) to grow oil crops. If we were to get all of it from palm oil we’d need just 77 million hectares – four times less, freeing up a lot of land. But if we got it all from olive oil then we’d need 660 million hectares – or the equivalent of two Indias by landmass.

Ice Cream companies should stick to making their desserts to the best of their ability and leave us to think for ourselves. Other food companies like bakers and biscuiteers using palm oil in their ingredients don’t lecture the ice cream industry on the energy it consumes to chill and transport frozen food, or the troubles of dairy farming – they get on with the job of feeding us. And that’s how it should be.

I won’t shed a tear if I never see Ben & Jerry’s again, far less unknowingly eat it. It’s time for consumers to push back on the 24/7 lifestyle politics – it’s the way to eternal anxiety and ice cream should be eternal joy. I’m off for a 99 Cone – before somebody finds a reason to ban the Portobello-made delicacy.

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Photo of 99 Ice Cream cones by Springfield Gallery from Adobe Stock


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