An Open Letter to Ben and Jerry

Earlier this month, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company announced their latest zany frozen concoction–”Schweddy Balls.” The ice cream is named for a fictional treat from a 1990s Saturday Night Live sketch in which Alec Baldwin played a chef named Pete Schweddy, appearing on a fictional NPR show called “Delicious Dish” to talk about his famous “Schweddy Balls.” 

It wasn’t long after the announcement of the new Ben & Jerry’s flavor before the backlash began. The conservative group “One Million Moms” has started a letter-writing campaign asking the company to stop making Schweddy Balls, claiming that:

The vulgar new flavor has turned something as innocent as ice cream into something repulsive. Not exactly what you want a child asking for at the supermarket.

This letter has nothing to do with that campaign.

Dear Ben and Jerry,

I know you two guys are no longer involved with the company, but you do show up at “scoop shop” openings. And I’ve been meaning to write you for a long time to air a grievance that has been weighing on me. When I heard about your ex-company’s latest flavor I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. Could you please pass this along to the new corporate honchos?

I’m sure you’ve been getting a lot of mail lately from people who think the name “Schweddy Balls” is vulgar. I am not one of those people. Naming ice cream after the boys in the basement is crass, but I don’t care about that. What I care about is a pattern that I first noticed six months ago when you came out with “Late Night Snack,” honoring Jimmy Fallon.

My initial reaction to the news that Jimmy Fallon was getting his own Ben & Jerry’s flavor was, “Really?? Jimmy Fallon?” Ben & Jerry’s flavors are supposed to be named after left-wing darlings and hippie icons–Jerry Garcia, Stephen Colbert, John Lennon, the dudes from Phish, Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, Monty Python, Elton John. And then, as I recalled the people who have been immortalized in your ice cream, it hit me: They’re all white guys.

How could this be? How could I have been so blind? I thought you guys were cool. I thought you guys got it. Was it really possible that you had never named a flavor after someone who wasn’t a white male?

I did some research and learned that in 33 years of business you’ve released just one limited-edition flavor honoring a woman. That woman is Hannah Teter, a two-time Olympic medal-winning snowboarder and activist. And you called it “Maple Blondie.” Hold on … don’t tell me … because she has blonde hair, right? And you have never named an ice cream after a person of color, although, to your credit, you temporarily changed the flavor “Butter Pecan” to “Yes Pecan” in scoop shops to honor Obama’s inauguration and briefly changed “Chubby Hubby” to “Hubby Hubby” in Vermont scoop shops to celebrate marriage equality in the state (and featured an interracial pair of grooms on the pint).

But come on, guys, it’s 2011. And you’re supposed to be a progressive, conscientious company committed to social justice and sustainability. I know, it’s just ice cream, but you obviously take yourselves seriously. You have a whole section on your website devoted to activism. Your mission statement couldn’t be more political:

Ben & Jerry’s is founded on and dedicated to a sustainable corporate concept of linked prosperity. … We have a progressive, nonpartisan social mission that seeks to meet human needs and eliminate injustices in our local, national and international communities by integrating these concerns into our day-to-day business activities. Our focus is on children and families, the environment and sustainable agriculture on family farms.

There’s more but I’m sure you know it by heart. On your website you proudly proclaim that “Capitalism and the wealth it produces do not create opportunity for everyone equally.” That’s a pretty radical statement. And yet, your company has recognized and celebrated white men in all but one of its flavors.

The 2012 GOP presidential candidates are more diverse than the entire Ben & Jerry’s flavor collection. So was George W. Bush’s cabinet. By a lot.

Now that you’ve added Alec Baldwin and his Schweddy Balls to the list, you’ve named two flavors after an SNL hosts and a former cast member in six months. How hard would it be to come up with an ice cream named after someone from SNL who isn’t a white guy? Liz Lemon Meringue. Chris Rock-y Road. Flip Your Wiig Fudge. I just made those up off the top of my head. You get my point–it’s doable.

Ben, Jerry, I care about social justice and equality and I love ice cream. I am your target demographic. I want to believe, as your representative has been telling the media lately, that you’re “the caring company.” I know you have made significant financial contributions to many great organizations. But when it comes to the most visible actions, time after time you choose to shine your spotlight on the most privileged among us. I know you can come up with a way to make the faces of your delicious flavors more reflective of all the people who enjoy them.

Sincerely,

Annie Shields

Comments

  1. *stands up and applauds* Thank you for such a well crafted letter. I know many will think (and say) “It’s just ice cream. What’s the big deal?” I agree with you that it matters. Even the “small” things of inequality matter. The day we all find such track records and behavior as unappealing as some are finding the new flavor’s name is the day we will all be free. If any one of us is not free then non of us are free.

  2. Amen to that !! It is about time people speak up about such things! sometimes, it is not a choice made on a conscious level, such as only white male labels for Ben & Jeerys’, but more the habit of being in tune with your own “kind”…. still, that does not make it right, and in order to truly achieve equality, one must be aware of everyone, and accepting too! So this is a fantastic, and gracefully stated call to awareness Mrs. Annie Shields !!! Thank you for taking a moment of your time to bring this to their attention, and ours too!!

    Cody~

  3. I agree with the feeling, and the arguments as well as with the way they are supported. I do think the tone (“how can you not have realized this???”)is a little harsh, though: Well, borrowing from one of my favorite books, white male privilege to white males is like water to fish: the last thing fish realize is the water. White men, liberals or not are no different when it comes to just not realizing. Women do. Black folks do. And it’s a good thing to remind those who don’t.

  4. Alice Walker needs a flavor. Get it done ladies.

    Dear B & J

    I will go to yogurtland for my treats until I get some diversity in your named flavors.

    Sincerely

    A chubby girl

    • Yesss! Something purple–grape or blackberry. And I looked at their Twitter page [http://twitter.com/#!/cherrygarcia] and they’re always Tweeting at Janelle Monae–SHE deserves a flavor!

      Jimmy Fallon is fine or whatever I guess, but if they stay down this path Carson Daly will have his own flavor soon.

  5. Seriously, how is there not a Hillary flavor? And for the record, Schweddy Balls is a gross name for ice cream.

  6. J.Christina Hodgson says:

    Gilda Raspberry Sorbet would be good.

  7. J.Christina Hodgson says:

    Adrienne Rich ‘n’ Chunky

  8. J.Christina Hodgson says:

    Audre Lorde/Jordan Almond Crunch

  9. Since Ms. turns 40 next year, why not celebrate October 2012 with a pint, no make that a quart, of Glorious Stein-em beer-flavored ice cream !!! Cheers !

  10. A rosewater flavored pint in honor of Rosa Parks sounds deeeeeee-licious.

  11. You are so right on! The most poignant part is when you point out the mission and credo of their company and how they, the powers that be at Ben and Jerry’s, are not living up to it. The question becomes–is it really about that anymore, or is it more about the dollar bill, thus making what will sell? It could very well be that it started off altruistic, but changed for some reason. I have learned that MOST people get tired of fighting the good fight, only a few fight for right until the end. But, some will argue–how people fight for the good changes over time, it is not as radical and they start to see things less like they did before. It seems like Ben & Jerry’s should still be hanging in there. What a shame.

    ~KeKeMichel

  12. Sounds like you got a “Chocolate CHIP-on-your-shoulder!” Hey I made up a new flavor!

  13. I don’t know, maybe it’s just my being suspicious but I think Ben And Jerry picked up on a demographic a long time ago and merely marketed to them. I really don’t remember the hippies as being particular sensitive to the dignity of women or extremely committed to race issues. And they sold their company, rather then keep it totally under their control. I don’t think I’d sacrifice my own freedom to exercise my own conscience if I owned a company.

    In the end they are businesspeople. They may have used some of their profits for positive endeavors but their products is too expensive for lower income people to enjoy.

    • I’m all for Ms. bringing this to the company’s attention, but I agree with you as well. Hippie men aren’t terribly “rebellious” when it comes to women’s issues, and both male and female hippies who are white were never and still aren’t all that attuned to racial issues.

  14. Desmond Two-Two: chocolate ice cream & cookies + vanilla (or coconut) ice cream & cookies.

    • Elladan's Wife says:

      Isn’t that a little racist, the comment about coconut flavour being a suitable connection to black people? Are you saying something totally radical and shocking like they evolved (in most cases barely) from gibbons???????????????

  15. Lourdes Sanchez says:

    What about radio affair? Named after Marie Curie who, with two Nobel prizes was never admitted to the French Royal Academy of Sciences because she had an affair with a married fellow scientist, and for the record, he was already separated.

    Sounds great and bombastic!!!

  16. Katharine Saavedra says:

    Ben and Jerry’s is now owned by Unilever. In 2000, Jostein Solheim, a Unilever executive from Norway, became the new CEO of the company and had this to say “My mantra that I’ve repeated a hundred times since starting at Ben & Jerry’s is: ‘Change is a wonderful thing,’” he said. “The world needs dramatic change to address the social and environmental challenges we are facing. Values led businesses can play a critical role in driving that positive change. We need to lead by example, and prove to the world that this is the best way to run a business. Historically, this company has been and must continue to be a pioneer to continually challenge how business can be a force for good and address inequities inherent in global business.” So, how about it Mr. Solheim? Lead by example and acknowledge the other 90% of the world’s population.

  17. Sooooo… why is the name of ice cream such a big deal. We have plenty of other issues to be dealing with in this country and we are worried about ice cream. There is plenty of rights and privileges to each race, gender, religion, etc. Life isn’t always fair and it’s time people start realizing that. If you don’t agree with the company then don’t eat the ice cream, simple as that.

    • You really don’t get anything about social justice or activism. It’s not just the big things, but the little things, that make up our daily experience. And the way to fight them is to complain, not just say “Don’t buy the ice cream” – or “Don’t get that credit card,” or whatever other apathetic “advice” you care to give.

      • I try not to have conflict such as that in my life. I’m just here to live and not worry about anything else. I’m all for equality and such but there are more important things that need to be taken care of. So it is as simple as don’t buy the ice cream if you don’t like it.. don’t buy faded jeans if you don’t like them.. catch my drift? Once more, Life isn’t always fair. It’s my opinion take it or leave it, simple as that. :-)

        • Nicola Smith says:

          Whenever I hear someone say ‘life isn’t fair’, I want to pull my hair out. Of course it isn’t fair, which is why we bring things to their attention to make it fair. Of course we can stop eating their ice cream, but you also need to let them know why. Otherwise all they think they have to do to increase sales is to improve their advertising.

          • Great points Nicola. The reasons should be let known rather than bashing the company. How does one change without knowing the issue. Either way life will never be 100% fair, so sometimes people may have to go without certain things…& ect

  18. Kim Anderson says:

    Very interesting observation, Ms. Shields!

    Here are a few flavor suggestions:

    Opa Oprah!!! – a chocolate covered truffle gelatto

    Condi Rice Pudding with Rum Raisins

  19. Tina Fey should have a flavor.

    Kristen Wiig should have a flavor: Wiigin’ Out for Bananas!

    Ellen DeGeneres vegan flavor

    I love her but Hillary Clinton Nut Crunch would garner a lot of attention.

  20. I’ve made a list of original names for female flavors, including NutElla Fitzgerald, and Honey Nut Cheeri-Oprah! http://thejollyhermit.com/2011/10/08/dear-ben-and

  21. I’m sending a letter to Ben & Jerry next week. Want to co-sign and share your ideas in a letter that will go directly to them? Comment here: http://bit.ly/pK1hFw

  22. I AM NOT INTERESTED IN ALL OF THIS EXCEPT TO SAY THAT I WENT TO BUY SOME americanconedream and it was not available at the giant eagle in waterworks in PITTSBURGH, SO i bought a lot of little dixie cups and the consistency was not as good. The man told me they had issues about getting your flavors and it was going to get worse. What is that all about. I gave 10 cups away, but happy to support Steven Colbert. However what is going on? Alex Alexander

  23. Not Stephen Colbert says:

    “I really don’t remember the hippies as being particular sensitive to the dignity of women or extremely committed to race issues.” Really?

    Read some of this to refresh your memory:
    http://www.hipplanet.com/books/atoz/activism.htm

    “The African-American community, being in the minority, depended on the support of the white population, and at least in terms of sentiment, those caught up in the spirit of the hippie movement took the cause of racial justice and equality to heart, and often to the streets.”
    Excerpted from:
    http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/sixties/civil.html

    John Lennon, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, The Mama’s and the Papa’s, The MC5, Santana, Neil Young, Crosby, Still, and Nash, and so on can all be considered “hippies” that contributed to the civil rights movement and even after the movement supposedly ended in 68.

    And maybe if Hannah Teter were a household name then they might have used a different name than Maple Blondie. But seriously, what else do they have to market her image other than snowboarding and being a woman that is blonde? Yes, she does charity work, yes she’s part of Doritos Do Something campaign, and yes she’s a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, but we wont mention that. So, lets pick on them for naming something due to her natural features and attributes.

    One Sweet Whirled!? OMG. Why? Because Dave Matthews has a song called One Sweet World? You know, he’s more than a musician. He’s a father, a husband, philanthropist, and is all about racial harmony, and striving for a cleaner tomorrow, and there they go naming it after one song of his.

    Peach Cobbler!? How does that even relate to Willie Nelson? It doesn’t mention weed, whiskey, or being on the road again.

    Cherry Garcia. That doesn’t have anything to do with Jerry Garcia except a super common name. I suppose it’s for the best since he’s just a hippie that never did anything to help support the civil rights movement. Never giving it or the people behind a voice and platform.

    Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road. You know, Elton John is a lot more than just some song he wrote like thirty years ago. Doesn’t mention anything about being an activist or being a homosexual.

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