(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Why woke ice cream won’t help

Despite Ben and Jerry’s woke agenda, the company continues to perpetuate environmental and social ills

Corporations and their leaders seem increasingly interested in advertising a certain type of political opinion. Few organisations are as vehement as Ben & Jerry’s, the Vermont-based ice cream maker now owned by Unilever.

In between tweets advertising their latest flavours, the company’s main priorities seem to be race, climate change and law and order.

Ben & Jerry’s view is simple: America is irredeemable. “We cannot move forward together as a nation until we begin to grapple with the sins of our past”, it states in a tone reminiscent of Old School Bible-bashing puritans, pointing to the year 1619 as the moment when evil first reached the American shore.

To some, 1619 is the year slavery was introduced to America. To others, with a nose for nuance, it is simply not true.

Ben & Jerry’s view is simple: America is irredeemable

Slavery, as is well documented, was part and parcel of the indigenous way of life well before Europeans even knew of the continent. Human Sacrifice was also much in vogue, mainly to appease a plethora of local gods.

As for the institution itself, University of California Berkeley lecturer and writer, Adam Hochschild, tells us in Bury the Chains that by the end of the eighteenth century well over three quarters of the world’s population lived in slavery. Put differently, the concept of freedom escaped like a virus from Europe and spread, unevenly, across the world over the last two centuries.

Be that as it may, America “can’t be reformed, it must dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up” a tweet reminds us in the aftermath of Daunte Wright’s heart-breaking death on 13 April 2021.

Police officer, Kim Potter, had meant to deploy her taser instead of her gun when she fatally shot Mr Wright in his car. Some said the accident was “deeply tragic”. Others knew, with eye-brow raising alacrity, that it was “no accident”. It was racism.

In a way, it could never have been anything else. If with all such tragedies the reactions have a cookie-cutter feel to them, it is because the messages have been worked out long in advance.

This is clear from an interview with Alison Beard of the Harvard Business Review in January 2021 with Matthew McCarthy, Ben & Jerry’s CEO, and Christopher Miller, its head of global activism strategy. They explain that with the help of Jabari Paul and Jay Curley, who leads their integrated marketing team, when they’ve “already worked on an issue and have a language we’ve previously used, it speeds the path to getting the message out” adding that they manage a “pretty big constellation of friends and allies and partners” to spread their concoctions.

In short, the well-oiled Groundhog Day machine is set up. Regardless of facts, every story has the same conclusion.

However, while the powerful marketing engine purrs, the implementation of police defunding seems to have had very serious consequences, not least on the self-same groups Ben & Jerry’s claim to care so much about.

A report from the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice found that the murder rate rose across most large US cities by an average of 30 percent over the year. Rav Arora wrote in the New York Post that victims of these homicides were “disproportionately African American” adding that at least 8,600 black lives were lost, a 15 percent increase on the year before, despite representing only a small fraction of the total American population. He added, “since more than 90 percent of black homicide victims are killed by black offenders, the ghost of endemic white supremacy cannot be invoked to push racial grievance narratives”.

Looking at Ben & Jerry’s social media feed, however, two closely related points come to light. These, in part, seem to explain the sound and fury that emanates from the company’s marketing department.

The first one is climate change. In a Business Insider video, from March 2021, the reporters tell us how Ben & Jerry’s produces nearly a million pints of ice cream a day. Much goes into the production of ice cream. We are told that “the milk heads to the blend tank. Cream, milk, and lots of sugar are churned together. The factory goes through 6,700 gallons of cream every single day”.

Matthew McCarthy and team depend on a vast herd of anywhere between 50,000 to 75,000 cows per day if not more to produce their ice cream

Countryside, a British magazine dedicated to inspire “everyone about rural life”, writes that “on average, a cow produces 39 pints of milk a day” and “it takes a cow between 50 and 70 hours to turn grass into milk”. That process, as we know, leads to gas emissions. These are responsible for close to  15 percent of all greenhouse emissions from human activities, according to the BBC’s Geoff Watts. In other words, Matthew McCarthy and team depend on a vast herd of anywhere between 50,000 to 75,000 cows per day if not more to produce their ice cream. That is a lot of gas.

The second one is obesity. Ben & Jerry’s sells to 38 countries around the world.

The first observation is that the overwhelming majority of the company’s export goes to what the company would refer as “white” countries, specifically those in Europe.

The exceptions are the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico, The Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the United Arab Emirates.

The second one is that in every country where we find Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, an expansion of the local population’s girth follows. To be more accurate, using World Bank data, obesity has nearly doubled between 1990 and 2016.

While it would be unfair to blame Ben & Jerry’s solely for this state of affairs, ice cream and the sugars along with a large variety of other ingredients such as sugar canes, beets, squash and more used in the process certainly have had an impact.

In fact, in a recent Eat This Not That ranking for America’s unhealthiest ice creams, Ben & Jerry’s won the top two spots, with the brand’s Chubby Hubby and Peanut Butter Cup containing 1,380 and 1,400 calories respectively. Compare that with the recommended daily intake of 2,500 calories for an average man and 2,000 for a women and suddenly the epidemic of obesity has an institutional, systemic and structural root cause.

Interestingly, in the United States, half of black adults are clinically obese. In Britain, the National Health Service calculates that obesity reduces life expectancy by between three to ten years depending on severity. That translates into 22 million black Americans, not to speak of all the other races in the country, facing premature death. Let us remember that the entire world economy was put into lockdown to deal with a pandemic which is understood to have killed 3 million people over a period of 16 to 18 months.

That translates into 22 million black Americans, not to speak of all the other races in the country, facing premature death

In a recent report, The Milken Institute put a price to obesity in the United States. At close to $2 trillion per year, it has become a real problem for the country. The report’s co-author, Hugh Waters, Ph.D., calls for regulatory intervention.

Cancer researchers Kim Miller and Kevin Nead are seeing a shift from lung to obesity related cancers, in particular to the colon and liver. Both believe that these types of cancer will continue to rise. “Our population is going to get bigger, and we’re going to see more and more cancers” said Nead.

In short, the affliction has the potential to be deadlier than smoking, and more costly. Sugar is to the arteries what tar is to the lungs.

Indeed, a study of more than 30,000 people suggests that when it comes to racking up additional health care costs, obesity surpasses smoking.

James P. Moriarty, MSc, and colleagues of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, analysed the incremental costs of smoking and obesity among Mayo Clinic employees and retirees who had continuous health insurance coverage between 2001 and 2007. They found that both obesity and smoking were associated with excess health care costs.

Smokers, for example, carried average health costs that were $1,275 higher than those for non-smokers. But the incremental costs associated with obesity were even higher: $1,850 more than for normal-weight individuals. For those with morbid obesity, the excess costs added up to $5,500 per year.

Although all countries signed up to a World Health Assembly resolution in 2013 to halt the rise in obesity, the reverse has actually happened. While the causes of obesity are many and numerous, much of the problem comes from a combination of overeating, sugar, fructose and so much more that we find in just about everything we consume or drink.

Recently, Matthew McCarthy on CNN was at pains, given his political views, to explain why Ben & Jerry’s was mainly a “white” company. That is not his only problem. Ben & Jerry’s support a political agenda that includes defunding the police that harms Black American citizens disproportionately; mainly sell their products to “white countries”; are big polluters; and play a contributory role in the global obesity epidemic, which has led to half the Black population in the United States being deemed clinically obese. These are weighty responsibilities on thin shoulders.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover