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The History of Ben & Jerry’s Progressive Politics

As told through its ice cream flavors.
A selection of Ben & Jerry’s most progressive ice cream flavors.

A selection of Ben & Jerry’s most progressive ice cream flavors.

It’s pretty safe to assume that, as the world’s fourth top-selling ice cream brand, Ben & Jerry’s has fans across the political spectrum. So it comes as no particular surprise that, when the company published a blog post in support of the Black Lives Matter movement broke last Thursday, Twitter was divided in its response. Members of “Black Twitter” celebrated by posting under the hashtag #BenAndJerrysNewFlavor and coming up with possible new icecreamflavors in the company’s characteristic, pun-filled style. On the opposite side of the political spectrum, Blue Lives Matter — a pro-police movement created in response to Black Lives Matter — posted a plea on their website for ice-cream consumers all across the country to boycott the conveyor of Chunky Monkey — and send a message “that we do not agree with Black Lives Matter or their goals.”

This is hardly the first time Ben & Jerry’s has been the subject of a boycott. In 2015, the Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israelenjoined supporters not to buy their ice cream because, they reported, the company had done business in Jewish-only settlements in the occupied territories in Israel. (Ben & Jerry’s fired back with a post stating that they have no “economic interest in the occupied territories,” and that their scoop shops are located outside the territories.) In 2011, a conservative group called One Million Moms called for a boycott of the Saturday Night Live-inspired flavor “Schweddy Balls.” The group called the flavor “vulgar.” Ben & Jerry’s declined to change the name, but because the flavor was a limited edition, it was soon given a spot in the dejected flavor graveyard. The company has spoken out about perceived injustices pretty much ever since childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield founded it in a Burlington, Vermont, garage in 1978.

In honor of this latest statement, we rifled through the purveyor’s flavor graveyard to rank its boldest flavors throughout the years. And so, without further ado, we are happy to present a brief history of Ben & Jerry’s progressive politics as told through its ice cream flavors — ranked by calorie count, deliciousness, and progressiveness (on a 1–10 scale). Warning: the following may send you down the frozen aisle.

“Economic Crunch” (1987)

This discontinued flavor was released in 1987 to commemorate the October 19th, 1987, stock market crash. While the flavor refers to a slightly morbid event, it at least offered some solace to stressed-out financial workers: Shortly after the crash, a Ben & Jerry’s truck pulled up on Wall Street and gave out free scoops to traders on the street. And no, the flavor isn’t a mushy mess of crumpled dollar bills and tears — it’s a combination of vanilla ice cream and chocolate-covered almond, pecan, and walnut bits.

Calorie Count: Who knows? The flavor’s discontinued; but it gets nutrition points for the high protein count from all those nuts.

Progressiveness: 9, for offering consumers an affordable taste of decadence during lean economic times.

“Rainforest Crunch” (1988)

Designed to help “save the forests,” “Rainforest Crunch” promised to help indigenous people in Brazil establish a “nut shelling cooperative” (Ben & Jerry’s stated it was supporting said cooperative by purchasing the flavor’s nuts). The Orlando Sentinel, however,later reported that less than 5 percent of the proceeds went to that cause, and thatindigenous groups in Brazil had criticized the project. The flavor has since been discontinued, but fond memories of the ice cream’s delicious cashew and Brazilian nut combination will live on in the States — if not with those poor workers in Brazil.

Calorie Count: Not available, but perhaps it’s worth noting that a single Brazilian nut contains 33 calories.

Progressiveness: -5. It’s the thought that counts?

“One Sweet Whirled” (2002)

Another environmentally conscious flavor, “One Sweet Whirled” launched in collaboration with the Dave Matthews Band to bring attention to global warming. How, you ask? Part of the proceeds of the flavor, characterized by a caramel- and coffee-flavored base mixed with marshmallows, caramel swirls, and coffee-flavored fudge chips, went to the Save Our Environment organization.

Calorie Count: Consider the fudge chip.

Progressiveness: 7. We’re sure this was a more radical statement in its time.

“Ameri-cone Dream” (2007)

This delightful flavor, a tribute to Stephen Colbert’s Comedy Central show The Colbert Report (R.I.P.), is composed of vanilla ice cream, fudge-covered waffle pieces, and caramel swirl. The company makes a point to note it also contains 1,768 percent of “your recommended daily allowance of freedom,” and that’s it’s like “licking liberty,” whatever that means.

Calorie Count: 270 calories per half cup.

Progressiveness:2. Ultimately, it’s a commercial political statement, supporting a show available now on DVD. Not very radical.

“Yes Pecan!” (2009)

A play on President Barack Obama’s contagious 2009 campaign slogan, “Yes We Can,” “Yes Pecan!” might be the first ice-cream flavor to commemorate a presidential campaign. Proceeds for this limited-edition, renamed version of the company’s classic “Butter Pecan” flavor went to the Common Cause Education Fund, which has no tangible connection to the Obama campaign.

Calorie Count: 250 per scoop.

Progressiveness:8, as we are excited by the prospect of Clinton- and Trump -inspired counterparts. Imagine the possibilities: “Pantsuit Jam-boree,” “Candy Corn Wig,” “Trumped-Up, Pickle Down” (with relish bits), and “Chocolate Infrastructure Crumbles.” Yum.

“Hubby Hubby” (2009), “Apple-y Ever After” (2012), and “EngageMint Party” (2013)

In three separate years, the company briefly rebranded three classic flavors (“Chubby Hubby,” “Apple Pie,” “Mint Chocolate Chunk”) in response to same-sex marriage legislation in Vermont, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, respectively. “Hubby Hubby” celebrated Vermont’s legalization of same-sex marriage, while “Apple-y Ever After” and “EngageMint Party” were launched in support of similar legislation that was up for vote in the U.K. and Ireland.

Calorie Count: 330 calories, 320 calories, and 270 calories per half cup, respectively.

Progressiveness: 4. Get in line behind alltheother corporations celebrating the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“Save Our Swirled” (2015)

To support the 2015 Paris Agreement talks, Ben & Jerry’s introduced this flavor to bring attention to climate change and “send out our own SOS for our planet.” Despite that slightly depressing tagline, this flavor is a charming combination of raspberry ice cream, marshmallow and raspberry swirls, and dark and white fudge ice cream cones.

Calorie Count: 250 calories per half cup.

Progressiveness: 4. A delicious flavor, but how many fossil fuels were burned to create this creamy concoction?

“I Dough, I Dough” (2015)

Six years after Vermont’s legalization of same-sex marriage, when America followed suit, Ben & Jerry’s renamed its wildly popular “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough” ice cream to “I Dough, I Dough” for a limited period of time. It rebranded a simple, classic flavor: vanilla ice cream with gooey globs of chocolate chip cookie dough.

Calorie Count: 270 per half cup.

Progressiveness: 5. We’re being generous, as this is the third time they’ve renamed something for Pride instead of releasing a new flavor.

“Bernie’s Yearning” (2016)

A (very) limited edition flavor, “Bernie’s Yearning” wasn’t actually released by the company. Only 40 pints were made (of course, Sanders got to try one before it ran out). This tribute was fairly simple: a thin chocolate disk (representing the 1 percent) covering mint ice cream (symbolically, the 99 percent) — clever!

Calorie Count: That’s unclear, but Sanders is still looking lean after trying it.

Progressiveness: 4. It wasn’t a surprising endorsement given Cohen and Greenfield’s leftist political leanings, and the fact that both are fellow Vermonters. We also would have given it more points if it had been released as an official flavor — how might Sanders’ campaign had turned out if his face had been plastered on pints nationwide, we wonder?

“Empower-Mint” (2016)

Ben and Jerry’s newest addition to its flavor family also marks the second time the company has used mint to symbolize American wealth inequality. This time, the flavor endeavors to raise awareness for the upcoming election that will hopefully be more “‘by the people,’ and less ‘buy the people,���” according to Ben & Jerry’s website.

Calorie Count: 270 per half cup.

Progressiveness: 5. While partial proceeds of this flavor are going to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s fight to ensure voting equality, perhaps a more oligarchical gesture to lawmakers on Capitol Hill might be more politically effective.