Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A thoughtful counterpoint

 When someone takes a really long time to respond to my post, I have to make sure it get's the right amount of attention. Adam from GrubGrade posted this comment on part 4 of my Ben & Jerry's story:

First off, I just want to say that I read your website on a regular basis and enjoy your reviews. Also, I'm not the guy you met from GrubGrade on the trip, but the "other" writer on the GrubGrade blog.

I preface my comments with that little caveat because, frankly, I find a great deal of hypocrisy in the Ben and Jerry's "social mission," and find your excessive praise for the company to be somewhat off-putting. I do not consider myself a health freak fanatic and am largely against attempts by the government to regulate, shall we say, “less” than nutritious options in schools. I also find the classifying of “good” and “bad” foods to be setting a dangerous precedent in our society, especially for young people. That being said, we as citizens hear an awful lot about the childhood obesity epidemic, and see a lot of mud being slung in the court of public opinion and government action at large fast food and food retail companies. Think about it; the cereal companies are demonized for providing cereal with (gah!) 10+ grams of sugar per serving, while anyone who offers a cheap French fry to a kid is decried as a greedy and faceless, we-don’t-care-about-your health company which gives our great institution of capitalism a bad name. God forbid something contain a dietary insignificant amount of trans fat provided by partially hydorginated oil, because obviously the use of much more expensive organic palm oil in a similar product will add years to the consumers life.

Ok, I’m rambling. Sorry. My point is that at the end of the day, Ben and Jerry’s may have a great mission with being nice to their employees and using quality, fair-trade ingredients, while all the foodie Obama-ites in our society can applaud them for it. But how come the company gets the pass when it comes to the very real fact that their ice cream is probably the most fattening stuff on the market? I’m not saying it’s not good or can’t be enjoyed in moderation, but it really seems to me that just because they are the “hip” or “progressive” company with their environmental image, they get a free pass when it comes to many of the criticisms that people have of larger company’s that don’t excessively tout their environmental virtues and blah blah blah. Nevermind that the stuff costs double or triple as much, but the fact that a half cup of Ben and Jerry’s has 270 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat per ½ cup (and seriously, who eats a half a cup?) doesn’t garner nearly as much outrage as say, a kid ordering a small fry off the dollar menu at Micky D’s strikes me as the most hypocritical aspect of the current debate in food politics.

I am all for people making responsible choices and enjoying crappy foods in moderation (hey, I look forward to my Dunkin Donut each week and nightly bag of potato chips as much as anyone) but why does Ben and Jerry’s avoid the criticisms of the health watchdogs? To me, it’s a question of elitism and pretension, and like I said, it’s really off-putting.

Ok, that was long and probably fairly convoluted, but hopefully someone gets at least some of what I was trying to convey.


Now that's what I call a comment, and it also brings up a point that has been lingering in the back of my mind ever since I went to visit the land of peace, love & ice cream. Maybe it comes from my wife, or maybe it comes from having two kids, but I am indeed one of those people who now labels food healthy and unhealthy, good and bad.  I'm sorry, but ingredient lists use to be a lot shorter when I was a kid. Today's food is laden with chemicals and preservatives yet doesn't taste as fresh and as simple as it did decades ago. I like all natural, and as the last poll shows, about half of you value it more than anything else when it comes to your desserts.

that said, i have worried about seeming too praising of Ben & Jerry's. I think it's a combination of my childlike idealogic nature and my life experiences. Maybe this is a good time for a story.

So, at B&J's headquarters, I got to make the new CEO squirm for just a second... hehehehe. Everyone was harping on the whole "Wal-mart is evil" thing and all that, but I decided to repose the question in a more analytical way. To paraphrase, my question basically was "how does Walmart offering your product at cutthroat prices affect your margins and henceforth your ability to donate to charity?" There was a moment of wheels turning and then we got the whole volumes of scale helps balance out the reduced profit margin story. I'm willing to accept that answer for now. Heck, we can even keep in mind that a $3 pint today may just supplement your usually $5 a pint habit, so it keeps customers in the loop and keeps them interested, etc etc etc. Anyway, that's my short story, and maybe enforce the idea that I don't mean to appear to be naive. Instead I want to inspire everyone to try harder. Bust your company for not recycling or giving back. I don't care if it's as simple as bringing your soda can home. Every little bit counts.

And one more point, I will agree with Adam on one point, please don't eat Ben & Jerry's every night. Enjoy in moderation because this tasty yet very fatty ice cream will bog you down. I try to attach nutritional info to my posts and I do try to remind everyone that some of these high octane flavors can be as much as 50% of your saturated fat in a single serving. With that said, H-D and B&J are great rewards for mowing, cleaning, running a marathon, etc, etc, hehehehe. There's no shame in enjoying B&J's one night, and then something low fat the next. Balance, it's all about balance.

Finally, I think gov't stepping into school lunches is fine, and I don't mind them keeping an eye on things like preservatives and genetically modified foods. However, it comes down to the consumer (that means you and me!) for choosing where we go to eat, which cereals we picks for our kids, all that. I have unfortunately become a label reading monster and accept responsibility for what my family eats, I suggest you do the same.

Lastly, Ben, Jerry, you guys still rock in my book.

Ok, no more soapbox for awhile, let's get back to reviewing ice cream!


Adam said...

I appreciate the response. I still think Ben and Jerry's gets the relative "pass," but it's clear that we both accept the idea that good tasting food that may be "bad" for you can still be enjoyed in moderation. Perhaps one of our differences is in our favorite snacks. I get off on Lucky Charms and chicken mcnuggets. They're cheap, mass produced, and have come under a lot of scrutiny because of the business models they represent. But at the end of the day, I enjoy them in moderation, and it bothers me to see the sugar police or the additive try to label me as this or that because I eat them from time to time. We’re both just passionate individuals who have a great love for our favorite foods, and I think you taking the time to respond really shows that.

Again, appreciate the response.

Dubba Scoops said...

great, now you have me thinking about my personal favorite, frosted rice krispies!

keep on bloggin'

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this - I'm not 'against' Ben and Jerry's - but I do find them to be a bit glorified, so I appreciate the expression of the different viewpoint. I appreciate all of the reviews - thanks for what you're doing!

Kristiina said...

I suppose one possible way to view Ben and Jerry versus cereals versus fast food versus etc, is that we make first a rough divide into two:
1) normal, everyday food
2) luxury items (and here "luxury" doesn't mean horribly expensive or difficult to get by, but simply something that's not a part of the normal diet).

My opinion is, that the stuff in the first group should be healthy, and it makes sense to control the amount of fat/sugars in them. So, I'm very happy if someone controls the amount of sugar in cereals. In my opinion, there should be absolutely no added sugar in cereals, and the natural sugar should be very limited.

When it comes to the second groups, hey, what does it really matter if these items contain a bit more fat than you should perhaps get in one serving? It is about balance, and you aren't supposed to eat Chunky Monkey for breakfast, Cookie Dough for lunch, Chocolate brownie for dinner, and Baked Alaska as snacks! (Unfortuntely. ;)

Of course, there is the problem of people (me included) eating ice cream a bit more often than perhaps should, but that's individual choices. It's pretty obvious that this stuff is not normal healthy diet food, and that it never should be considered as one.

Um, sorry about rambling. I'm just trying to say that if it's pretty obvious that something is a dessert, then it would be really strange if the fat contents were seriously controlled. And all natural incredients is good (because those belong to the body, and if you get a bit too much of those, well, eat a bit less the next day or go jogging, but one can't use the similar approach with something that doesn't belong to the body in the first place). And on the other hand, if it's supposed to be healthy, and eaten every morning, then I'm all for reducing sugar and controlling the amount of fat.

Well, this was pretty obvious. Anyway, have a wonderful summer!

Joe said...

I tend to eat healthy but in way am I a watchdog or someone who tries to force anyone to eat differently than how they prefer, but the comments from Adam sort of confuse me.

He says it irritates him when groups try to regulate "less" than nutritious options at schools but then those same groups do not rally against Ben and Jerry's and other similar companies. Later he says that he is all for so called bad foods in moderation. Well, the problem here is that all that crap food is not being served in schools in moderation, it's all the kids are given every day so moderation has been thrown out the window. Add to that, a lot of busy families then go out and hit up McDonald's because it's cheap and quick; that's just piling it on some more. Things like Ben and Jerry's ice cream are not considered a meal and probably aren't options that are potentially considered three times a day EVERY day like chicken nuggets or fries are.

Love the blog, sorry for the rant!

Dubba Scoops said...

if ever there was a post for ranting, this is it!

Adam said...


Point taken. I took my lunch to school everyday and was raised to eat healthy, so perhaps I did not experience the "normal" American cafeteria experience like you're making reference to. But then again, I find that often 'health freaks' (sorry for the term, but basically those in the whole 'OMG YOU'RE TAKING UR KID TO MICKY D's') stereotype anyone eating cheap or processed food as someone who LIVES off that stuff. Look, I eat very healthy all day, and will usually have one absolutely crap item to balance it out (a small fry, a donut, a box of lucky charms or so have you -- whatever I have a coupon for, lol) on some days. Maybe I'm a little sensitive based on experience, but I just don't understand how someone can decry that. In my experience, the whole situation is based on pretension. Aka, it's ok to enjoy expensive, 'organic' or 'sustainable' treats in moderation, but not enjoy anything else in moderation. And again, it goes back to activity level, balancing things, and all that stuff.

Unknown said...

I think a lot of the reason that Ben and Jerry's gets a "pass" when it comes to childhood obesity has to do with how they target their marketing and their business model as a whole. Sugary cereal, soda, and fast food companies tend to target children as well as adults and sell a much larger volume of their product. Also those products probably seem to be a much better "value" to uneducated parents due to the amount of food they offer for the price.

I'm not saying that ice cream doesn't by its vary nature target children but I don't think that Ben & Jerry's makes any effort to do so for their product. Also I think it is just a lot easier for the media/nutritionists/experts to target a broad category like fast food or sugary cereals in order to try to make an impression on people.

I guess I fall on the other side of the aisle in terms of how I feel about government regulation of what we eat. I'm all for a soda tax and I think that all restaurants should be required to release at least a rough estimate of the nutritional values of their meals.

As both Adam and Dubba have said, in the end it all comes down to moderation and making smart choices as a parent. I can't even begin to count the number of times that I've eaten a pint of Ben & Jerry's in a single sitting, knocked back an entire bag of Doritos or finished an entire box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch + 1/2 gallon of milk over the course of two or three hours. These were all terrible ideas in terms of quantity but are all perfectly fine as long as you know when to stop.