As a long-time vegan with a pension for sustainability, I generally try to buy all my produce from The Veggie Bin, and locally grown where I am capable. It’s not often that I have cause to venture down to the Harris Teeter that stands like a monolith down the street from my house. As someone who has embraced a waste reduction lifestyle (remember my jar blog?), my indulgence in packaged goods is relatively minimal. I find supermarkets, with their gratuitous amounts of non-recyclable plastic wrapped items, to be admittedly more than a little off-putting. If my rhetoric hasn’t implied it by now, it generally takes a strongly persuasive motivation for me to venture into any conglomerate retail chain. Last night though, I found that motivation.
A few weeks ago, I heard that Ben and Jerry’s, at the behest of their fan base, had decided to dabble in developing a few vegan-friendly ice-cream flavors. I’ve made my own ice-cream before, but the simplicity of my vanilla (which is the bee’s knees by the way) does not compare by any measure to the rich complexity of B&J’s proposed flavors. Peanut butter and cookies, chocolate fudge brownie, coffee caramel fudge, etc…. As soon as I heard news of the imminent arrival of these succulent frozen sweets, I prepared myself for the weight gain that would inevitably follow. For the next three weeks, once a week, I made an excursion to Harris Teeter only to leave with two re-usable shopping bags full of bitter disappointment. So I waited, and waited, eventually making a request to have the non-dairy flavors brought in, presumably imported from some far-off magical vegan land where humans and vegetables skip hand-in-hand under the sun. The tension at this point had been so drawn out that I could just about taste it; God, please don’t let my ice-cream dreams taste like this! Time passes and we arrive at the present day, or rather, the present yesterday. I make my weekly Thursday expedition to food conglomerate land, no longer burdened down with the weight of my naïve expectations of immediate ice-cream release. I should have known from the drab overcast that hung over the city that this was going to be a day filled with frozen divinity. There they were, finally, my long awaited non-dairy frozen indulgences. I grabbed two quarts!
The walk home was excruciating, not just because I forgot to bring a re-usable bag and my soon to be mutilated ice-cream friends were chilling my fingers to the bone, but also because I was so close to living out the fantasy I had been developing in my head for so long. I finally reached my house and immediately appropriated my only spoon, only to realize that it was enveloped in the residue of last night’s vegetable soup! Such a vessel was not worthy for the deliverance of such divine frozen goodness; it had to be cleaned. In our moments of greatest excitement, it’s always the little things that seem to serve as the most debilitating inhibitions on our happiness. After purifying my spoon the time had come to choose which flavor I wanted to serve as my introduction to this new world of non-dairy delicacies. A mother should never have to choose between two of her children when one of them is destined to be mutilated and gluttonously consumed. As in all these cases though, it’s the child who is covered in peanut butter in cookies that is always pre-destined for expedited destruction. I sit down at the command center in my room. I open the carton. Charleston goes quiet and I gently break the soft, frozen surface, all the while caressing the chilled, moist residue that has encased the container. I bring my vessel forward and, ever so slowly, it enters my mouth…
EXQUISITE! UTTER PALATABLE DIVINITY!!! The explosion of sweet and salty flavors that I endured sent pleasurable shivers down my body (mainly because it was arctic cold)! My friends, the happiness that engulfed me bordered on ecstasy, and temporarily became the only motivation for my continued existence. This was undoubtedly the most delightful and delicious frozen treat I had ever had in my life, and immediately it became my most persuasive counterargument to the myth that you can’t have immensely gratifying deserts without the inclusion of dairy products. The tension broke and I had found the culinary fulfillment I had craved for so long. I was at peace. That night I devoured the entire carton in an act of gluttony that I am only ever so slightly embarrassed about. I owe greater apologies to my body as opposed to my sensibilities though; as I am sure I consumed more calories than are recommended for any mortal creature.
So why have I bothered to tell this narrative of my ice-cream experience? Admittedly, as a veteran vegan, I think that everybody should try Ben and Jerry’s new ice-cream flavors and consider them as a “healthier” substitute to the traditional ones. More important than that though, I think the fact that they are willing to indulge their vegan fan base by developing these flavors holds important insights into the greater public’s perceptions of social sustainability and their attitude in adopting practices that advance it. The foundation of socially sustainable behavior and systems rests on acceptance and tolerance; accepting that people are different and come from a variety of cultural and social backgrounds, and tolerating their differences even when they interfere with your own. When we look at social injustice on both community and national scales, a lot of the behavior rooted in it can be attributed to strong feelings of prejudice and acts of intolerance. Accepting each other’s differences and becoming more tolerant of our peers sets the groundwork for us to live and grow together. I feel that Ben and Jerry’s efforts to develop a vegan-friendly series of ice-cream flavors shows (since it was widely requested from their fan base) that the diverse peoples that constitute the public are becoming more tolerant to ideals that lie outside of their own (in this case veganism), and are consequently becoming more socially just. This is something that makes me smile, and feeds my optimism for the future.
As utterly delightful as I found Ben and Jerry’s new flavors to be, I confess that I will most likely not be purchasing them again. As I mentioned earlier, I adopted a mostly zero waste lifestyle long ago, and even though these new frozen goodies offer a powerful temptation, I cannot convince myself to indulge in purchasing packaged goods that will go straight to the landfill. Also the base of the ice-cream itself is made with almonds, a nut that is principally grown in California. In a time where there is mass suffering from draught and water scarcity, I cannot justify investing in a crop that uses such an extensive amount of water when so many others need it to survive, especially when the only motivation for that indulgence is my own culinary pleasure. For those who do not feel morally bound by these principles though and are looking for an absolutely exquisite relief to the hot days that will be coming soon, I encourage you as strongly as I can to give Ben and Jerry’s new non-dairy flavors a try and embrace a peanut butter and cookie filled alternative lifestyle!
-Will Hester, Sustainability Intern