If you are truly interested in following your bliss, I don’t think you could have better role models (outside, say, the Dalai Lama and Reverend Tutu) than Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the fun and idealistic founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company.
Ben and Jerry were childhood friends from Long Island, New York. In the late ’70s, Jerry had graduated from college but couldn’t force himself to continue with his plan to enter medical school, while Ben was a college drop-out. So after taking a $5 correspondence course, of all things (remember, no online education back then), on ice cream making from Penn State, they opened up a revolutionary ice cream store in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont.
Why did they go into ice cream? It was Jerry, I believe, who came up a life philosophy that became the company’s trademarked motto: If it’s not fun, why do it? And what is more fun than feeding people delicious, natural, healthy (at least by ice cream terms) ice cream?
However, here is the ironic thing. Ben Cohen has severe anosmia, which is a condition that makes him UNABLE TO SMELL OR TASTE HIS OWN ICE CREAM (or anything else, unfortunately). But I have a saying (that I made up) that I tell the students in my literature classes all the time:
HEADMASTER’S WORDS OF WISDOM
The bad news is, your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.
But the good new is, that means your greatest weakness is your greatest strength.
So it was Ben’s inability to taste that led them to concentrate in increasing the “mouth feel” of their ice cream and to incorporate chunks of stuff–fruit, nuts, chocolate, cookies, etc.–in their flavors. That is commonplace now, but it wasn’t done much back then. That different approach and extreme mouth feel led to them moving from a small, local ice cream parlor to a world-wide phenomenon that sells over $100 million of ice cream each year.
Another part of their appeal, of course, was their old hippie ethics of doing good while having fun. So their ice cream operation was always socially conscious, buying local milk from healthy Vermont cows (eventually banning the use of rBGH, a chemical Bovine Growth Hormone), an emphasis on recycling and reducing waste and packaging, and pursuing other progressive values and causes. For example, when Ben and Jerry actually ran the company (it was sold in 2000 to the multinational food corporation Unilever), they capped the maximum salaries (including theirs) at 5 times the salary of the lowest-paid worker.
And they were also very big on giving back to the community (see yesterday’s post for more on that word), which is why in 1979, they started a practice of Free Cone Day, where every franchise gives out free cones to all customers between 12-8 PM.
Just in case you are wondering–YES, TODAY IS FREE CONE DAY! So if you live in one of the communities that are lucky enough to have one of Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops (we have several in the Triangle NC area, so YAY!), head on down and claim your cone.
In case you need more justification, by eating ice cream you can be doing your part to end voter discrimination! Last year, North Carolina had the “honor” of hosting the reveal of a new flavor called Empower Mint (peppermint ice cream with brownie bits and fudge swirl). That honor came, unfortunately, because of North Carolina’s Republican legislators enacting restrictive voter ID laws that have been largely seen as vehicle to reduce voting by young people and people of color and/or low socio-economic standard (populations that, coincidentally, tend not to vote for Republicans in North Carolina). Ben and Jerry themselves traveled to North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC (part of the NC Triangle area) to unveil the flavor and to recognize the good work being done by the NAACP NC to fight these laws and other discriminatory practices in the state. They even donate some of the proceeds from that flavor to the NAACP to support their campaign (read more details in this Huffington Post article).
So a delicious treat, for free, in support of a good cause, founded by guys who want to spread peace, love, and ice cream around the world–what could be more blissful than that?
PS–What is your favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor? Lately, I’ve been getting a scoop of Empower Mint (see above) and a scoop of Pfish food (my traditional flavor). But let us hear what your favorite is in the comments section below.