Why you should care
We all scream for ice cream! But scandals involving the beloved summer treat have the potential to hurt us like no other.
Pooja Bhatia is an OZY editor and writer. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Economist, and was once the mango-eating champion of Port-au-Prince.
Ice cream is the food of the innocent: of messy-faced toddlers and, later, serious adolescent deliberations over flavors; of blown-out birthday candles and sweet summer freedom. One taste transports adults back to childhood. That’s why a full-grown man with an ice cream cone is so disarming and why scorned women seek solace in Ben & Jerry’s. What madeleines were to Proust, the ice-cream-truck jingle is to American adults.
The discovery, later in life, that the ice-cream-truck jingle has terribly racist roots can be no less than faith shaking. It’s ice cream’s very innocence, its guilelessness, which makes it susceptible to scandalization. Ice cream can turn a minor peccadillo into something lurid and shameful. The dessert can play the prop in Big-Bad-Wolf predations. And because ice cream is such a universal treat, its power to shock is universal too.
Herewith, a key to some of the biggest scandals in ice cream history.
In 2013, reports of exorbitant spending by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offended a population worried about its shrinking middle class and making ends meet. There was the $127,000 double bed installed on a five-hour El Al flight, the hairstylists and makeup artists and the million dollars on the upkeep of three houses, two of them private. But the expense that particularly rankled and made front-page headlines? Netanyahu’s ice cream budget. The taxpayers coughed up $2,700 a year for Bibi’s artisanal pistachio and Sara’s vanilla sorbet. “One can be sick from all this sweetness when many of your subjects are still eating bitter herbs on the way to the Promised Land,” one commentator warned. Last Year in Jerusalem
Roman Holiday Scam
Poor turisti — especially after they were bilked for their gelati! There were the British saps charged $93 for four ice creams, and the Eastern European dupes who paid $95 for three allotments of tiramisu and three cappuccinos. But it’s the gelato that prompted Roman mayor Gianni Alemanno to apologize and offer the Bannister family of the West Midlands a personalized tour. “Bad publicity like this can go around the world in an instant, to the detriment of all the hard work undertaken by the tourism sector,” worried a city council member in charge of tourism.
The Ice-Cream Parlor Sex Scandal
The Indian state of Kerala was once known for its high literacy rates and egalitarian treatment of the sexes, but now, says a colleague whose family hails from Kerala, it’s just “the state where everybody reads and everyone’s raped.” Sigh. The longest running and most lurid of the sex scandals began in 1997 at an ice cream parlor where girls and young women were offered sedative-laced desserts. Then they were sexually exploited and blackmailed. India’s Supreme Court dismissed the case for lack of evidence in 2006, but the scandal reared its head again in 2011, when state Industries Minister P.J. Kunhalikutty was implicated in a cover-up.
On a Lighter (Lohan) Note
It was a publicity maneuver gone horribly wrong. In 2009, Carvel Ice Cream issued 75 celebrities “Black Cards” that would entitle them to a lifetime supply of Carvel ice cream. The company did not budget for Dina Lohan, Lindsey’s mom, who, they say, used and abused the card. “At first, we graciously honored their requests while explaining that the Black Card was not a carte blanche [haha!] for unlimited Carvel Ice Cream for the extended Lohan family and friends. After more than six months of numerous and large orders for ice cream, we finally had to cut off the card and take it back,” Carvel said in a press release after Dina was denied use of the card to pay for an ice cream cake and called the police. You can’t have your ice cream cake and — oh, never mind.
The Incredible Shrinking Ice Cream Carton
OK, it’s not as serious as the hazardous stuff added to ice cream in Taiwan and China. But the gradual diminishing of ice cream’s half-gallon carton is the most insidious commercial ice cream scandal we’ve encountered. Around 2003, a half gallon was a half gallon. But ice cream makers like Dreyer’s and Breyer’s, among others, shrank their half gallons — first to 1.75 quarts and then, in 2008, to 1.5 quarts. The makers blamed rising commodity prices. But the price of a carton, alas, did not shrink.