Ben & Jerry’s will always have a special place in my heart (and on my hips). My family is big on ice cream (pun not intended, but nonetheless…giggle). When I was growing up and nearing college age, the point at which many teenagers begin thinking about drinking, my mom would always say, “Why waste your calories on alcohol when you can eat ice cream?” And to me, her argument made total sense.
My family went through various obsessions with different local ice cream shops in Virginia Beach. But when the Ben & Jerry’s opened up on Shore Drive, my memories of the other spots fade. Sure, we’d go in for the occasional cup of ice cream, but we got even more intense than that.
I celebrated one birthday at Ben & Jerry’s by indulging in a Vermonster with several friends. If you’re not familiar with this ice creamy beast, its ingredients are 20 scoops of ice cream, 4 bananas, 4 ladles of hot fudge, 3 chocolate chip cookies, 1 chocolate fudge brownie, 10 scoops of walnuts, 2 scoops each of 4 toppings of your choice, and whipped cream. It contains 14,000 calories and 500 grams of fat. And I only said several friends. Even if you divide by ten people, it’s an obscene display of gluttony. But we were growing kids (yeah, we were definitely growing), so it was OK.
When I was in Charlottesville for college, there was a Ben & Jerry’s in the local shopping center, but we only visited it once a year on Free Cone Day, when Ben & Jerry’s gives away over a million cones to its customers. The line would wind around the block and dangerously through the parking lot as college students and locals alike would excitedly await the free treat (and maybe go back for seconds…and thirds…I’m not proud of myself).
The rest of the school year, I would bypass the local Ben & Jerry’s shop in favor of the grocery store ice cream aisle, where I’d indulge in a pint at a time. What? These were the glorious college years when I could eat whatever the heck I wanted and not gain weight. Sigh, those were the good ole days. And I usually got Frozen Yogurt Half Baked, so it was healthier (riiiight). As a side note, my mom told me that, back when federal law changed and Ben & Jerry’s was required to add nutrition labels to its products, the company’s stock plummeted practically overnight. Cryin’ shame.
As far as the company goes, it was started in the late 1970s by a pair of friends, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who set up shop after completing a correspondence course on ice cream making. But here’s where it gets really interesting: according to Wikipedia, Cohen has ageusia, which is a loss of ability to taste, so he relied on “mouth feel” (seriously?!), which is why most flavors are heavy on added chunks of ingredients.
The company has always had a reputation for social activism and responsibility. For example, it’s been years since I’ve eaten Half Baked (…gluten), but I still remember reading on the container that the brownies came from a bakery (Greystone) that employs people who would otherwise not have the skills to work, training them to be contributing members of the community. And even though Unilever purchased the company in 2000, Ben & Jerry’s has maintained its culture and still aims to create social awareness. From protesting the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling to temporarily renaming Chubby Hubby to Hubby Hubby in honor of Vermont’s passing of same-sex marriage, it’s not afraid to use the Ben & Jerry’s brand to take a stand.
So back to my A.T. thru-hike, I keep reading about how central food becomes to the thru-hiking experience. And truth be told, I’ve personally spent gobs of time trying to find healthful, energy-packed food to take with me into the woods. But I am not at all opposed to indulging once I hit town, especially when I get in better shape and increase mileage. But what’s a gluten free girl to do? I can’t rely on the availability of gluten free cupcakes, and I don’t necessarily want to make candy a habit (too much candy makes me feel icky). I think you know where I’m going with this.
FYI Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t publish a gluten free list since its ice creams’ ingredients change regularly. However, the company’s ingredient labels are very clear, and other gluten free consumers have put together lists of common g.f. flavors for general reference. Anyone with a food allergy is cautioned to read each label carefully every time you purchase Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
I contacted Ben & Jerry’s to see if the company might be willing to help make sure that I don’t become emaciated (I’ve said it before…there’s no way I’m going to lose weight. Not happening. P.S. – Someone really needs to create a sarcasm font) with a donation of coupons. The woman who responded was very familiar with the A.T., having grown up in New Hampshire and having hiked plenty in the White Mountains – and she said she would be happy to send me some coupons for free pints. So, first of all, this woman is way more accomplished at A.T. hiking at this point than I am, especially since I’ve heard so much about the challenge of the White Mountains. Second of all, yay! Ben & Jerry’s made my day!
When the package arrived, I was delighted to count ten coupons. You know Gollum from Lord of the Rings? Just picture me, hunched over, with a far-off grizzly look in my eyes.
Something else occurred to me too. Thru-hikers are acutely aware of how much each food item weighs relative to calories. With my trusty old scale, I calculated that each coupon weighs approximately .01 ounce, and let’s say a pint averages 1,000 calories. Nut butters and protein bars can’t hold a candle to that. Does that mean I win the calorie-counting game? Yeah, I’m pretty sure I win. I definitely got the prize.