Q&A: Ben & Jerry’s cofounder Ben Cohen talks about his new Bernie Sanders ice cream
What’s sweeter than campaigning for a presidential candidate you really believe in? Maybe whipping up an ice cream flavor in his honor. Ben Cohen, one of the cofounders of Ben & Jerry’s, found himself inspired enough by Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders to concoct Bernie’s Yearning, mint ice cream covered with a thick slab of solid chocolate, in his kitchen over the weekend.
“The chocolate disc represents the huge majority of economic gains that have gone to the top 1% since the end of the recession. Beneath it, the rest of us,” Cohen explains on the Bernie’s Yearning website.
Eating instructions are to smash the chocolate into small chunks with a spoon and mix them into the mint ice cream for more equitable proportions, then share the treat “with your fellow Americans.”
Because of a non-compete clause, Cohen can’t mass-produce or sell the ice cream (although he and cofounder Jerry Greenfield sold Ben & Jerry’s to Unilever a decade ago, he remains on the payroll). So he is giving all 40 homemade, hand-signed pints away to the random winners of this contest.
Cohen took a break from stumping for Sanders in Iowa to chat with us about politics and ice cream. You can also check out a behind-the-scenes video of Cohen making the ice cream on Facebook.
The concept for Bernie’s Yearning is very clever. How did you come up with it?
It’s a participatory flavor. Participatory — meaning that you’re supposed to do something with the food. You could call it play with your food. It’s kind of like some of these yogurt-and-granola things — you take the granola, shove it in the yogurt and mix it around. You can determine how big you want the chocolate chunks to be in Bernie’s Yearning. You can smash it around a lot or a little. When I was a little kid I was always taking candy and cookies and smashing them and mooshing them around in ice cream. It seemed natural to me. That was sort of the inspiration for Ben & Jerry’s.
I’ve always liked chocolate mint. But I’ve never thought that the ice cream was minty enough. When I was coming up with the concept for Bernie’s Yearning, I was trying to decide whether it would be vanilla chocolate chip or mint chocolate chip. I felt that more people liked chocolate chip than mint chocolate chip. But when I started talking about it to some people, they said, “Vanilla is just so bland. It’s not exciting. It’s supposed to represent the rest of the people — make it a little more interesting.”
Did you use any particular type of mint flavoring?
As a matter of fact I did. You know there’s three types of mint: spearmint, peppermint and wintergreen. So I got those three extracts, and I thought I would base it on peppermint and add some notes of spearmint and wintergreen. First I started using 2-3 times the amount of mint that the manufacturer suggested. That wasn’t near enough. For two quarts of ice cream I had like around 2 teaspoons of peppermint and 2 teaspoons of spearmint and 1 teaspoon of wintergreen. That seemed to work pretty good.
The other interesting thing about it is that these extracts are all alcohol-based. So I ended up having so much alcohol in the ice cream that it changed the texture and it actually makes it a lot smoother. We noticed this same effect when we used to make White Russian ice cream with Kahlua. So it has that added feature.
What does Sanders think of this ice cream idea?
My original idea was to make it independently of Bernie’s campaign and auction it off on eBay to raise money for Bernie. But it turned out that there’s laws that prevent you from doing that. And also, auctioning it off means it would have gone to the highest bidder, and that would have been a person with a lot of money, and that would have been un-Bernie-like.
It turned out that legally we needed to get the campaign to kind of bless it. So we came up with the idea of having a drawing. It’s a contest. Anyone can enter. There’s 40 pints that are signed and numbered. Anyone can win!
Is Sanders’ campaign going to keep track of the entrants and start sending them stuff?
I hope so.
Has Sanders tried Bernie’s Yearning?
No. Actually, nobody except me and my girlfriend have tried the ice cream. Wait, there was the guy who made the video. I gave him some of the leftovers.
Do you know what Sanders’ favorite ice cream flavor is?
I have no idea what his ice cream feelings are.
What about you?
Cherry Garcia was my favorite flavor for 12 years or more. Then I got into Chunky Monkey for a while. Now I like the Salted Caramel Core. It’s so nice that you can determine the amount of caramel in your spoonful.
You sold Ben & Jerry’s 10 years ago to Unilever. Do you have any remaining involvement in the company?
Officially I’m still an employee. My title is cofounder, and I have no responsibilities and no authority. A lot of people are looking for a job like that.
Do you miss coming up with flavors?
I do kind of miss that, although I can tell you that I used to weigh 40 pounds more than I do now.
Would Ben & Jerry’s mass produce this flavor?
No. The company has a policy of not endorsing any candidates, so I did it as an individual.
If you wanted to mass produce this ice cream for sale, could you do that?
No. I think I could probably give it away.
Do you think Sanders has a shot at the nomination?
Absolutely. Yeah. I’m in Iowa here and you can really “feel the Bern” here. The reality of the situation is that there is a very large majority of Americans who agree with what Bernie is proposing and saying. But they think he won’t get elected so they aren’t going to help him campaign or make posters or anything. It’s such a self-defeating point of view. The reality is that if everyone who agrees with what he’s saying would help him get elected, he’d get elected.
Have you had any ice cream flavor ideas for any of the other candidates? What about Trump?
It would be called Trump’s Junk.
Any ideas for ingredients?
I don’t know, but when Trump came to Burlington and spoke at a rally, there was a deli right next to where he spoke and they made a sandwich called the Trumpster. It was several pounds of bologna between two slices of white bread.
Eat your way across L.A.
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