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Ben and Jerry’s Lifestyle
on the “#landback” movement, social media turning america’s #1 ice cream brand into a keyboard warrior, and why you can’t “bud light” ben & jerry’s
Last week, Ben and Jerry’s became embroiled in controversy after it celebrated July 4th by advocating the return of “stolen” land to Native Americans (#landback), starting with Mount Rushmore, which they wanted returned to the Lakota. People on Twitter were quick to point out the obvious — that, like virtually everything else in America, Ben and Jerry’s HQ also sat on former native land. And things got even worse for the far-left ice cream company when Fox News interviewed Don Stevens, Chief of the local Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, who said he was open to talks over ownership of Ben and Jerry’s HQ. Ben and Jerry’s hasn’t responded, as Birdwatch points out at the bottom of their original tweet.
I was surprised at the backlash. Not because it was undeserved, but because Ben & Jerry’s has always done this sort of thing. Created in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont, just three years before the city elected Bernie Sanders as mayor, the company has long reflected the left wing, hippy politics of the region. It started using environmentally friendly packaging as early as 1999, created a giant baked Alaska to protest drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2005, and in 2015 renamed its chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream “I Dough, I Dough” to celebrate the nationwide legalization of gay marriage. But social media has truly transformed Ben and Jerry’s, turning it into more of a far-left social media activist than an ice cream company. Not counting threads and retweets, the company tweeted 64 times between January 1st and July 4th, but only 15 times about ice cream explicitly. What were all the other tweets about?
Basically, every controversial issue you can imagine. Gun violence, abortion, refugees, trans kids, critical race theory, weed legalization — they’ve even taken positions on niche issues, like the environmental impacts of mining bitcoin. The #1 bestselling ice cream brand in America doesn’t shy away from targeting individual politicians either. On April 14th, they tweeted a thread that said: “It seems that the people of Florida are no longer free. They have @RonDeSantisFL to thank, and the last 24 hours are proof.” The “proof” was a “travel advisory” by an LGBT NGO saying it’s not safe for gay people in Florida (I’ve lived here for seven years and have never been subjected to any non-traffic related homophobia), abortion restrictions, and recent flooding in Ft. Lauderdale, which Ben and Jerry’s characterized as “You’re not free to drive down the street in FL.”
On May 26th, Ben & Jerry’s tweeted a promo for their podcast “Into the Mix,” which read, “As lawmakers consider 500+ anti-trans bills, experts warn that these efforts will increase rates of depression for trans kids. But what if kids were supported in their transition?” The title of the episode? Gender Euphoria. They didn’t even get ratio’d. Ben & Jerry’s also didn’t get ratio’d when they commemorated the Superbowl by tweeting about the “disproportionate impacts that traumatic brain injury has on people of color.” LIFE OF THE PARTY!
In light of all this, it’s difficult to see why Ben & Jerry’s July 4th tweet was the one to take off. Perhaps the obvious apparent hypocrisy? Either way, their position deserves scrutiny. Though they start with the broad, radical-sounding claim that the United States was “founded on stolen indigenous land,” their focus on returning Mount Rushmore was very selective and specific.
Why Mt. Rushmore? Well, it’s not anywhere close to Vermont, so that’s at least convenient for the company. But more importantly, it’s a case in which legal ownership of lands has already been established. In 1868, the Black Hills (where Mt. Rushmore is located) was legally designated as “unceded Indian territory” and incorporated into the Great Sioux Reservation as part of the Fort Laramie treaty. After gold was discovered in the area, the US reneged on the treaty and redrew the boundaries of the reservation. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the US had illegally appropriated the Black Hills and awarded the Sioux more than $100 million in reparations. They refused the money on principle, saying the hills were never for sale, and the money has been sitting in a bank account and collecting interest ever since, currently sitting at $2 billion.
Citing the specific case of Mt. Rushmore allows Ben and Jerry’s to call for #landback in a case in which the US government illegally reneged on a treaty rather than deal with the larger, more complex history of Native American land ownership. More specifically, it allows Ben & Jerry’s to ignore the fact that although the Sioux might consider the Black Hills “sacred,” they are no more native to it than white people are. They arrived in the Black Hills from Minnesota around 1750, and immediately attacked and drove out the local Arikara tribe, all less than 100 years before they signed the Fort Laramie Treaty.
Ben and Jerry’s might find such historical complexities interesting if they ever choose to address the tribe asking them for their land back — the land upon which company headquarters sits — the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation. Though the tribe isn’t recognized by the Federal government, Vermont recognized it in 2011, despite a 2002 report from the state which said the Abenaki didn’t have a continuous presence in the state, and that before the 1960s, supposedly no Abenaki individuals had actually identified as Native American or Indian on the census. Vermont’s 2002 report also says that this group of Indians had retreated into Quebec during the colonial era Anglo-French wars. But the Vermont Abenaki say that they didn’t all flee to Quebec. The Odanak and Wôlinak Abenaki, who maintain reservations in Quebec, have their doubts. The on-camera meeting between the groups is certainly something — in it, the Canadian Abenaki assert that the Vermonters do not have the requisite historical and genealogical documentation to prove that they’re the same people, but the camera makes this hardly necessary. “The Canadian Abenaki are visibly Indians, and the Vermonters are visibly white people LARPing as Indians.”
Despite calls to “Make Ben and Jerry’s Bud Light again,” there’s no evidence that the company has taken any serious economic hit from the #landback fiasco along the lines of Anheuser-Busch’s disastrous campaign with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney earlier this year. Although I personally found the reaction overblown, Dylan was a weird and distinctly off-brand marketing choice for Bud Light. But Ben & Jerry’s calling Mount Rushmore stolen land isn’t close to the craziest thing they’ve said this year. In fact, they’ve been horrifically political, in a very online way, for years. And people who like piss beer but dislike trans people can drink a Coors Light. If you want “Cherry Garcia™” ice cream, where else are you going to go? Ben and Jerry’s pioneered putting chunks of stuff into ice cream, and they’ve only gotten better at it. Unlike Bud Light, it’s a unique product. Ben & Jerry’s is also not meant to be consumed in the presence of others; it’s produced in small, individual pints meant to be shamefully eaten on the couch alone.
My devout Baptist grandmother once pointed to a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and said, “Now, I don’t support the lifestyle, but those gay fellas do know how to make ice cream.” (She believed that Ben and Jerry were a homosexual couple.) Reading through Ben & Jerry’s awful tweets, I don't agree with the lifestyle either (left-wing internet activism). But I have to admit, those libtards do know how to make good ice cream.