In the News: Can Ice Cream Be Racist?

Ben & Jerry's newest flavor got a pretty frosty reception.

Ben & Jerry’s is at it again, stirring sh*t up and getting reamed about a controversial flavor. (Remember the hullabaloo over Schweddy Balls? Yeeaah.)

Last Friday, the iconoclastic ice cream company announced it would release a new flavor in honor of Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks‘ star point guard and the NBA’s first Taiwanese-American player who everyone and their mother is talking about right now, at the Ben & Jerry’s Harvard Square location. Seems appropriate, right? Especially since Lin went to Harvard and pretty much put its basketball team on the map.

Well, apparently, the move had consumers crying foul because of the flavor’s ingredients: vanilla frozen yogurt, lychee honey and (gasp!) fortune cookie pieces. The backlash was so swift that you’d think Ben & Jerry’s printed a caricature of a kung-fu fighter wearing thick round glasses and a Fu Manchu moustache on the carton. People started complaining that the use of fortune cookies was inherently racist (and soggy). The use of lychee, which is a Southeast Asian fruit, also ruffled some feathers. Ben & Jerry’s ended up replacing the fortune cookie pieces with waffle cone ones, but kept the lychee honey element.

Ben & Jerry’s issued an apology via (several) Twitter posts following the bad press, saying:

“On behalf of Ben & Jerry’s Boston Scoop Shops, we offer a heartfelt apology if anyone was offended by our handmade Linsanity flavor that we offered at our Harvard Square location. We are proud and honored to have Jeremy Lin hail from one of our fine, local universities, and we are huge sports fans. We were swept up in the nationwide Linsanity momentum. Our intention was to create a flavor to honor Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments and his meteoric rise in the NBA, and recognize that he was a local Harvard graduate. We try to demonstrate our commitment as a Boston-based, valued-led business and  if we failed in this instance, we offer our sincere apologies.”

The inspiration behind Ben & Jerry's latest flavor. And no, I will not combine "Lin" with "inspiration."

So, as a food lover and an Asian American, I have a few thoughts on this kerfluffle. First and foremost, I’m not entirely sure how delicious the combination of lychee honey, fortune cookies and vanilla yogurt would taste. Not exactly the strongest flavor, I’d imagine.

Second, I’d like to point out that if there is anything that is truly Asian American in this combination, it’s the fortune cookie. According to food historians, fortune cookies originated in Japan and Chinese immigrants were responsible for making them popular in the United States, in particular in the San Francisco Bay area. In fact, many Asian-American restaurateurs were all clamoring for recognition as the first to invent the cookie.

Chinese-American author Amy Tan also pointed out the American-ness of the fortune cookie in her bestselling book, “The Joy Luck Club,” when two immigrant Chinese women start working in a fortune cookie factory and find the baked good to be rather humorous and, well, foreign.

And journalist Jennifer 8. Lee explored the history of the cookie in her book, “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” in a bid to show “how Chinese food is more all-American than apple pie.”

If anything, they should have nixed the lychee honey altogether  and maybe added something more fun, like Harvard crimson sprinkles or M&Ms in Knicks colors or something. Although I would probably steer clear of Twinkies and bananas. Now THOSE would be offensive.

Better yet, they should have asked Lin himself what he would like in his namesake ice cream.

Do you think “Taste the Lin-sanity” was racist, or do you think people should calm the heck down already? What would you have put in a Lin-inspired ice cream flavor?

(Also, for all you basketball fans out there, here’s an interesting post on Dr. J’s blog about Lin by a fellow Californian and Asian American who, like me, hasn’t bought into “Linsanity” fad quite yet for various reasons.)

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