Ben & Jerry's Is Churning Up City-Specific Ice Cream

If you can't take the civic puns, stay out of the freezer section.

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Ben and Jerry's

Some cities were made for an ice cream flavor. One of the District of Columbia's nicknames, for example, is Chocolate City, which already sounds like some kind of sweet treat. In 2006, while hosting the White House Correspondents Dinner, Stephen Colbert took this idea to its most delicious conclusion: "The chocolate city with a marshmallow center and a graham-cracker crust of corruption." Mmm.

So Ben and Jerry's, with their new "City Churned" campaign, had plenty of material to work with. But this is the age of corporate social media engagement, of data collection, of taking things directly to the people, so instead of just deciding what kind of flavor a city is, the company asked around.

In D.C., New York, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, residents have four more days to make decisions like, Cookie dough or graham crackers? Chocolate or vanilla? Coffee or cinnamon? They can also support a handful of local ingredients, like New York's Sixpoint beer, or San Francisco's Tcho Chocolate.

But here's the thing about making a good flavor of ice cream: it's not just a series of independent, binary choices. It's more like assembling a basketball team. Are brownies and pretzels great players? Sure. But it's their chemistry that counts.

Weirder still, many choices aren't entirely up to city residents. In San Francisco, every fixed-gear bike spotted in the Mission is a vote for coffee, while each free-wheel bike is a vote for cinnamon. Over in New York, on-time 4/5/6 trains at Grand Central Station weigh towards caramel, while 1/2/3 trains at Times Square count for waffle cone. What is an on-time subway train, anyway? (You can also vote online.)

The result of all this is likely to be some civic hodgepodge of ice cream. It's unclear if these flavors will ever be widely distributed. Judging by their composition so far, I'd wager they won't. Let's hope the inevitable pun-based names are least decent.

About the Author

  • Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.