Ben Cohen, the cofounder of the Vermont-based ice cream brand Ben & Jerry's, is showing his personal support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders with an extremely limited-edition ice cream flavor he named "Bernie's Yearning."
"We've never done anything like this," Cohen told necn in an interview Tuesday via Skype.
Cohen said he is producing Bernie's Yearning in his kitchen with his home ice cream maker. It is mint chocolate chip flavored, but with one big difference that makes this flavor "participatory," Cohen noted. All the chocolate chips in each pint are in one solid mass at the very top of the ice cream container, and require the eater to break up the disc of chocolate and blend the pieces into the ice cream.
The concept reflects how Sanders, who represents Vermont in the Senate, sees too much new wealth in the United States as going to the top 1 percent of citizens, Cohen explained. More income needs to go to the bottom 99 percent of Americans, Sanders has insisted throughout his presidential campaign, in much the same way that Cohen's chocolate disc needs to be broken up and blended down into that mint ice cream.
"Money is like manure," Cohen said, leaving the ice cream metaphor behind for another vivid comparison. "You pile it up in one place and it stinks. You spread it around and it grows things."
Cohen, who is currently stumping for Sanders in Iowa with his longtime sidekick Jerry Greenfield ahead of the Feb. 1 caucus there, is promising to give away 25 autographed pints of his creation to winners of a random drawing through BerniesYearning.com. Cohen said he can ship the pints to the winners packed in dry ice. Full rules and other details are available along with the online entry form.
"It sounds great," said Sanders supporter Ann Barrett, after necn encountered her on the Church Street Marketplace Tuesday and told her of the new concept. "Anything to honor Bernie Sanders!"
It is important to note that Ben Cohen embarked on this project as a private citizen. He no longer has a hand in running the company he co-founded. A spokesperson for Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., which is based in South Burlington, said the brand does not endorse political candidates.
Susie Zhang, a St. Michael's College student exploring the Church Street Marketplace, said she was curious to hear about Cohen's creation, pointing out Sanders' persona seems to lend itself to creative tributes from supporters.
"[But] I think ice cream is just ice cream," Zhang said, explaining she is not an American citizen, but suspects an ice cream flavor would not make her any more or less enthusiastic for a candidate, if she could vote. "I can relate ice cream to entertainment, but not politics."
Cohen said his ice cream idea is just another example of the many grassroots way Sanders supporters are spreading support for the candidate. He said in Iowa, voters have been asking him about Sanders' reputation, authenticity, and history, all of which he has been happy to endorse.
Cohen added that he and Jerry Greenfield will appear on Sanders' behalf at an upcoming parade in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and also expect to drum up support for Sanders in New Hampshire ahead of the Granite State's Feb. 9 primary.
"He's doing a lot better a lot earlier than we expected," Cohen said of Sanders' recent surge in polling.
Cohen said people can enter his online ice cream giveaway raffle through Feb. 3.
"We're talking collectible here, you know," Cohen chuckled. "Keep this in your freezer vault for the next, I don't know, 10 years, and auction it on eBay: you, too, could be one of the 1 percent!"
Cohen said he and a team of volunteers are also selling light-up Bernie Sanders signs online on Etsy, at cost. The online Etsy store, LightedBernieSigns, is also aimed at sharing grassroots enthusiasm between people who “Feel the Bern,” Cohen said.