Half of the duo that gave us Ben & Jerry’s, Ben Cohen has traded frozen dairy delights for G-20 and anti-war protests. After building a delicious empire with cream, hard work and love, the entrepreneur now has a second act as founder of TrueMajority, one of the largest liberal advocacy groups in the country.
Through this organization, Cohen fights against poverty, for human rights, and he even found a tasty way to explain the national budget. (With Oreos.) To hear more, Heeb sent Chicago baker and Cohen fan The Rugelach Man to ask the self-described “hippie dessert guy” about Israel, domestic policy and how a rabbi got the insect parts out of his favorite ice cream.
Let’s start with Israel. Two-state solution?
It’s clear to me—and probably to the rest of the world—that the only solution that makes sense is a two-state solution. American Jews have got to get off the fence and start advocating for it because that’s the only force that’s gonna push Israel in the direction it needs to go in.
I agree, but you can’t see Syria, Iran, even Palestine—or whatever they’re gonna to call their own country—not wanting more from Israel. Then what do you do?
Well, I think violence always begets violence. That’s kind of the cycle that we’re caught in. You’re suggesting that, yes, the two-state solution is the right solution, but if we actually put that into effect, there’s gonna be worse things—more bad stuff in the future . . . I don’t know. (Laughing) All I know is I’m addressing that particular issue, which I think is making things worse.
The current situation definitely can’t continue as is.
The situation only continues because the U.S. supports it. And the only reason—well, the major reason—the U.S. supports it is because the Jewish community here supports it. And I think that Jews need to get off the fence and stand up. I hope that we’ll be able to get that somehow into, y’know, whatever’s gonna be written.
Let’s talk about TrueMajority? Is Israel a focus, or . . .
It’s about shifting resources from dissents to social needs. The path that Israel is currently on just ends up having people—having countries—more focused on arms and putting more resources into arms. And it’s a lose-lose for everybody.
Okay, that’s a worldwide concern. What’s our greatest challenge domestically?
Well, it’s that very issue of national budget priorities. We currently spend over 50 percent of the country’s discretionary budget on the military. Things like education, healthcare, housing, poverty get little slivers. The U.S. spends as much as the rest of the entire rest of the world on the military. 730 billion dollars a year. And the country that spends the next most would be China, at 120 billion. So it doesn’t make any sense. I mean, the Taliban and Al Qaeda, they don’t spend one billion.
But we are the world’s benevolent policemen, unfortunately. Some people look at it as benevolent, other people see it as imperialism.
There’s no reason for the U.S. to be the policemen of the world, the huge majority population does not want the U.S. to be the world’s policemen.
Enough of politics. Let’s talk ice cream: What are some of the more memorable flavor names that failed to make the cut?
There’s really nothing that comes to mind, I’m sorry to say. But most memorable ones that we came up with did make the cut . . . some of the best flavor names we’ve ever gotten were suggestions from our customers. That would be Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia, Chubby Hubby.
Cherry Garcia was that your first charitable flavor, right?
It probably was. What happened was that we got this anonymous postcard that said, ‘Hey, we really love Ben & Jerry’s, we’re also Deadheads, and we think you should come up with a flavor called Cherry Garcia.’ You know, we thought it was a great idea. But it took me a couple of years to come up with a flavor that would be fitting of honoring Jerry. Came out with this flavor and . . . we didn’t ask Jerry if it was okay. There ended up going a royalty to him, and part of that goes to the Rex Foundation, the Grateful Dead’s foundation.
But I can also tell you that at one point, we decided to—I think that maybe when we started off, the ice cream wasn’t kosher . . . once we get the kosher certification and the rabbi comes up, he says that the cherries in the Cherry Garcia have a coloring in them. We didn’t even think there was a coloring, but it comes from crushed beetle wings. So then we changed it to kosher cherry color, which I think is based on peach juice.
But it’s bug-free now, right?
Your favorite flavors?
Of the ones that are still living, I’m pretty partial to Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Fudge Brownie, which uses the brownies that are made by the Greyston Bakery in inner city Yonkers, New York by a non-profit . . . Essentially, its purpose is to employ formerly unemployable people, like ex-drug addicts or ex-homeless people or ex-convicts.
Last question: Can I send you a couple boxes of rugelach?
Ooh, that would be great! I love rugelach. I think we once tried to come up with a rugelach flavor, but it didn’t work.
To find out more about Ben Cohen’s True Majority, visit their website.