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Food, Intersectionality, Vegan Products

The killjoy in the freezer aisle: on Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s

Oh my blog ‘o’ sphere friends, I must step in to pour salty precipitation on the icy, peanut butter chocolate parade that I see marching proudly across my social media feeds. In doing so I prepare to be struck, violently, from Christmas card lists. From follower lists. From RSS feeds. So it must be.

In reality, I have no desire to offend; no more or less than the next vegan, whose very existence is so frequently a threat to the status quo. As I’ve mused before now, ethical consumption is unavoidably a sliding scale, one that we all navigate with greater or less degrees of both awareness and intent. There are many valid reasons why consistently living and consuming at the ‘extremely ethical’ end of this scale can be difficult: money, time, mental health issues, socio-economic deprivation, lack of cooking skills, etc., etc.

But as sure as tweets prefaced with “unpopular opinion” are unlikely to be just that, and as sure as my cynic’s heart is black, I can say assuredly that ethical consumption can be (and is) at once much more and sometimes much less complicated than it seems.

A colourful selection of ice cream cones.

Vegan Ben & Jerry’s is finally here!

I know that many UK vegans have waited excitedly for the dairy-free instalments of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to hit supermarket shelves. Being a more vintage vegan, I recall a time when a scoop or two of vanilla Swedish Glace was the very height of frosty indulgence; I’m sure there are even more vintage vegans than I who remember even the dark days preceding (I dare not imagine). Indeed, we are rather spoiled for choice these days, and the popular conception of #WhatVegansEat is concomitantly turning tide.

Whilst I am pleased, thrilled, that veganism and vegan food is becoming tastier, easier, more accessible, I remain concerned about the insidious tactics of many large corporations who sense that there is much business acumen in making false promises and cashing in on the trend for producing ‘green’ or ethical goods. Specifically, buying out independent, ethical brands is about the height of disingenuousness where corporate greenwashing is concerned, and very much a ‘quick win’ as far as unethical parent companies are concerned (so long as consumers ignore the inconvenient truth).

A hand holding a chocolate ice cream cone.

Nevertheless, the sliding scale still applies to parent companies, as I’ve explored before. Some parent companies are better than others. When I first went to University back in 1999, our student union shop proudly boycotted Nestlé, and we just had to manage without our Caramacs. It was also rather en vogue to boycott Coca Cola, and though it seemed a bit more of an ordeal than eschewing a Toffee Crisp in favour of a Boost, we managed okay with other fizzy pop (and cheap lager).

The good, the bad, and Unilever

These days, so many corporations occupy a grey middle-ground, but there are some squatting resolutely at one end of the spectrum, taking a giant chocolate peanut butter flavoured shit right on top of all the smaller, indie, ethically-minded companies trying to get a foothold.

I’m afraid, dear readers, that one of these hideous giants is undoubtedly Unilever. A monstrous, powerful conglomerate that monopolises many brand types, Unilever is so grotesquely influential that it has an almost unrivalled ability to do good, and yet it is as ruthlessly profit-driven as can be.

Some issues of note:

“VTJP’s thinking on the necessity for a boycott reached a tipping point during Israel’s military assault against Gaza in the summer of 2014. 2,200 Palestinians were killed and more than 11,000 wounded. The casualties were overwhelmingly civilians.

Because Gaza’s morgues could not handle the horrific carnage, bodies of dead children and babies had to be stacked temporarily in ice cream freezers prior to burial.

While this massacre of innocents was being carried out, Ben & Jerry’s “peace & love” ice cream was passing through Israeli checkpoints, being transported on Jewish-only roads, and being sold to supermarkets and for catered events in Jewish-only settlements.”

[source]

To eat or not to eat?

Friends, you really must make your own informed decision on this. Personally, I avoid Unilever products wherever possible. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: until some reliable, non-anecdotal research is done on the success of vegan products in converting (and retaining) new vegans, it is nigh on impossible to try to balance this potential benefit against the many capitalist evils we may be supporting when we vote with our dollar(s).

I therefore urge you to consider alternatives to all Unilever products. I understand that you may wish to show them that there is a market for products that do not contain animal products, but they know this already. That is why they produce them, and profits are very often used to subsidise unethical practices on a large scale. As vegans we know that the animal-industrial complex does all that it can to hide the truth from consumers; Unilever is just a horse of a different colour. Perfection is impossible, but you guys, Unilever really is the very worst. Unilever really is the devil.

Folks, once when I was horribly sad and horribly poor I lived on McDonald’s hash browns for breakfast for a while. Sometimes when cash is very short I buy mountains of frozen potato products for cheap from Asda. Sometimes life is hard and we are very sad and we need ice cream. You can only do your best. But you should always, always, be informed.

Notes and further reading

The title of this blog post was inspired by Sara Ahmed and also the paper “Vegan killjoys at the table…” by Richard Twine.

The excellent Bearded Vegans podcast discussed this very issue in episode 04.

Why not try Booja Booja or Coconut Collaborative.

All photos are from Pixabay.


The killjoy in the freezer aisle: on Unilever and vegan Ben & Jerry's.


For veganism, dog pictures and life ramblings, giz a follow…

Woodcut of leaping deer.

YASSS!

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12 Comments

  • Reply jacquie

    well i have to admit that was – and still am – very bummed out by your post. however, at the same time i wanted to sincerely thank you for the information since I feel it is important to know. not that i bought B&J’s regularly but i will be turning to other sources.

    September 22, 2017 at 16:37
    • Reply Jenny

      I am sorry to have bummed you out! I think it is good to know this stuff; I do have a particular bugbear about Unilever, but they are -everywhere- it seems and hard to avoid 🙁

      September 23, 2017 at 10:43
  • Reply Jojo Huxster

    Thank you for writing this Jenny! In breaks between galavanting all over New Zealand I’ve been trying to pen a similar post but it’s not there yet, this is perfect. I’ve been unable to fit my feelings about why buying from Unilever is far, far worst than shopping at Sainsbury’s into tweets whilst feeling a touch offended at being referenced as a killjoy and someone who is trying to ruin everyone’s fun! I’ve boycotted Unilever since before I was vegan (so, 12 years or so!) and I don’t intend to stop now despite the fact that them rapidly buying up small brands is making it more of a challenge.

    September 22, 2017 at 21:56
    • Reply Jenny

      Please do your own blog post too, though, so I’m not the only killjoy! 😀 I’ve avoided them for a long time too. The new CEO is rumoured to be making more of an effort, but honestly I still feel very cynical about it all.

      September 23, 2017 at 10:44
  • Reply Rebekah Jaunty

    Well, I’m no happier now, but I’m certainly better informed.

    Ben and Jerry’s vegan flavors haven’t made it to Germany yet, so I don’t have to resist temptation at this point. I DID notice the Unilever logo on my Marmite though, which I wouldn’t have noticed before reading this post!

    Thank you for teaching me a thing or two. =)

    September 23, 2017 at 14:54
    • Reply Jenny

      Marmite causes me huge dismay! I do find that supermarket own-brand dupes are pretty decent though 🙂

      September 24, 2017 at 11:16
  • Reply Joey

    Totally agree about the sliding scale, and how we all do what we can, how we can. For me, dodging Unilever and B&J’s is something I’m happy to do. I’d rather spend my cash elsewhere. Following the logic of ‘they make vegan products because they see the market’, if we show them there’s a market for ethical products, then they should make those one day too.

    September 25, 2017 at 21:58
    • Reply Jenny

      I really hope so! After doing a lot of research into greenwashing, I must admit I feel more cynical than ever about it, but then I do have a black heart so my predictions probably shouldn’t be relied on 🙂

      September 30, 2017 at 09:44
  • Reply Victoria

    What a well-written and thoughtful post. I’m so glad to have discovered your blog, although I’m very sad about the ice-cream! I absolutely agree that we all have to make the best choices we can, and being informed is a major part of this.

    September 26, 2017 at 12:02
    • Reply Jenny

      Thanks Victoria!

      September 30, 2017 at 09:44
  • Reply Jennifer

    NOOO! I LOVE BEN & JERRY’S! I LOVE THEIR 7 LAYER COCONUT BAR! Just kidding. Well- sort of. There is a lot of nostalgia for the brand, it really reminds me of when I was little at many vacation spots as a child. I’m not going to lie, I was REALLY excited about the vegan ice cream and what it means of passing that nostalgia to my kid. But I never actually read some of the deets about Unileaver. I actually (some how) don’t use too many of their brands. Only a few, and some were one time buys. I already started to avoid them since their chocolate isn’t on the FEP list.

    It does make me think back in the day there was an ice cream sold in the states. I forget the name but I remember it branding itself as the only REAL vegan ice cream. As a new vegan this sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Still kind-of does. But the nail in the coffin was that it was WAY TOO SWEET! And more expensive. I do wish there was an ice cream brand like that again though. There’s a few smaller brands that I still like.

    September 30, 2017 at 21:01
  • Reply Sara

    I try my hardest to avoid unilever, but holy shit, that nasty little u is on everything. And I actually really like Swedish Glace! 😂 just need to convince everyone else!

    October 9, 2017 at 21:14
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