Is it ethical to eat ice cream?

Our ethical columnist provides us with a 'scoop' on the pros and cons of eating our favourite dessert.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

With the weather getting warmer, it’s that time of year when I particularly enjoy an ice cream – and, of course, Italy is famous for gelato. But, as a fan of your column, I realise that we cannot simply wallow in personal pleasure, we must balance our own desires against the need to protect the environment. So, is it ethical to eat ice cream?


Ava Cornetto,

Dear Ava,

Many people have got the false impression from my column that I am against all kinds of pleasurable activities. But being good to the planet doesn’t mean you have to wear a metaphorical hairshirt! (Although I do actually own a real hairshirt, which frankly is quite itchy.) Gaia can do a little give-and-take – if we adapt our demands to accommodate her needs, we can all have a little good, green fun!

When I was younger, I was a big fan of ice cream. There’s nothing like the combination of the coolness, the creamy fat and the sugar on the tongue – especially with lots of vanilla. Naturally, I wouldn’t accept anything that wasn’t local and organic, so it was an expensive and occasional treat, but a lovely one nonetheless.

But ‘local’ and ‘organic’ are important, Ava. I can only rage at the way big companies present themselves as if they were friendly little ones… like certain very large ice cream corporations who shall remain nameless. They say their products are ethical – but they’re simply not ethical enough for me. Their products still use resources and will still make you fat if you eat a lot of them, which they are clearly encouraging by the use of advertising. Don’t let ice cream seduce you!

Just the kind of company that will hold a free rock festival and tell us it is ‘ethical’ because they’re spending some of the profits on solar panels for the developing world. Yippee-doo. When they’re whizzing ingredients all over the world, will that be carbon neutral, too? Do the people that grow the food get a ‘scoop’ of the action? When they give the poor, who have lived happily in the dark for millennia, a solar panel, will those same poor people turn round in five years and say: ‘We love electricity so much, let’s get hooked up to the grid! Hey, let’s build a NUCLEAR power station!’? Excuse me if I have a (chocolate) chip on my shoulder about the whole thing but behind the ethical PR, it’s all seems to be about consuming stuff, even if it’s ‘only’ ice cream. Of course, many lesser ethical columnists would accept such events as a useful compromise to promote the idea of sustainability, but trust Ethan on this one.

But let us return to the matter in hand: your ice cream. Now, having said that I was once a big fan of ice cream, what are the consequences for the planet?

First of all, ice cream requires milk. Milk is produced by making cows pregnant against their wishes (either by having them raped or injecting with semen), then when the calves are born, snatching them away so that a machine can suck out the breast milk instead. Meanwhile, a few of the calves will be raised to replace their mothers in due course. The rest will be killed and made into burgers and pies, as will mother once her milk production dips even slightly below requirements. Milk is murder. Don’t forget that. And while you’re at it, remember that the farting of cows is one of the main causes of global warming – when it’s not just your ice cream but the planet that’s melting, you’ll know who to blame!

We could try to replace milk with soya, but you might as well take a can of petrol and a match to the rainforests as you eat it. Soya needs land just like everything else. And even if soya was terribly eco-friendly, all that vanilla, nuts, cocoa, sugar etc has to be produced somewhere. The more we consume, the more that wilderness will be replaced by farmland and the more simple, tribal peoples will become slaves to the machine.

For a while, I switched to a less ‘rich’ alternative: the humble snow cone. (Less rich in that it contains no fat, and less ‘rich’ in that it doesn’t involved waging war on the planet in the same way that ‘rich’ people do.) Just some simple crushed ice with a little fruit juice syrup is all that is required for a tasty alternative. However, it must be said that while you, Ava, live in a country naturally blessed with citrus fruits, we in England have to make do with other, less attractive juices, many of them produced in dreaded ‘polytunnels’ or heated greenhouses. I mean, don’t they get it? The planet’s getting warmer. By producing tropical fruit in temperate climes, they hastening the day when green and pleasant England becomes the hot, parched Northern Sahara. No point in your dessert creating a desert!

In that respect, I decided to skip the fruit juice syrup and just enjoy the ice. But then, without the flavour there seems little point in bothering with the ice – it’s really only there to hold the syrup in place.

So, Ava, the Greenhart recommendation is a nice cool glass of water. Very refreshing, Gaia’s Ale is all you need to this summer. That way, we’ll stay cool – and so will the planet! Cheers!

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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