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I blame Cold Stone Creamery and our never-ending need for personalization. I blame Big Dairy for pushing their product with clever “Got Milk?” ads. And Instagram certainly has not helped matters as well.
But I blame myself more than anyone for the high-end ice cream trend that has taken our country by storm. I was complicit in it, gladly waiting in lines stretched an entire length of a store and happily paying obscene amounts of money for the privilege of eating ice cream that claimed to be superior to the stuff that our grandparents ate.
Not so long ago the local ice cream parlor in Small Town, USA was a place not only to enjoy a cone but where you could catch up with friends and have a sense of community. A large cone ran you a couple of bucks and you had options, but not so many that it felt overwhelming. Moose Tracks, Mint Chocolate Chip, and Superman were about as exotic as it got. Turkey Hill, Leiby’s, Pierre’s, Kirkland’s Signature – these are all bulk ice cream brands that podunk ice cream stores in the middle of nowhere serve and they always taste the best.
In 2018, I feel like I’m taking out a small government loan to get ice cream here in Chicago. Large chains like Jeni’s and Cold Stone are popular destinations here because they offer ice creams with goat cheese and expensive cherries. I think it Cold Stone was probably the chain that started us down this path in the first place. Nobody needs to get Neopolitan ice cream with sour gummy worms and Butterfinger mixed into their scoops, but guess what? Cold Stone Creamery made that possible and small, independent ice cream startups took note.
“Let’s bring the incredibly ostentatious ideals of small plate, farm-to-table restaurants to the ice cream business!” some hipsters in Brooklyn probably said to themselves one day. “We haven’t ruined ice cream yet — let’s give it a shot.”
Ice cream is now served in chic, Instagram-friendly containers or cones made right in front of you, and if you’re a vegan or pretend to be gluten intolerant they’ve got you covered for a small uptick in price.
It seems like every week I see a new independently owned ice cream shop set to open their doors, where you’re likely to spend six, seven, hell maybe even ten dollars on a few scoops of ice cream.
In larger cities than mine, like New York City and San Francisco, there are Instagram accounts dedicated entirely to the search for new, high-end ice cream shops. I shit you not, I saw a post the other day from one of these obnoxious accounts for a foie gras ice cream. Who needs that??
Never in all my years did I expect social media to influence fucking ice cream but here we are, watching as ice cream somehow becomes pretentious. In Italy, it’s expected for frozen treats to be pretentious as they are known for gelato. That has always been a snack that the upper echelon of society enjoyed, but ice cream is an everyman, All-American treat. Served at baseball games and county fairs alongside hot dogs and elephant ears.
I never asked for fancy ice cream. Give me a mint chocolate chip or moose tracks from Breyer’s every day of the week. No one here is disputing that these new, fanciful flavors from the Jeni’s Ice Creams of the world aren’t delicious.
But I don’t need organic cherries, foie gras, or fucking goat cheese in my ice cream if it’s going to cost me ten dollars. How far have we fallen as a society when ice cream is no longer something that all of us can afford to eat?
It’s not even about the price when I really think about it, either. It’s the snobby way that these nouveau stores present themselves that really ticks me off. I want a guy who has owned his shop for fifty years giving me a sugar cone with four scoops for three bucks and smiling at me from behind a counter, not some wannabe Instagram model asking me if I want to add truffle shavings onto my eight dollar waffle cup for an additional twenty dollar charge.
Handmade ice cream with imported ingredients may seem like a step forward, but all I really think that it’s doing is pulling us further away from Ronald Reagan’s idyllic America. I want mass produced, classic ice cream flavors and I want them offered to me at a reasonable price. I don’t need Instagram telling me about the ice cream store/nightclub that is popping up in the trendy part of my city, and I’m sick of breaking the bank every time I want a couple of scoops of Vanilla bean. .