THIS is Why Ben Jerry’s ‘Taste the Lin-Sanity’ Apology is Correct

Recently the Ben & Jerrys Ice Cream shop in Harvard Square created a flavor called “Taste the Lin-sanity” … and ended up quickly pulling the product and apologizing. This follows the two separate same-night incidents from ESPN where in writing and on television hosts used the phrase ‘chink in the armor’.

With regards to ESPN, one editor was fired and the on-air reported was suspended. Both apologized immediately and stated no harm intended, but ultimately the defense of ‘it is a common phrase’ doesn’t wash. It came up MANY times back in the Beijing Olympics … four years ago. And frankly it is a phrase I thought most would have excised from their speech decades ago – I knew it from childhood but given the same-sounding racial slur I can’t recall using it since the 70s!

But sportscasters and others discussing sports have had many problems like this in the past: Howard Cosell, Howard Stern, Jimmy the Greek and many others have crossed the line through the years. This time around it was… ice-cream under fire.

First off, why would Ben & Jerry’s – and the Harvard Square location in specific – make a Lin-centric blend? I mean, doesn’t he play for the Knicks? Yes – but after failing to get a full scholarship for athletics, Lin went to school for ‘academics’ (crazy, I know) … and ended up at a little school called ‘Harvard’. He played with distinction and many thought he might have been the first Harvard player drafted into the NBA in over 50 years (he wasn’t). So THAT is the Boston/Harvard connection.

So what was the problem with the Ben & Jerry’s concoction? Well, aside from apparently taste and quality concerns, the company chose to use lychee honey and crumbled fortune cookies as ingredients.

The honey is not an issue … but the fortune cookies are. The obvious insinuation is Fortune Cookie = Chinese Food … and since Lin’s parents emigrated from Taiwan in the 70’s, he is an Asian-American of Chinese descent.

There are a couple of problems with that:

  • Imagine if in the early 1980s Ben & Jerry’s came out with two flavors: Bird and Magic, in honor of the two great NBA players and rivals who dominated the league. Imagine now that Bird used a vanilla ice cream base and Magic used a chocolate ice cream base … um, yeah.
  • I would have thought that by now most people realized that Fortune Cookies were not a Chinese origination. In their current form they started in San Francisco, but in that regard the makers were imitating a cookie from Japan. Again, I would hope that many would be able to distinguish China and Japan, and also realize that relations between the two countries have been less than stellar since … well, a really long time ago. That gives an even more insensitive implication to their use.

Here is the apology in part:

“We are proud and honored to have Jeremy Lin hail from one of our fine, local universities, and we are huge sports fans. We were swept up in the nationwide Linsanity momentum. Our intention was to create a flavor to honor Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments and his meteoric rise in the NBA, and recognize that he was a local Harvard graduate. We try to demonstrate our commitment as a Boston-based, valued-led business and if we failed in this instance, we offer our sincere apologies.”

As for the product, Ben & Jerry’s has reformulated and removed the Fortune Cookies and replaced them with crumbled up waffle cones. They state it is because the Fortune Cookies got soggy, something I think is definitely true regardless of whether or not it is the primary reason.

“In recognition of the 23-year-old’s overnight fame, the new ice cream pints are made at the Harvard Square shop with vanilla frozen yogurt, lychee honey swirls and come with a fresh waffle cookie on the side, which can be dipped into the ice cream or crushed on top,” company officials said.

There was an acknowledgement of the change and the backlash that prompted the apology:

“There seemed to be a bit of an initial backlash about it, but we obviously weren’t looking to offend anybody, and the majority of the feedback about it has been positive,” said Ryan Midden, general manager for the Vermont-based company in the Boston area, according to The Boston Globe.

While I don’t think this is earth-shattering stuff, for me the common factor between all of these things is that all of the people should have known better. I mean, could you imaging the Bird/Magic thing I mentioned above, or if there was a native American basketball player who rose to fame and ended up as a ball hog and became known as the ‘Indian Giver’ or something else equally offensive? The word ‘chink’ was a racial slur forty years ago … time enough for people to think twice about using it.

Of course the REALLY great story here is about someone who wasn’t seen as good enough to get a college scholarship, and wasn’t drafted to the NBA and was waived by a couple of teams and spent time in the minor leagues is suddenly a break-out star helping the Knicks made a great run in this very strange NBA season. It has been called a Lin-derella story … which I think is appropriate but also pushing the ‘put Lin in front of everything’ stuff too far.

What do you think about all of this?

Categories: News


6 replies

  1. Actually, lychee is a Chinese fruit and is normally associated with Asian food. But I didn’t have a problem with any of that. There’s a long tradition of naming foods after celebrities and athletes, and usually the originators cheekily add ingredients that refer to the namesakes. The Carnegie Deli’s Woody Allen sandwich has pastrami and corned beef and the “Scott Baio” is piled high with soprasetta and mozarella.

    Why can’t you create a food product as an homage to a person that refers to their heritage without offending people who don’t even share that heritage? It’s another case of oversensitivity to me.

    Just my $.02.

    • I think Chris nailed it.  We all need to lighten up a bit on this or at the very least find out if the party, in this case Jeremy Lin, was offended.  I bet: he wasn’t.

      • > for me the common factor between all of these things is that all of the people should have known better

        What exactly do you mean by “should have known better”?

        Now if the ice cream analogy is bad, why was Ebony and Ivory an okay song? I am not ivory, I’m not some ground down quasi-osseous material from an African elephant that’s typically illegal to import. I’m offended! I want an apology! I want…I want…money, like all greedy, fat, yankee roundeyes with goatees and ballcaps (if male) who drive gas-guzzling pickup trucks and giant SUVs and watch sports all the time! 😉

        In all seriousness, though, I agree with Chris and Joel regarding the food homage. Was Mr. Lin offended by the ice cream reference? Myself I’m not sure how I’d feel about people jumping in and being offended for me, especially if I wasn’t in the first place.

  2. As someone who is also an ethnic-Chinese (as opposed to aborigines) Taiwanese-American, I’m scratching my head over the ice cream thing. As Chris pointed out, lychees are traditionally associated with China and/or Southeast Asia, so I’m not sure why that gets a pass if fortune cookies is insulting. The whole ice cream thing deserves maybe one raised eyebrow. For comparison, “Chink in the Armor” was two raised eyebrows. Verbal reactions were reserved for the “couple inches of pain” thing and Mayweather’s comments.

    • I am of Korean heritage, and I really don’t see the negative connotations with fortune cookies.

      What I think is more fascinating from a social sciences view is the inability of people to celebrate positive accomplishments universally; there always has to be some jerk that ruins it.

  3. What’s wrong with people these days?  I completely fail to see what the issue was here, it’s a complete non issue.  All they were doing was celebrating his heritage, it was not racist nor insulting in any way, shape or form.  It’s sad that we have become so ultra politically correct that we cannot even enjoy someones heritage.  BTW I am latino and have my fair share of racism in my life, but this isn’t one of those situations.  Also for the record Bird/Johnson Vanilla/Chocolate ice cream, I also utterly fail to see what the issue would have been if this was released.  I’d suggest directing your energies towards REAL racism in the world instead of this nonsense.