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FOUNDERS OF BEN & JERRY'S ICE CREAM
We left the home of John Waters and headed toward two other iconoclasts known for blazing a dairy trail that had turned ice cream into a socially conscious and compassionate food group, while successfully redefining the responsibilities of business toward the community. We were drawn to the duo because they had managed to implement and sustain an unorthodox vision that challenged the self-interest of capitalism. In the spirit of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," Ben and Jerry were exercising their right to place as much importance on giving something back as they did on the bottom line.
The other thing that we found interesting about their Vermont operation is that Ben and Jerry's idea of supporting their community was not limited to the pastoral hills of Vermont but actually spanned the country with a variety of social contributions. The Ben and Jerry philosophy seemed right at home in Vermont, where communities are still very much intact and the Vermont ethos of know thy neighbor thrived in this world within a world.
Ben and Jerry were the first people to say yes to our interview re quest. I found it mildly amusing that as the catalyst responsible for putting us on the road in the first place, they were suddenly itching to blow us off. Jerry's eyes darted from left to right, distracted by the festival backstage action, while Ben attempted—fighting the noise of the live zydeco band ten feet away—to answer a few simple questions about the meaning of life in America. We were, after all, sitting together at Ben & Jerry's annual One World, One Heart Festival.
Sitting face-to-face with them, we realized that our initial call from Ben, in which he so kindly offered his advice and encouragement—inviting us to the festival to do an interview—would be valuable for not much else than the much-needed jump start. Having finally made it to Vermont, and being far enough down the road to never look back, we realized that Ben and his compadre Jerry were actually a mirage that had thankfully led us to water.
Thousands of people milled around the ski mountain that had been transformed into a mini-Woodstock: multiple stages featuring bands from all over the world, hemp merchandise booths, and of course—all-you-can-eat ice cream stands. It was an ambitious office party designed to thank their local community for its support. Although our time with Ben and Jerry was distracted and brief, they did respond positively to the questions we were asking, and they did confirm some of the ideas that we were exploring. That—and free Chunky Monkey—made the trip worth the effort.
The idea of community was one of the themes that had already surfaced in other interviews, in which people ad dressed the need for individual responsibility in order to sustain community. Ben stressed the importance of taking accountability out to the public sector, saying that he felt we weren't, as a culture, living out our values. He acknowledged that I the eighties were so focused on increasing personal wealth that a lot of people now looking at their lives and sensing that something is missing. I thought again about the phenomenal success of The Celestine Prophecy.
Ben and Jerry both believed, as did many others we met, that it was indeed possible to balance equality and capitalism if capitalism had its own system of checks and balances and if there was individual and community participation. It was apparent by the way they talked themselves and their business that they didn't consider their approach to be extraordinary, just necessary. Ben out the historical progression of influences our civilization, explaining that it us to be religion, then it was government, and then it was business. He went on to argue that when religion and government were the most powerful forces, had the purpose—the purported purpose—of working to improve the quality of life for everyone. But business has never had that purpose, operating within its own narrow self-interest. Ben believed business was going to have to start taking more responsibility for the society as a whole if we were indeed going to evolve. "If it doesn't happen," he said, "then I think there will be a revolution. And there should be."
I asked Ben and Jerry what Vermont—the landscape—gave to them personally
Ben said that one of the big draws was the cows. "Cows are very mellow creatures," he explained. Ben, a very mellow creature himself, went on to point out that the biggest things around Vermont and many other rural places were mountains. He felt that natural surroundings allowed people to see themselves realistically in proportion to the world and universe while maintaining a personal relationship to the land. In cities, he argued, the biggest things around are monstrous buildings that are man-made. "I think you can start to get the erroneous impression," Ben explained, "that people are a bigger part of the universe than they really are."
After a heartfelt handshake, the two practically skipped away. We left the festival grounds exhausted from our day in the mountain sun and crashing from the pints of heavy cream and sugar we had dutifully consumed.
Copyright ) 1997 by Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn
|Journal: Leaving Los Angeles||9|
|Journal: A Whole New World - Dollywood, Tennessee||45|
|Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield||73|
|Journal: A Shot Heard 'Round the World - Concord, Massachusetts||80|
|Journal: The Navigator and Mr. Magoo - New York, New York||98|
|Journal: Vietnam Veterans Memorial - Washington, D.C.||116|
|Journal: Chasing the Amish - Elkhart, Indiana||131|
|W. Deen Mohammed||134|
|Journal: Rain Machines in an Iowa Cornfield - Ames, Iowa||155|
|Journal: The Importance of Being Grandpa||175|
|Journal: Good News and Grits at the Fig Tree Diner - Sallisaw, Oklahoma||189|
|Journal: An Unforeseen Breakdown in Oklahoma City||190|
|Journal: Misunderstood in Vega, Texas (or the Secret Life of a Speedster)||193|
|Jimmy Santiago Baca||195|
|Journal: Remembering Arizona||205|
|Journal: Fear and Loathing at the Owl Farm - Woody Creek, Colorado||208|
|Hunter S. Thompson||228|
|Journal: "Welcome to the Cowboy State" - Wyoming Border||235|
|John Perry Barlow||237|
|Journal: A Postcard from Yellowstone||252|
|Journal: Tea and Sympathy (and Glaciers) - Medora, North Dakota||261|
|Micah Wagner and Ryan Parr||275|
|Journal: A Weekend with the Christian Coalition - Washington, D.C.||295|
|Journal: Back in New Orleans||389|
|Journal: A New Chapter||392|
Shainee Gabel: You missed a lot. We spent a week with Hunter, and very little was caught on camera. It is discussed in the book -- everything from dinner to parties.
Shainee Gabel: He also missed Hunter letting Shainee drive. Shainee wrote most of the chapter. It definitely captures Hunter very delicately.
Shainee Gabel: We found that people over 45-50 had a contextual experience in regards to Nixon and Watergate and Martin Luther King's assassination. Those people tended to answer the questions with that landscape in place. The younger generations were answering with those experiences as the aftermath.
^%=fonttexthead%^SG:^%=xfonttexthead%^ I agree with Kristin. In general it depends on how long you have been in America, ranging from five years to 80 years.
Shainee Gabel: Well, I guess probably the biggest difference is what people have said. We are not trying to hypothesize. The '80s set a precedent for materialism taking over. The American dream became less about the nuclear family dream and more in line with Michael Milken's dream. And now, after the leadership has changed, things are kind of becoming more centered, and the environment is becoming more of a real issue. Human rights as well...that is probably what we heard about the most in regards to the last decade. As far as the next couple of years, we will cross our fingers.
Shainee Gabel: I can add that the last ten years have built into this crescendo into positive matters. We found there were a lot of people becoming more self-actualized, and I have a feeling that ultimately people will become so angry that they will get up and do something about it. That is what was happening when we were out there.
Shainee Gabel: I want to preface that it wasn't our idea to write it so quick. We sold the book as we were going into the film editing process, and we got very wrapped up in editing the film. It took us a long time. By the time we got done, we realized the book was due in the near future so we had to lock ourselves in our apartment and write 15 hours a day. It took about three to four months of solid work, and then there was a very short period of editing. It is a first- to second-draft book, which makes it that much more real.
^%=fonttexthead%^SG:^%=xfonttexthead%^ Well, I guess I prefer making movies, and Kristin will prefer writing books, but it was an amazing experience, and both the book and movie are very dear to us. Shainee is developing a few feature films, and we both love documentary -- I could see us making a documentary together.
Shainee Gabel: As of right now we don't have any plans for a sequel ... that would be fun in a couple of years, or maybe in the year 2006.
Shainee Gabel: You are snagged! The movie will be opening in Philadelphia on October 8th, and yes, it is very possible that Mayor Rendell, who has an appearance in the book, might be coming to the premiere.
Shainee Gabel: Hi, Gary!
Shainee Gabel: Mark, the list of disappointments is long. Everyone from Anne Richards.... Jimmy Carter was a big one, and Maya Angelou was another big one. We asked a number of people in many fields, so certainly a lot of them said no. As far as the second part of your question: I think I would say Studs Terkel, because he is the godfather of American chronicling.
Shainee Gabel: It is impossible to pick a favorite interview. When you spend months in an editing room, these people become like your kids. Some stood out, but I can't say Willie Nelson is better than George McGovern. Every single day was an extraordinary experience.
Shainee Gabel: I am working on another book, an American chronicling book on another topic, and Shainee and I are entertaining other possibilities together, film stuff and possibly some kind of TV projects in relation to ANTHEM.
^%=fonttexthead%^SG:^%=xfonttexthead%^ In addition, I am working on a couple of narrative features, specifically adapting an unpublished novel for a screenplay.
Shainee Gabel: We divided up categories of influence, from politics to education to science, and we went through and tried to fill it out with people we admired and also friends' recommendations. Our only criteria was that they had to be impacting American culture in some form. We tried to stay with people that were not the obvious choice.
Shainee Gabel: We gravitated to the mavericks.
Shainee Gabel: Pick a topic to do commentaries on that you are incredibly passionate about. You don't have to be an expert, but passion is crucial because you will live with it for a long time. For writer's block, I suggest meditative swimming.
Shainee Gabel: It started because Kristin and I wanted to make a film of our own, and we wanted to leave L.A., as anybody who has spent time in L.A. will want to do. We did not propose it to a film company or a publishing house; we only proposed it to our friends and parents. Kristin and I decided to do ANTHEM on our own and were lucky enough to get enough people to support the idea. We were able to borrow money, charge up several credit cards, and create a very complex phone tree and couches to sleep on across the country. I am sure we would do something like this again, preferably with a crew this time out, or at least a chef.
Shainee Gabel: He was just as he appeared to be: mellow, charming, gorgeous smile. He was very supportive of the project as well. Getting a yes from him was one of the easier ones to get, and we got it through his lawyer. Unlike most celebrities, he is aware of all requests sent in to him, so we were a big fan of his for being aware of what was going on. He had a great demeanor. He was really encouraging. We also spoke to him a lot about the American farmer, which he was very happy about.
Shainee Gabel: Well, I would say that the one thing that we found across the board, regardless of demographics, was that there was no palpable defense of defeatism in the country, and that was something that we fully expected we would find. There was skepticism, realism, but for the most part, people had a really acute sense of being an American and what that meant. So I would say that the country, at least on a collective level, is in a better place than what we might have been hearing that it is. As far as the second part of the question, "optimism" is a strong word, but as everyone from Studs Terkel to John Waters put it, I am hopeful, definitely hopeful!
Shainee Gabel: Thank you for watching our film.
Shainee Gabel: Win the lottery first, and date a photographer and bring him along.
Shainee Gabel: I don't know if I would do it a lot differently. We know more now than we knew then.
Shainee Gabel: The worst thing to happen to us was the first time we watched our footage. Technically, we realized how difficult it was going to be to be our own crew, and we needed to run our equipment better. It was actually pompous of us to think we could shoot the film.
Shainee Gabel: Shainee and I split the book up. Other than the introduction, we wrote the chapters separately. It was a very autonomous experience. We lived together for so long, so it wasn't a difficult experience. However, the film was a collaboration.
Shainee Gabel: Betty Ford's people were kind of apathetic. She left us a message and hung up the phone in the middle: She said, "I think Betty Ford is in Colorado for the summer (click)." My favorite one was Norman Mailer's assistant, who left us a message that he had to turn us down because he was working on a book similar to the one we were working on, and he said, "I guess great minds think alike."
Shainee Gabel: There was a space issue -- we wanted the book to be digestible, we wanted to make the voices of Americans accessible to everybody. Miguel Algarin from the Nuyorican Poets' Cafe and Dave Foreman were two that didn't make it into the book. They have both made enormous contributions to the country, but some things are out of our control.
^%=fonttexthead%^SG:^%=xfonttexthead%^ There is a lot not in the movie as well, so I would say that everybody who is in the book and not the movie we wished were also in the movie.
Shainee Gabel: As a last comment, thanks to everybody for taking an interest in what ANTHEM has to say. It is a very grassroots project. Thanks for participating.