College News

National coverage of ice cream debate misses the bigger picture, students say

Some Babcock Ice Cream contains beef gelatin, which makes it inaccessible to students with dietary restrictions. Students say that ASM legislation that would make ice cream more inclusive is a symbolic step toward a more inclusive campus.

Some Babcock Ice Cream contains beef gelatin, which makes it inaccessible to students with dietary restrictions. Students say that ASM legislation that would make ice cream more inclusive is a symbolic step toward a more inclusive campus.

Conservative UW-Madison Student Council representatives said former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin didn’t speak for them when she published an article on her website earlier this month criticizing the Associated Students of Madison for crafting legislation meant to make Babcock Ice Cream more inclusive.

Currently, Babcock Dairy uses beef gelatin in roughly 70 percent of its ice cream to give the desert its rich and creamy texture — an ingredient that violates beliefs of Jewish, Muslim and vegetarian students, and one that often goes unmarked on ice cream labels.

In its current form, the student council’s “Ice Cream for All” legislation requests that Babcock Dairy substitute beef gelatin for alternative ingredients in its new flavors, that it provide gelatin-free ice cream options during catering events and that it label the ice cream that still contains the additive.

The author of the article Palin published mocked students who advocated for more inclusive ice cream, and quoted an earlier story printed by the conservative news outlet The Daily Wire.

“Yes, we’ve become so far removed from reality on college campuses that students are now fighting against oppressive ice cream,” the Wire reported. “Talk about First World problems.”

Conservative students on campus oppose the ice cream legislation, but they say it’s not for the reasons Palin suggests. Instead of saying the bill represents political correctness gone too far, they argued instead that it is an irresponsible use of ASM resources, which is something they feel Palin’s article misrepresented.

“The article itself is not a very well-written article, in the sense of it being factual,” Student Council Representative Josh Waldoch said. “It seems to me like a game of telephone … where by the time it gets to the Sarah Palin website, it’s more something to rile people up and point to the craziness on campus, and it strays from the original intention of the bill.”

Waldoch describes himself as a conservative and said Palin’s views don’t really represent those of the conservative students on the council.

That aside, Waldoch — and several other conservative organizations on campus — don’t support the bill either, but their reasoning isn’t a reaction against what Palin had condemned as “political correctness.”

Instead of focusing resources on bills like this one, Waldoch said ASM could be taking more direct action to create an inclusive campus environment by prioritizing issues like campus safety. In a Facebook statement that has since been deleted, Young Americans for Freedom UW-Madison stated a similar opinion.

“I’m all in favor of having more alternatives to the beef gelatin, but I’m not sure how in the scope of ASM’s duties it is,” Waldoch said. “It comes down to whether the bill can actually do something rather than being a symbolic measure.”

But for ASM Vice Chair Yogev Ben-Yitschak, the ice cream bill’s sponsor, the legislation’s symbolism is exactly what makes it important.

“It’s symbolic that a department of the university excludes Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and vegetarian students for the soul reason of tradition — which, at this university, means white and Christian,” Ben-Yitschak said. “In my opinion, a department of the university should not keep a tradition if the tradition excludes half of the marginalized communities on this campus.”

And, from Steenbock Library to Babcock Hall, dairy innovation is a tradition on which UW-Madison prides itself. However, according to the dairy’s website, that same sense of tradition is what has kept it from making changes to the ingredients in some of their ice cream.

"The recipe for the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant’s regular Babcock ice cream was developed in 1951 when the Dairy Plant first opened. At that time, gelatin was a common ingredient in ice cream,” the dairy said in a statement last month. “This original product has proved popular over the decades, so while gelatin is no longer a common ice cream ingredient, the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant continues to follow the traditional Babcock ice cream recipe because gelatin contributes to the unique properties of the product.”

In fact, Babcock Dairy is one of two ice cream manufacturers in the U.S. who still make their ice cream with beef gelatin. In most cases, Ben-Yitschak said alternative ingredients are cheaper.

“We’re definitely behind,” he said. “You would think a research institution in dairy would be at the forefront, but we are second from the bottom of the list.”

For Babcock Dairy officials, the question of cost is not relevant to the argument.

"The cost of that ingredient, because we use such a small amount of it, is so insignificant to all of the other costs involved," said plant manager Bill Klein. "We've never based the decision to use one or the other on costs."

Babcock Dairy is technically an on-campus research institute that operates within the Food Science department. It manufactures more than 80,000 gallons of frozen desserts and generates $2 million in revenue annually. Nearly all of its sales are made within UW-Madison to places like the Wisconsin Union and University Dining.

ASM does not have leverage over university departments, but Ben-Yitschak said it would be able to influence Babcock because it can regulate the majority of its markets. If ASM stipulated that the unions could not sell new products made with beef gelatin, Ben-Yitschak believes Babcock Dairy would have to alter its production.

Ben-Yitschak said that at this point, ASM may not even need to implement those measures though, because  Babcock Dairy is already trying to make its ice cream more accessible. In addition to offering flavors for students who cannot eat beef gelatin, it also accommodates students with lactose restrictions and other allergies. 

"We have a wide diversity of frozen desserts, which has very much been in response to the campus community," said Scott Rankin, Chair of the Food Sciences department. 

Misunderstanding the role of student government — as well as the significance of dairy — on campus is one of the things Ben-Yitschak flagged as a driver of some of the outside attention the “Ice Cream for All” debate has received.

“I see why they picked this up, like hey — social justice warriors want to ban ice cream is what they see, because they didn't actually read the legislation,” Ben-Yitschak said. “But Babcock is 100 percent part of the Wisconsin Tradition. It’s hard to understand how big of a role Babcock plays if you’re not from the university.”

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