Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Ethics of Ice Cream, from a theology blog

I found this funny blog post by an Australian professor on the ethics (and logic) of ice cream tasting.  Read the full post here, from his blog Faith and Theology:

Pistacchio, lemon, chocolate orange, caffè, caramelised fig, rum raisin, green apple, bacio, blood orange... I made a quick provisional review of the range of colours and flavours, and then, determined not to waste another moment, I resolved to begin the all-important business of flavour sampling. "I'd like to try the melon and the dark chocolate," I said to the girl behind the counter, who had been waiting with benign attentiveness.

"No, I'm sorry," she replied at once. "Only one sample per customer." She pointed with tight-lipped authority to a sign on the counter that confirmed this ominous regulation, the capital letters printed in a stark juridical font.

"One sample?" I said, a little unsettled. "But how can I tell which flavour I want, if I only get one sample?"

"I'm sorry, one sample per customer."

"But don't you see?" I said, smiling generously. "Unless I try two flavours, how can I choose the one I prefer?"

She shrugged pleasantly, peering down at me like a judge from the bench, all kindliness and good intentions, but ultimately powerless before those ineluctable proceedings. "I'm really sorry, but nobody's allowed more than one sample. It's the rule."

As everybody knows, tasting different flavours is one of the chief joys of visiting a gelateria. But the samples do not merely serve an aesthetic purpose, they also have an important psychological benefit: the comparison of flavours allows you to make a final decision free of the usual burden of Menu Anxiety (together with the threatening subsequent possibility of Menu Regret). On this particular occasion, however, things were becoming difficult. Under these circumstances, the choice of a sample was itself rapidly descending into all the consternation of an actual decision.


It is a fabulous, albeit sad, story, well-told.  I run into this problem all the time. It is the evolutionary precursor to the "only one flavor in a small" policy, which I also abhor. In an ideal world, ice cream would be sold by weight and we could put as many flavors as we want, in the amounts that we want, into one cup or cone and pay for the amount of product we're getting. I realize this takes more effort on the part of the scooper but I see it as an opportunity to tip generously in recognition of her or his hard work. 

Come to think of it, this ideal world actually exists, on Ilha Grande, an island a few hours' drive from Rio de Janeiro.  I stayed there for a few days once and in the town was a little ice cream and candy shop were you took a cup and helped yourself to all the flavors you wanted, and then handed it over to be weighed.  That experience took that place from any old bum's definition of a "tropical paradise" to actual, honest-to-goodness paradise for me.


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