Ice Cream, the Eco-Friendly Way

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | May 27th, 2009 | 1 Comment
topic: Green Living

If there’s on thing I like to do this summer, it’s to eat copious amounts of ice cream. Maybe it’s a holdover from my youth, and remembered trips to Dairy Queen, not to mention the one or two times per summer that my dad hauled out the rock-salt ice cream maker and we cranked away for what seemed like hours to churn homemade ice cream. Years later, I still love DQ’s Peanut Buster Parfait, and my fridge is rarely without a cardboard tub of ice cream between the months of May and September.

But thinking in terms of the responsible, green lifestyle I try to maintain, my indulgence doesn’t seem so innocent. After all, supermarket ice cream is transported across the country in energy-guzzling refrigerated trucks, and the freezer cases in which they’re stored use up their fair share of electricity and coolant (I can still hear my mom chiding me — “You’re letting all the cold air out!” — when I opened the glass doors at the supermarket for the pleasure of watching the windows fog up… was she ahead of her time in wanting to conserve energy?).

Not to mention, although I am vigilant about buying organic and hormone-free milk and free-range eggs, I must admit I don’t really think about the quality of milk and eggs used in my Edy’s S’More’s Ice Cream. Or, for that matter, about the obscene amount of refined sugar that I’m likely consuming, even as I have started sweetening my morning oatmeal and coffee with agave nectar.

I’ve made a lot of life adjustments in the name of helping the environment and eating greener and cleaner, but I think giving up my summertime ice cream addiction is beyond my willpower. Instead, I’m going to try to make my indulgence a little more environmentally responsible, and better for my body, too. If you’re interested in finding some greener ways to enjoy, ice cream, here are three suggestions:

Make Your Own

There are many reasons why making your own ice cream is better on so many levels. For one, it’s the ultimate form of “eating local,” and you’ll know that your frozen concoction didn’t contribute to pollution and energy waste like commercial ice creams, in terms of the factories in which they’re made, their packaging and the transportation. What’s more, you can have control over what goes into your ice cream, whether this is organic milk, unrefined sugar or fair-trade cocoa. Try using good local milk and eggs from a small farm for a real treat, or make sorbet from fruit from your farmers’ market. Finally, it’s fun and inexpensive — you can get an ice cream maker (I use the Cuisinart ICE-20) for around $50.

Buy Responsible Brands

Luckily, it is fairly easy to find ice cream companies to support that offer organic and environmentally and socially responsible choices. One of the biggest, and easiest to find, is Ben & Jerry’s. From its advocacy about cloning (the company famously created a mock dairy of cloned cows) to the earth-saving hydrocarbon freezers that the company has developed, to the careful sourcing of high-quality ingredients, the company seems to be truly focused on being eco-aware.

You can also feel good about buying ice cream brands like Stonyfield Farms, which uses organic ingredients and offers lots of healthier options like frozen yogurt or low-fat ice cream or Julie’s Organic Ice Cream, which is made with organic ingredients in small batches.

Think Local

Here in Atlanta, we’ve got plenty of local ice cream shops to choose from, and I always feel good about patronizing them instead of large, national corporations. Jake’s Ice Cream, Atlanta’s most well-known local ice cream company, has funnily named flavors like Brown Shuga Vanilla and Breakfast In Bed (my personal favorite — cinnamon ice cream with Belgian waffles soaked in honey-bourbon pecan syrup) and even has vegan and dairy-free options. And Morelli’s, right in my neighborhood, is a true old-fashioned walk-up ice cream window, which reminds me of those in Wisconsin, near where I grew up. Finally, my daughter is a fan of a place called Paolo’s Gelato, which makes authentic-tasting Italian-style gelato, and has the most adorable tiny kid-sized ice cream cones that are just right for her two-year-old hands.

Chances are your own town has its fair share of independently owned ice cream shops, many of which likely even make their own ice cream on-site. Especially in a tough economy like today’s, it’s important to patronize small family businesses like these so they won’t go under. After all, here in Atlanta, it’s companies like Jake’s and Morelli’s that give the city’s neighborhoods local flavor, and keep America from being a homogenous sea of all the same brands. Much as I appreciate being able to get my Dairy Queen fix wherever I go, I love even more being able to sample local ice cream flavors across the country, whether it’s at the strange iCream in Chicago, or at the now defunct Luna Park in Brooklyn.

Do you love ice cream? What are your favorite “green” ways of enjoying ice cream?


  1. Thank you for this, Jessica. I had actually forgotten, until I read your article, about a friend of ours who had made homemade ice cream, using honey as a sweetener…and it tasted really good!
    This reminds me that this is a high-priority project for us, and doing a little hunting online turned up some recipes we can make using our Vitamix, and if I recall right they don’t require cream! Looking forward to trying that route, which is definitely more green that Dryer’s, Edy’s, Breyer’s, etc.

    Michael | September 9th, 2011 | Comment Permalink

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