This week, Ben & Jerry’s celebrated 23 years of the brand’s longstanding collaboration with Phish, which resulted in the fan-favorite treat, Phish Food.
Ice cream entrepreneurs Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield go way back with Phish, and even joined the Vermont quartet on stage at their Clifford Ball festival in 1996 for a relatively ill-fated rendition of “Brother”. The purveyors of frozen treats will be the first to tell you that they’re much more adept at nougat than notes, and after the duo’s inability to get the vocals down, “[Phish] finally said to us, ‘strong and wrong. Let’s go out there and do it loud.'”
The collaboration between the Vermont natives goes deeper than a jam or a pint, however, as the mix of marshmallow, caramel, and miniature chocolate fish raises money for the band’s charitable arm, The Waterwheel Foundation, with every purchase. The Waterwheel Foundation was actually started by the band as a direct result of their sponsorship from Ben & Jerry’s, as drummer Jon Fishman said in a 2014 video made to enlighten fans as to how their ice cream purchase helps clean up the Earth.
“I remember there was an interview with Paul Newman and he was just starting Newman’s Own,” Fishman said in the interview. “I guess the people around were like, ‘if you put your face on the bottle, it’ll sell more.’ And so he felt like, ‘well, if that was true, then it would be tacky to keep the money.’ So he figured that was the trade-off.”
Thus, in 1997, Phish established The Waterwheel Foundation with the profits from Phish Food. The charity deals explicitly with the health and well-being of Burlington, VT’s Lake Champlain, which had fallen into a state of disarray as a result of man-made pollution in the ’90s.
“You hear about it a lot in the news, a bunch of raw sewage ended up in the lake again,” Fishman said. “Lake Erie was in the news when I was growing up. There’d be sections of Lake Erie that would be on fire. I mean that place is, you know what I mean, that’s like the three-eyed fish in The Simpsons episodes type lake. Lake Champlain was no Lake Erie, but we didn’t want it to become that way.”
Since then, the profits from Ben & Jerry’s’ Phish Food ice cream have gone directly to cleaning up Lake Champlain and making it safe for Vermont families. According to the Director of Vermont’s Conservative Law Foundation Chris Kilian, “We’re at the most positive moment I’ve seen in 25 years of working on Lake Champlain.”
For Fishman, it just comes down to a sense of duty, “Whether you’re a rock band or a corporation, if you have anything to offer, you should.”
Watch the full video on Phish, Phish Food, and The Waterwheel Foundation from Ben & Jerry’s below. Visit their website for more information.
Phish: The Waterwheel Foundation | Ben & Jerry’s
[Video: Ben & Jerry’s]