Columnist John Paradis: Forget ‘eat more kale.’ Eat more ice cream

  • Ice cream lovers at Kimball Farm in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. FILE PHOTO/Ben Conant

Published: 2/8/2019 8:41:38 AM

We New Englanders sure love our ice cream. Every year, we vie for the title of eating the most ice cream in the nation per capita of any region, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

I can say I definitely do my part in contributing to that claim to fame.

My ice cream-eating habits are legendary — or notorious — in my family. I come from a long lineage of ice-cream bingers. My brother and sister and I, in our prime, could eat and have eaten ice cream three or more times a day. I even wrote about my obsession for the frozen dessert in a Gazette column some years ago.

I don’t know about you, but eating a pint or ice cream, or about four or five scoops, in one sitting is generally about as much as most Homo sapiens can or should consume.

I know this because I, along with nearly 19 other wacky but brave souls, did just that — in five minutes — last Saturday at Herrell’s Ice Cream & Bakery for its first-ever Great Ice Cream Eating Competition.

I thought I could be competitive and would bring great credit upon my ice cream-eating ancestry by entering the competition. Surely, I also thought, there couldn’t be that many people as crazy as me.

Boy, was I wrong. Being from New England, I should have figured I would not be the only one with a predilection for premium frozen creaminess.

For the record, I finished last in my five-person heat with a serious case of frozen tonsils. I ate 15.8 ounces, just under a pint, of my all-time favorite flavor, Burnt Sugar & Butter, in five brain-freezing minutes.

For such a disappointing showing, I apologize to my wife and all my friends who cheered me on as I crammed ice cream into my cheeks like a starving chipmunk. But alas, this rookie was no match for the overall winner, Marco Maggi from Springfield, an ice cream-eating machine, who put away 39.4 ounces or just about 10 scoops.

Congratulations to Marco who earned a night at the Hotel Northampton, dinner for two at Paul and Elizabeth’s and some bubbly from Provisions among other nice treats.

What’s the whole point of gorging yourself on ice cream anyway?

The idea for the contest arose from Herrell’s manager, Sophia Twarog, who together with owner Judy Herrell, hoped it would be a fun way to get more people to visit downtown Northampton during the slow shopping months of winter, when all business, and specifically ice cream consumption, is at its lowest.

Mission accomplished. Herrell’s was packed with people, all there to watch us ice cream freaks. The event also received more than 25,000 views on Facebook and some neat media attention.

Of course, not everyone was warm to the idea of such a chilly event. Some people trolled social media and said the competition encouraged gluttony and bad health. One person called Herrell’s a shameless self-promoter.

To them, I say, take a chill pill. And wash it down with a milkshake.

These days, small businesses like Herrell’s need all the support it can get. If you love downtown Northampton as much as I do, then you can appreciate that it’s getting harder and harder for local mom and pops to stay afloat. Between taxes, higher rents, a higher minimum wage, increased employee medical coverage, paid sick leave and doing the very best for their employees, it ain’t easy.

“I’m really worried,” says Judy about the future of downtown Northampton. We both talk about Durgin Park, the Boston restaurant that closed last month after nearly two centuries of business at Boston’s Faneuil Hall.

Durgin Park’s owner couldn’t make a go of it anymore, citing increases in liability, property and health insurance in addition to the minimum wage increase.

When I was a kid in the early 1970s, we’d go to Quincy Market, and it breathed Boston and was a special place. Durgin Park was a treat because it was an iconic historical treasure. Now the entire area around Faneuil Hall breathes chain stores, like a big expensive mall that could be anywhere.

Then there’s the product itself. When you eat local ice cream, you are helping local dairy farmers. In case you haven’t heard, it’s a daily struggle to compete in a global economy. The odds of a New England dairy farm surviving today are not very good.

According to the superb 2016 documentary “Forgotten Farms,” New England has lost 10,000 dairy farms in the last 50 years. Fewer than 2,000 remain. In our state alone, the number of dairy farms has declined considerably from 6,760 in 1950 to fewer than 140 today.

Being a dairy farmer is backbreaking work with farmers getting up before dawn to milk cows, shovel grain and clean out manure.

Do you want to keep the downtown we love? Do you value the traditional family farm as a way of life and the character of our New England region? Then know that both are precious and worth protecting, and both should not be taken for granted. Also at issue is the importance of local food and local jobs.

To Sophia and Judy and everyone who organized the first-ever Herrell’s extravaganza, I say thank you. I’ll start training for next year.

And to the rest of you, eat more local ice cream and shop downtown, especially in the winter.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence. He can be reached at

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