Welcome to Actually, a safe space for us to share our deeply-held but likely-unpopular opinions about food and drinks.
It’s deep February now, which means that as of last week, 80 percent of you have abandoned your New Year’s resolutions and accepted that you are, more or less, the same person you were in December. But I’m here to tell you that the secret to keeping them—which you should aspire to, if only because as our planet gets more and more dystopian, it’s worth believing in any upward trajectory you can—is to treat your resolutions like Trojan horses. How do you feed the dog the medicine? You nestle it inside the piece of cheese. Which brings me to ice cream, the aspirational treadmill of post-holiday winter, and why we should admit that the two are a perfect match.
My primary 2019 resolution was to meditate, which may be the only concrete thing I share with Gwyneth Paltrow. I imagine that successful meditation will feel like a therapy dog taking up residence up in my cranium. But though I have tried using both an app and an accountability partner (whose concept of a “short practice” is 20 minutes, which is the Zen equivalent of asking someone who never cooks to try whipping up a “basic” apple pie) my current fidget-filled practice suggests that I have a long journey ahead. What I really want from meditation is just to spend less time anxiously dissecting the past or anticipating the future, and more time rooted firmly to the present-tense. I aspire to be able to achieve this without having to sit quietly with my eyes closed. Lifehacker thinks it can be done, and so does a PhD at PsychologyToday. Which is how I found myself, in the middle of the coldest weather that parts of America have seen in decades, achieving mindfulness by eating an ice-cream cone of freshly scooped Peanut-Butter Pandemonium from my local Stewart’s gas station.
When you are holding a cone of ever-mutating frozen dairy, your only job is to eat it. To sculpt it, mind the drips, and mostly just to make sure it doesn’t end up in a slump on the pavement. I’m the sort of burned-out-Libra-millennial who is always weighing what else I could be doing to optimize my hours, and so it’s a thrill—a milky, peanut-butter-cup-studded thrill—to realize that when I’m holding ice cream, the present is perfect just the way it is. I don’t want to scroll news alerts or wonder what I’m going to bring to the potluck or worry if my moles are cancerous. All I want to do is sit quietly and revel in the sugar-party of my senses. Accepting impermanence is an essential Buddhist teaching, and ice cream is basically just an edible lesson in ephemerality. Facing the crunch at the bottom of the cone can feel a lot like facing Sunday night—or, you know, death itself.
Because we tend to see New Years resolutions as a corrective for holiday hangovers, we expect to become the most quinoa-cooking and elliptical-loving versions of ourselves right when the year is at its darkest and bleakest. Right when winter can feel the most like brute survival, we find ourselves facing an endless parade of icy commutes and roast squash. A consumer research group in the Midwest found that people are 3.36 times less likely to buy ice cream in the cold months than in the hot ones. But isn’t it time to reevaluate our bias? If Martha Stewart has deemed the stigma against drinking winter rosé as passé as the Labor Day white rule, than surely winter ice cream deserves a similar chance. After all, the union of ice cream and winter has its roots in the very history of the dessert itself, when Ancient Rome’s Emperor Nero first ordered snow to be carried down from the mountains and flavored with fruit juice. I’d argue that now is the time when we most deserve both present-tense pleasure and insulating calories the most. In fact: Although the first bites of ice cream might feel cooling, your digestive system makes quick use of the nutrients, breaking them down for absorption and converting them to energy. The heat generated by these processes rapidly offsets any initial cooling, insuring that the calories in an ice cream scoop actually cause your body temperature to rise. So really, ice cream in winter is just the practical choice.
When we were in college, my friend designed a website to calculate how long it takes for ice cream to melt, taking into account the weather at the user’s location and the flavor (coffee, chocolate or vanilla) and size of scoop. I’m writing this from a 21-degree day in the Adirondacks, where I could apparently nurse a small cone for up to 162 minutes. When I texted my friend to marvel at this luxurious window of time (the exact same length as Avatar), he reminded me that his model does “not account for the possibility that a user may lick their scoop.” I obviously don’t have the self-control to sit with ice cream and not lick it, but I appreciate that even so, winter weather affords me more time for slow, mindful consumption. If you’re normally someone who inhales ice cream in the race against the sun, now is your chance to prolong the present-tense bliss of every bite.
In the town where I live now, not only is there a Stewart’s Shops across the street from my favorite bar, there’s another one even closer to my house. This convenience store ice cream isn’t superlative, but it’s made with milk from local farms, literally always on sale, and, like any winter-savvy scoop shop, sells buffet-table classics like Pumpkin Pie and Snickerdoodle converted into a form that gives you a brain freeze. As the Godey’s Lady Book put it in 1850: Ice cream is “one of the necessary luxuries of life.” And luxury never goes out of season.
So while I get that putting back another $2 cone of mint-chocolate-chip might not be triggering the brain-molding benefits of meditation-with-a-capital-M, I’ll pull a Reese Witherspoon and throw my scoop at anyone who says that the sensory immersion of a mindfully eaten winter ice cream cone is a sign of a failed New Year’s-health-kick. When I eat ice cream, I am squarely in “the flow”—and surely even Gwyneth would approve of that?