Day 1,003: Forget Saskatchewan, We Want Ice Cream!

This happened often during the original project.

Maybe not “often”, but frequently enough that when it happened last night, the sudden spurt of mental calisthenics felt familiar and friendly, like running into an old co-worker at a clambake. Sometimes during the nearly 33-month stretch of this project’s original run, I’d select a topic, write an article, and realize hours later just how tremendously dreadful or dull the piece was. No matter – the aim was to write 1,000 words every day, and that I did. Except the next day I’d have to double it because I didn’t want to sacrifice a day of the project to something so banal.

Well, it happened again. After having oozed out a kilograph yesterday on the 1964 Saskatchewan provincial election, I lay in bed at night wondering… why? It wasn’t particularly funny, nor was the story of the election all that interesting. It was a thousand words of filler, and since this is merely an experimental revival and not another string of a thousand days, I have no space for filler. Instead, I’m going to plant a foot, change direction, and see where this takes me:

Meet Tom Carvel. He lived in upstate New York during the Great Depression, and made a scant living selling ice cream from his clunky old truck. I imagine on some nights when business had been slow, he and his wife Agnes would have to subsist solely on ice cream to survive. Hopefully he stocked some of the heartier flavors, like Maple Walnut or Shrimp Cocktail. Times were tough. And when the going gets tough, the goddamn truck tire goes flat on Memorial Day goddamn weekend under the hot goddamn sun beside some goddamn pottery goddamn store.

Anyhow, Tom was having a really shitty day. His truck was full of ice cream, and he wasn’t exactly in a hotspot of pedestrian activity. In desperation, as his product transformed into a sweet, succulent goo, he started pitching the stuff to passing motorists. People stopped, as they often did in the 1930s (cars topped out at around 8 MPH, I believe), and Tom’s melty glop was a hit. Tom realized two things: people will go nuts for ice cream with this consistency, and he’d be way better off planting himself in a single location to sell the stuff, rather than drive around and hunt for customers.

Tom borrowed some electricity from the pottery shop and made a mint (a chocolate-mint mint if you will, which I won’t) over that summer. The equivalent of $60k in today’s money, which if you ask any ice cream vendor they’ll tell you is a depressingly large sum of cash. Tom opened the first Carvel shop on the same location (he ousted the pottery store, though the polished online history seems to omit any of the juicy details of that move), and patented the first soft-serve machine.

And here’s where things get interesting – as if ice cream itself isn’t perpetually interesting on its own. While hocking his machine to a bunch of schmoes who didn’t really know what they were doing, he realized that he could sell his machines along with his expertise and signage and take a percentage of the profits from all over the place. And that’s how Tom invented franchising. I mean… sort of. The history of franchising stretches back to Isaac Singer’s sewing machines in the 1800s, and it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than soft-serve ice cream sales… but let’s pretend none of us have any portion of a business degree (I don’t!) and just say that Tom pulled off a pretty cool and profitable move.

An even profitabler move – and yes, we do intend to keep trying to invent words here at 1000Words Industries, at least until one of them sticks – was Tom’s 1956 handshake deal with Ray Kroc to supply all milkshake machinery to Ray’s little McDonalds business. To this day there’s a Carvel logo on every soft-serve machine in every McD’s on the planet.

This made me wonder: what is really in McDonalds ice cream? It’s generally assumed that anything purchased beneath the Golden Arches™ will be at least somewhat less healthy than similar products elsewhere, but does the same hold true for something as basic and pure as soft-serve ice cream? It turns out the answer is yes.

This photo has nothing to do with the article; it’s a left-over pic from my Saskatchewan election article. Enjoy!

You introduce air into the process of freezing your ice cream – that’s how soft-serve exists. McDonalds most likely uses a liquid flavor mix, ultra-heated and sterilized for our protection. Up until 2017, their ice cream contained such yummy preservatives as sodium phosphate and disodium phosphate, which are usually used to keep meat products all fresh and squishy. The phosphate brothers are also known for contributing to heart disease, osteoporosis, kidney problems and even space-herpes, so good riddance to them. They also switched over from phony vanilla flavoring to natural vanilla, which means they no longer employ lignin, a chemically-treated byproduct of paper manufacturing.

Yes, lignin was dancing around in every delicious cone of McSoft-Serve you’d enjoyed prior to 2017. You basically ate pulp-and-paper-mill poop.

But that was then! This is now! Or, since I wrote this before you’ll read it, this is some other incarnation of then! Today, McDonalds’ soft-serve is geared for the more health-conscious 21st century market!

I searched for ‘glob of fat’ to punctuate this next paragraph, not realizing that’s an actual fucking product.

A cone of vintage, paper-poop-heavy McSoft-Serve would run you 170 calories, four and a half grams of fat and 70 milligrams of sodium. A cone of next-gen modern vanilla McGoo will net you 200 calories, five whopping grams of fat and 80 milligrams of sodium. So they took out some harmful chemicals, even reduced the number of artificial sweeteners from three to two, and they somehow concocted a more deadly cone. You’ll even wind up with an extra few grams of sugar with the new stuff. Though for those of us who ask for our McSundaes with “an irrational amount of extra caramel”, do we really care?

No. We don’t. We’ll still grab a cone if we damn well want to, or if the lineup at the Dairy Queen drive-thru is too long. Oh, DQ also claims they invented soft-serve, but I don’t have time to dig into that theory today. Besides, their story isn’t nearly as folksy and delightful as Tom Carvel’s fortuitous flat tire and the subsequent chain of events that turned him into a gazillionaire.

Also, I’m still a little hung up on that pottery store suddenly vanishing like that. Stay tuned for a deeper exploration on Day 4,667: Blood On The Kiln – The Real Tom Carvel Story.

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