Sometimes you run across something that just throws you for a loop. For me, that recently happened when I discovered that Alabama has a law defining ice cream (as do most other states, apparently). This discovery immediately led to the following questions: Does ice cream need defining? What is its definition? Why would that be necessary? Exactly how much did the legislature spend drafting the legislation in which ice cream is defined? Do they make it clear the Blue Bell is superior to all others?
Well now that I’ve got your curiosity piqued…
The definition of ice cream first appeared in Alabama law in the Agriculture Code of 1927 § 58. It was later included in Alabama Code (1940), Title 2, § 196. Finally, “ice cream” was most recently updated in Alabama Code 1975 § 2-13-11:
Ice cream defined and standardized. For the purpose of this article, ice cream is hereby defined and standardized as follows: Ice cream is the frozen compound, varied as to kind and proportion of ingredients, within the limit established by custom and usage. Ice cream consists chiefly of a sweetened and flavored mixture of cream or milk and cream or milk with or without added milk fat in the form of sound, sweet butter or as contained in condensed, evaporated or concentrated milk or in milk powder and with or without added milk solids not fat and in the form of skimmed milk powder or as contained in milk powder or in condensed, evaporated or concentrated skimmed milk or of sweetened and flavored homogenized or emulsified mixture of sound, sweet butter, milk powder or skimmed milk powder and water, with the addition of gelatin, vegetable gums or other wholesome stabilizer.
Standard ice cream contains not less than 10 percent butterfat, and the total content of solids shall be not less than 33 percent; except, that when the ingredients of standard ice cream include eggs, fruit or fruit juices, cake confection, cocoa or chocolate or nuts, such reduction of the percentage of butterfat as may be due to the addition of such ingredients shall be allowed, provided such milk fat content is not less than eight percent.
That’s almost enough to make it seem unappealing. Almost.
Now That We Know What Ice Cream Is, Why Was It Necessary?
In 1916, the Supreme Court of the United States heard two cases in which ice cream vendors from Pennsylvania and Iowa violated their respective state statutes requiring a fixed percentage of butterfat in ice cream, in order for the product to qualify as “ice cream” and not some other dairy-related treat. The vendors claimed that the statutes violated their 14th Amendment due process rights. In fact, here’s their argument: “To require that ice cream, in order to be legally salable, must contain some butter fat, is a regulation so unreasonable and arbitrary as to be a deprivation of property without due process of law and a denial of the equal protection of the laws.” Hutchinson Ice Cream Co. v. State of Iowa, 242 U.S. 153, 158 (1916).
The Supreme Court discovered that in Philadelphia alone, there were many varying products being billed as “ice cream,” many of which had no resemblance to each other, but according to the Supreme Court “none of them is necessarily unwholesome.” Id. Ultimately, the Supreme Court found that it is in the public’s best interest for states to be able to enact laws that define what constitutes a particular food product. Moreover, neither Iowa nor Pennsylvania prohibited the sale of these other dairy products that weren’t actually “ice cream” – they just couldn’t be labeled as ice cream.
What Did We Learn Here Today?
I’m not sure what the big takeaway from this is, other than that your governments care so much about proper product labeling that the highest court in the land, the United States Department of Agriculture, and most state legislatures have taken the time and effort to define ice cream for you. So the next time you’re wondering what happened to make it necessary to have some obscure law, it was probably some guy in Iowa or Pennsylvania that couldn’t follow instructions.
Photo by sussexcareers.