What separates anyone, or anything, from qualifying as ice cream? Is a car ice cream? What about a cat? When it comes to determining what legally constitutes as ice cream versus what’s marketed as ice cream, the lines between science and philosophy are incredibly blurry.
On Thursday, Queens resident Josh Berger appeared in front of a federal court to accuse diet ice cream manufacturer Halo Top of deceptive advertising. The New York Post reports Berger bought a $6.99 pint of Halo Top back in 2017, but purchased the sweet treat under the pretenses that it was, in fact, ice cream. Now, he alleges the company uses “false, deceptive, and misleading” labeling to “trick” people into buying their product.
“Reasonable consumers are not aware they are purchasing a ‘light ice cream’ product,” his suit says, in reference to the “light ice cream” label on each Halo Top pint. “[Berger] would not have purchased the products or paid as much if the true facts had been known.”
At the crux of this case lies two important questions: What is ice cream, and what is Halo Top?
“I haven’t found a flavor that doesn’t taste like there’s sorcery in it,” Twitter user @roryehatcher tells *Inverse.”
“No,” space journalist Shannon Stirone adds. “It is an imposter.”
The United States legal standard for ice cream clearly defines ice cream as being “constituted of no less than 10 percent milk fat.” By this definition, it would appear Halo Top is not ice cream, as its flavors contain five percent milk fat or less.
Here’s where things get all sorts of gooey: Although Halo Top calls its product “ice cream” on its website and social media accounts, each label includes the caveat that it is light ice cream. This means Halo Top is, in fact, acting in accordance with the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), which defines light as cream as the following:
“Light” or “lite” ice cream contains at least 50 percent less total fat or 33 percent fewer calories than the referenced product (the average of leading regional or national brands).
Though Berger acknowledges that he saw the “light ice cream” label prior to making his purchase, he says the label was too small and “obscure,” the Post reports.
Since its founding in 2012, Halo Top has developed an international cult following. The low-carb, low-cal dessert brands itself as ice cream’s healthier cousin, utilizing a natural sweetener called stevia to cut down on sugar. Keto diet followers are especially keen on Halo Top, although it’s definitely not paleo or vegan-friendly.
For the rest of us, maybe it doesn’t matter what the law says about ice cream. Instead of disliking Halo Top’s branding, maybe we should focus on the fact that it tastes like an ice cream’s fart passing through the mesosphere*.
*Full disclosure: After a botched wisdom tooth surgery in March, this reporter ate lemon cake Halo Top light ice cream every day for at least two weeks.
Update 5/11 2:22 p.m. Pacific: A Halo Top spokesperson has provided Inverse with the following statement: “Thank you for reaching out, but we do not comment on pending litigation.”