Jerry Greenfield was born on March 14, 1951, in Brooklyn, New York. He was born at the same Brooklyn hospital where his future friend and business partner, Ben Cohen, would be born just four days later. The two subsequently grew up near one another but did not meet until they were in the same seventh-grade gym class.
After graduating with a degree in biology from Oberlin College in 1973, Greenfield applied twice to medical school but was not accepted. On May 5, 1978, Greenfield and Ben Cohen together invested $12,000 to open an ice-cream parlor in Burlington, Vermont, which they named Ben & Jerry’s (B&J). The store was enormously successful and soon developed into a franchise business.
In 1985 Greenfield and Cohen created the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, a philanthropy that historically has taken 7.5% of B&J’s pre-tax profits and distributed them to organizations whose political and social agendas are consistent with the leftist leanings of the founders.
In 2000, Greenfield and Cohen sold B&J to the British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever for approximately $325 million. As Biography.com notes, “the sale … contained provisions to allow Ben & Jerry’s to maintain its existing social mission and brand identity.” Also under the terms of the sale, B&J became a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever and maintained a separate board-of-directors that included the two founders. The founders claimed, however, that they were now far removed from any leadership role in the company. As Greenfield put it in a 2008 interview, “[W]e’re not involved in operations or management. So we have no responsibility, no authority, and very little influence.”
Greenfield and Cohen strongly opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 2004 they took a twelve-foot effigy of President George W. Bush on a national “Pants-on-Fire” tour, setting it ablaze at each location to signify their contention that Bush had lied to the American people when he announced that major military hostilities in Iraq had ended.
In 2012, Greenfield and Cohen joined with other business leaders (calling themselves the Movement Resource Group) to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement.
In 2015, Greenfield and Cohen spoke out in support of the nuclear-weapons-program agreement that President Barack Obama and other world leaders were in the midst of negotiating with Iran. (For details about the provisions of that accord, click here.) In an email to MoveOn.org activists, the B&J founders stated that the pending deal represented “the only peaceful way to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons” and to “kee[p] America out of another war in the Middle East.” Further, the longtime Democrat supporters vowed not to donate money to any congressional Democrats who failed to back the Iran accord.
In 2016, B&J paid honor to its preferred presidential candidate, the self-identified “Democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders, by introducing a new mint-and-chocolate ice-cream flavor called “Bernie’s Yearnings.” Greenfield, for his part, praised “Democratic socialism” as a political and economic system where the “government will work for all the people and not just for the few at the top and for the corporations, and [where] we are going to pay for it by having [everyone] pay their fair share” in taxes. “We need what Bernie calls a political revolution,” Greenfield added, in order to prevent “all the [political and economic] benefits” from “go[ing] to the top one percent, to the ultra-wealthy, and to the corporations.”
In April 2016, Greenfield and Cohen were arrested along with some 300 others at the U.S. Capitol during so-called “Democracy Awakening” protests agitating for: (a) an end to Voter ID requirements, and (b) the restoration of an anachronistic provision — requiring mainly Southern states to undergo special federal scrutiny before being permitted to change their election laws in any way — that the Supreme Court had struck from the Voting Rights Act in 2013.
On May 17, 2016, B&J announced that the proceeds from yet another new ice-cream product, “Empower Mint,” would help fund the North Carolina NAACP’s campaign to repeal that state’s Voter ID law. Moreover, the money would also be used to promote legislation designed to get “big money donations from corporations and wealthy elites” out of politics. “This flavor,” wrote Greenfield, “helps us connect with Ben & Jerry’s fans” as we “work nationally on trying to help reauthorize the voting rights act.”
In September 2018, Greenfield and Cohen collaborated with MoveOn.org to initiate a “Take Back Congress” contest where participants were invited to think of creative names for new ice-cream flavors that would promote the congressional campaigns of seven progressive candidates who were running in the upcoming midterm elections. Those seven candidates were Democratic House challengers Jess King, Lauren Underwood, Aftab Pureval, J.D Scholten, Ammar Campa Najjar, Stephany Rose Spaulding, and James Thompson. In a press release announcing the contest, Greenfield and Cohen said: “We need a Democratic majority to check President Trump’s unrestrained power.”
Greenfield has a reported net worth of approximately $150 million.
Further Reading: Biographical information from Oberlin Review and Biography.com; “Ben of Ben & Jerry’s Takes Bush Effigy on Tour” (Fox News, 1-14-2015); “Ben & Jerry’s Newest Flavor: Iran Deal” (Observer, 8-20-2015); “A Taste of Socialism in Every Scoop of Ben and Jerry’s Bernie’s Yearning Ice Cream” (Fox Business, 2-22-2016); (Ben and Jerry Arrested After Double Scoop of DC Protest” (Newsmax, 4-20-2016); “Ben & Jerry’s Founders Creating Democrat-Inspired Ice Cream Flavors to ‘Take Back Congress’” (Fox News Insider, 9-22-2018); “Together, PeCAN Resist!” (Multivu.com, 10-30-2018).