At the risk of sounding like a helicopter parent (which believe me, I’m nowhere near; my parenting style hovers closer to the “Whoops, I clean forgot I had a child, where’d she go again?” end of the spectrum), can I just say that I have some sympathy for the anti-Mr. Softee camp ? Granted, this is a trivial issue on which to waste much of one’s ire, and some of the parents quoted in the Times article about banning the trucks sound like overly invested nuts. But the fact is, the omnipresence of those trucks is a curse for parents at playgrounds. Even if you don’t give in to your child’s begging, the arrival of Mr. Softee inevitably turns a fun playground excursion into a half-hour or more of whining and fighting about ice cream, which is followed either by the resentful buying of ice cream, or a tearful dragging home. Then there’s that aggravating song (which ice cream trucks are now legally banned from playing while parked, not that all of them abide by this rule.)
But the truck is only one symptom of a larger problem our culture has with the constant availability of junk food. To have a small child in 2009 is to navigate a world in which you’re constantly barraged by sugary and fatty treats, whether at school (I hear from friends who are public-school teachers that there are many teachers who offer doughnuts and cookies as rewards for good behavior, and scoff in the teachers’ lounge at anyone who disapproves) or at birthday parties (where it’s no longer enough just to serve cake and ice cream; there have to be giant bowls of candy on every surface, and “goody bags” to take home and fight about some more). Julia asks if just keeping the trucks out of sight will help kids to eat better, and the answer is a partial “yes”; many studies have shown that kids’ food choices improve when the availability of junk food decreases even slightly. This isn’t just yuppie handwringing, either; as the Times article points out, one neighborhood that’s banned the trucks is Chicago’s 18th Ward, which is largely black and working-class (and thus likely to be a neighborhood with fewer healthy eating options ).
All that said, it’s hot outside in August, and kids lining up at ice-cream trucks are hella cute. I like the approach of the Tacoma, Wash. vendor quoted in the piece, who stops at a park, sells ice cream until the line that first forms is gone, then drives away. Take a hint from your song’s seldom-heard lyrics , Mr. Softee: If you’ve been staking out my playground for an hour, it’s time to go ding-a-ling down the street.
Photograph by Getty Images.