The hippie icon discusses the rise and fall of his Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor.
Food has been a recurring theme throughout the social and political work of Wavy Gravy, a hippie icon, Woodstock MC, official Grateful Dead clown, Merry Prankster, former Ben & Jerrys ice cream flavor, and the subject of Saint Misbehavin', a new documentary on his life that has been a decade in the making.
Wavy Gravy, now 74, raises hogs and cows and grows produce at his Hog Farm Commune in Laytonville, CA, about 160 miles north of San Francisco. There he also hosts the annual Camp Winnnarainbow, a circus/performing arts school for both kids and adults. He lives most
of the year at a sister Hog Farm Commune in Berkeley, a two-story house which he affectionately dubs "our hippie Hyannisport."
The Berkeley-based Seva Foundation, of which he is a founding member with colleagues including spiritual teacher Ram Dass, helps to recover food and traditional food practices that nourish the Native American population. His hunger strikes to draw attention to various causes were usually enhanced with costumery, as when he protested while starving in a hamburger suit. And on the 1972 ballot, he ran a rock for president and a roll for vice president.
"At rallies we would serve cinnamon rolls, jelly rolls, bagels, Kaiser rolls," he told Whole Earth Catalog in 1988, "and you could always eat the vice president as the roll kept changing."
Even his moniker, bestowed upon him in a moment of slang by blues legend B.B. King in 1969 (when Gravy was known as Hugh Romney), now has a gastronomic ring to it. But he's currently not available in consumable form.
"It seems like it was almost yesterday when Ben Cohen—who I call the Ice Cream Cohen—steps out of the fog and puts his hand on my shoulder and says, 'We would like you to be a flavor for Ben & Jerry's,'" he recalls. "And I thought, cool beans, dude!"
Two years of taste-testing later, the flavor (caramel cashew/Brazil nut ice cream with hazelnut fudge swirl and toasted almonds) was finally approved and hit freezers across the country. "It [was] the most expensive, complicated, yet politically correct flavor known to humankind," he says. "It came in a tie-dyed container, as do I."
Wavy Gravy ice cream was discontinued in 2003 after the company was sold to a Dutch conglomerate, who dumped it for not being cost effective.
"Mrs. Gravy said, 'Dear, I knew you weren't cost effective all along!" he jokes. "I'd like be reborn as a rainbow sorbet, if you know anyone who can make it happen."
Wavy Gravy, former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, director/producer Michelle Esrick, and producer David Becker will celebrate the opening of Saint Misbehavin' tonight in person at the
Red Vic Movie House in San Francisco, where it will screen through December 9.
Video above by Mike Anderson