Why Ben & Jerry's Phish Food Flavor Was Almost Never Created

Here at Tasting Table, we talk about food, and sometimes that means seafood. Today, though, we're talking about Phish Food. (Formal invitation to buckle your seatbelt.) In case you haven't heard, Phish is a psychedelic jam band that has been accruing a notorious cult following since its formation in 1983, per Thrillist. In the literal sense, Phish is four men in their fifties who met during college in Vermont, who also happen to sell out four-night-long shows at Madison Square Garden every single year around New Year's Eve. According to Vulture, the Phish fandom is more of a dedicated subculture than a mere following for a music group. There's even a Vogue article titled "Confessions of a Phish Wife," which details what it's like to be married to a Phish fan.

Believe it or not, Phish's contribution to the food world cannot be overstated. In the band's song "Halley's Comet," they sing, "It's Cadillac rainbows and lots of spaghetti, and I love meatballs so you better be ready." Phish fans know well that the song "Meatstick," inspired by the humble Vienna sausage, has taken on a life of its own for the band, with the lyrics evolving to become half-sung in Japanese, a fully choreographed dance developed for it, and even a massive real meat stick swung around the ceiling of countless stadiums during Phish concerts. Still, perhaps Phish's most well-known foodie moment is the advent of its Ben & Jerry's flavor "Phish Food" — and it almost never happened. 

Phish initially rejected the offer

In 1996, Phish rejected fellow Vermont natives Ben & Jerry's collaboration offer. According to Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro, the band was famously anti-selling-out and had previously agreed not to work with any companies except for record labels. But it turned out that both organizations valued children's welfare and environmental activism at the forefront of their platforms. Naturally, an exception was made, and the rest is history. (Literally.)

Now, ice cream and psychedelic fans alike have been eating Phish Food for 25 years, making it one of Ben & Jerry's longest-running flavors, like the similarly musician-inspired Cherry Garcia which came out in 1987. Phish Food is chocolate ice cream swirled with marshmallow and caramel and sprinkled with fish-shaped fudge candies (via Ben & Jerry's). In 1997, at a sold-out one-night concert/ice cream launch party at Vermont's Flynn Theatre, co-creator Ben said that Phish Food came from "mutual respect and a real spiritual connection." The band seems to agree. Phish itself says, "Ben was our neighbor through the woods and we're fond of ice cream. So we teamed up to create Phish Food."

This ice cream flavor is the only time Phish has ever allowed its name to be used for product creation. It's also one of the few times Ben and Jerry allowed external contributors to have a say in the flavor: the band wanted caramel. But it's like Phish says in "Theme from the Bottom" — "keep what's important and know who's your friend."