When Milk Bar recently changed the name of its signature Crack Pie dessert following public outcry, I was thrilled to hear it. For years, I found the name inappropriate. But the rightful swap reminded me of another lighthearted food with a dark name that I’ve long considered disappointing: Big Gay Ice Cream’s best-selling item, the Salty Pimp.
In 2013, I went to the popular soft serve shop for the first (and only) time after food blogs and the Food Network had featured the shop so prominently. Once there, I witnessed an elementary school softball team ordering the Salty Pimp with glee. I was horrified. The dessert — a chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream cone, injected with dulce de leche and salt — is glorifying a violent, criminal lifestyle, in essence mocking the misfortune of others.
The negative impact of real-life pimping is something I’ve seen intimately. I used to serve as an assistant district attorney in the Domestic Violence Bureau of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, and in the role, I witnessed many pimps, johns, and sex workers in criminal court. I came to better understand the culture of the sex work trade in the United States: It is one that is often shaped by pimps, where rape, abuse, violence, intimidation, drug use and addiction, sexual trafficking, poverty, and disease are widespread. It is not an industry that fits the cheeky, charming joy that Big Gay Ice Cream purports to sell.
For example, a Queens jury convicted Richard Cabassa in 2017 of forcing an 18-year old woman into sex work while requiring that she provide him at least $600 a day. He forced her to perform oral sex and intercourse and brutally beat her in a hotel near JFK Airport. Similarly, a federal judge in Seattle sentenced Aubrey Taylor to 23 years in prison this year for assaulting multiple women and forcing them into sex work to earn money for him. Taylor controlled one victim by rationing doses of heroin and directed others to get tattoos of his name in a branding exercise which demonstrated his control over them.
Some people might say that “it’s just a name” or “it’s a silly joke,” but if those people sat and talked with Katie, a former sex worker using an alias for safety during an interview with Vice, they wouldn’t be laughing. She recalled her experience of being beaten and forced into sex work: “I didn’t want to do it, but he beat me, and he knew I didn’t have anybody. He beat me and I complied.” I also refute the counterargument that the name is sex-positive or constructive in any way; a soft serve cone dipped in chocolate has not empowered anyone in the sex work trade.
The word “pimp” as a pop culture phenomenon is also losing touch in the #MeToo era. MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” aired from 2004 to 2007, but the name now feels dated. Jay-Z released “Big Pimpin” in 1999, and in 2010, he expressed regret over the deeply offensive lyrics, though he (hypocritically) still performs the song frequently.
Big Gay Ice Cream’s approach here is particularly disappointing because of some commendable efforts that the homegrown company has otherwise made in the LGBTQIA+ community. Last fall, I decided to write to owners Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint, aiming to engage in a constructive dialog about the name.
After repeated emails and calls, plus a notice about this op-ed, managing partner Jon Chapski finally returned my message in June. He told me that the company had no bad intentions when they christened their signature product, but he also said they have no plans to rename it.
I hope they change their mind. The brand is expanding to grocery stores across the country, and their impact and footprint is only going to get bigger. As socially aware business owners, this would be a small extra step toward doing the right thing.
Theodore Mukamal is an attorney and businessman based in New York.