OPINION: US ice cream challenge sets police's priorities straight

Reports tell of the current situation across the US where copy-cats have turned the ice cream licking challenge into a national pastime. All of a sudden, ice cream is being locked away behind refrigerated padlocks, writes Howard Feldman.

Last week I came across a story of a woman in the United States who was filmed at a supermarket, taking a tub of ice cream from a shelf, opening it, licking it and then closing it and placing it back on the shelf. The video was filmed by a boy friend who was clearly "egging" her on and providing her with all the gleeful encouragement that she needed. They giggled as she licked.

They were not Bonnie and Clyde, but they were apparently very naughty.

The result was chaos. US police set up a task team, using face recognition software to identify the alleged licker. They further warned that she could face 20 years in prison for second degree tampering, or something. And the boyfriend, because of his involvement could also face some time.

Through South African eyes, I found it difficult to take this story seriously. After all no one died, and no one was likely to. I am the last person to minimise the loss of a lick at the top of a tub, but the fuss seemed to me to be a little childish.

Until this week when the story made sense.

Reports yesterday tell of the current situation across the US where copy-cat lickers and filmers have turned this challenge into a national pastime. All of a sudden, ice cream is being locked away behind refrigerated padlocks and customers are required to present some form of ID before being allowed to have access to the valuable but vulnerable items. Some stores have taken to placing intimidating looking security officers in the frozen aisles in an attempt to scare the hell of the loose tongued lickers.

And yet, still, new videos continue to appear on social media and the trend is still growing.

Diabetics and banting eaters are particularly at risk. I actually wanted to contact Tim Noakes for a statement, but given his last experience with a public comment,  I doubt he would be willing to give any.

Although Americans are taking this outrage very seriously, for South Africans, used to political theft, state capture, gang wars and a thriving underworld, it is comparable to jay walking. In other words, it might not be the responsible way to behave, but it's hardly worth getting worked up over. Investigative journalist Mandy Weiner, I imagine, would be unlikely to sink her teeth into this one. Which, of course is more a poor reflection of our country rather than of the US. 

One could hardly imagine the Public Protector looking into this (unless it was Pravin Gordhan who allegedly disrespected the ice cream), or a commission of inquiry set up to determine if it was indeed Number One who had given the slurping order.

In some ways it must be wonderful to live in a place where that story is leading news. In some ways, however, in that type of environment it is also possible to lose perspective as to what is really important and what is not. It goes without saying that it's far from clever to open a tub, lick it and return it to the shelf, and of course germs could be spread and of course it is theft, but one has to wonder what this says about a bored public, about social media and the desperate need for instant fame.

More than that, I wonder what it says about the quality of their ice cream.

- Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of three books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.

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