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When it comes to advertising food, why do lesbians get yoghurt?

The Christian right in the US is upset by a yoghurt advert that features a lesbian couple. But what is it about dairy produce that says “queer”?

Yoghurt: women love it, so lesbians must double-love it, right? Photo: YouTube screengrab

It had to be yoghurt. Women love yoghurt, right? So lesbians must, like, double-love it. A new ad for American yoghurt brand, Chobani, features some naked, loved-up lesbians and, surprise, surprise, the Christian right is going mental.

In the gay food wars, the homophobic community (yes, they’re a community – they hang out in playgrounds, huffing solvents and weeping about modernity) have pelted The Gays with cake, fried chicken and pizza. Now we’re hitting back with low calorie dairy produce. I like to imagine an army of queer women on horseback charging into battle, hurling creamy white handfuls of gloop and bellowing, “EAT LESBIAN YOGHURT, BITCHES”. But I am, like the baby-eating bishop of Bath and Wells, a colossal pervert. So go figure.

But, I ask you this, why do the heteros get all the fun, fatty, sugary, carby stuff while us dykes are kitted out with milk’s sickly cousin? I get it, Chobani, lesbians are supposed to be all Whole Foods and tantric yoga. You think we’re your demographic and, to be fair, a lot of us probably are. Then again, lesbians are some of the most lactose intolerant and/or vegan people you’ll ever meet, so watch your step.

But back to the actual ad. We see an attractive, but not intimidatingly so, blonde woman in bed, earnestly enjoying a pot of Chobani. Like, why does she start eating it with her fingers? She has a spoon. She has a swanky beachfront property (the bedroom opens out onto a California-looking beach with a guitarist on it) so this woman really has a spoon. A Goop-quality spoon. It was probably hand forged by exquisite, virginal spoon artisans in the Andes. But enough about this woman and the luxury spoon that she refuses to utilise. Someone is lying next to her in bed. It has to be a man, because the only TV lesbians are ones who have tearstained shouting matches and impractical sex. We’re not allowed to be beacons of domestic bliss. Or are we? Hang on a sec, there’s a foot. Is it a lady foot? Oh my shit, it’s a lady foot. The yoghurt lady is in bed with another lady. Glory be, and alert the village elders.

Ad agencies, as we consumers are well aware, rely heavily on shock value. It’s all about, you know, showing a parakeet pecking at its dead owner’s exposed, still throbbing heart, in order to sell artisanal popcorn or something. Still beats me why I never made it in advertising. Anyway, it’s risky, it’s risqué, it’s crunchy, man. But, unless you consider middle class white women, who just so happen to be in a gay relationship, to be edgy, the Chobani ad is about as shocking as Fiona Bruce in Waitrose, buying an aubergine. It’s well and truly beige. If it weren’t for the lesbian aspect, it would be one of those ads where you can’t even remember whether it’s for heartburn tablets or a car. Which is why it continues to baffle me that the likes of One Million Moms, an anti-gay group in the US, are really and truly that bothered by it. The nudity is only mildly suggested. The bedroom floor isn’t even littered with discarded strap-ons and industrial strength vibrators. The pettiness demonstrated by those calling for the ad to be banned is really quite astonishing.

I suppose it shouldn’t be. I’m approaching this from the snug confines of my liberal London lesbian bubble. But sure, at a time in which same-sex marriage is only just being legalised in patches of the western world, the Chobani women – the world’s most wholesome fictional couple – are going to shock a lot of people.

So, in that respect, well done Chobani. From now on, you will forever be known as “that lesbian yoghurt”. So, bold, bold move.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.