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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.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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