C'est Bon? No, Your Gender Marketing and rBGH Yogurts Suck

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I admit it: I am a yogurt freak. My mother developed osteoporosis at a relatively young age, so I am vigilant about meeting my Recommended Daily Allowance for calcium. At my age, my friends at the National Institute for Health tell me I should be sucking in 1,000 mg per day. Fortunately, I love diary products, and although I could definitely up my intake of the leafy greens, I do OK. (The nutrients from calcium supplements and vitamins, by the way, are not absorbed as well as those from natural foods, so while I take supplements, I don't count on them solely.) The greatest news for me is that yogurt is generally chock full of calcium, so unlike other foods I love (say, cake) it is actually healthy for me.

Not that yogurt advertisers spend much time dwelling on that. Generally, the mass producers of yogurt are encouraging me to eat the creamy good stuff because it will help me lose weight. Another benefit of yogurt that the advertisers like to throw around these days is its special digestive restorative properties. Average Jane sent me a link to a funny and thought-provoking Current TV video by Sarah Haskins about gendered yogurt ads and their target audiences. (Read: me, a white married woman with a master's degree...)

While the point of Sarah's video was that yogurt ads are stupid and insult the intelligence of their target audience (I have always, always hated those damn "c'est bon" commercials from Yoplait that she mocks so delightfully), encouraging women to eat large quantities of standard yogurt is also unsafe because of the presence of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST) in dairy products. Shirah at Unbossed reports that:

The Nurses Work Group of Health Care Without Harm, announced the release of an rBGH-free Dairy Toolkit in conjunction with National Nurses Week, May 6th – May 12th...

Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST) is an artificial hormone given to dairy cows to increase milk production. “There are growing concerns that the use of rBGH may pose unnecessary risks to human health,” stated Karen A. Ballard, MA, RN, the Nurses Work Group’s Chair. “Precaution is a principle of our profession, so especially when our health is concerned, it is logical to avoid the use of dairy produced with this unnecessary hormone.” The use of rBGH has been banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all 27 nations of the European Union.

Breast Cancer Action, my absolute favorite group that works for breast cancer justice, has long discussed the potential cancer risks posed by rBGH. Guess which yogurt company raises money fore breast cancer causes by selling yogurt made with rBGH? That's right - Yoplait! Don't forget, if you eat yogurt to lose weight, you'll want to use the low fat, sugar free version, which is loaded with aspartame, which may or may not also cause cancer. Which yogurt is on the lower end of the scale in terms of supplying calcium? Yep, my friend Yoplait, with only 20% of the RDA for calcium. But don't worry - they add some vitamin D that your body probably won't absorb so that your body has a better chance at using every last milligram of of calcium that it can squeeze out. (For the sake of comparison, Fat Free Stonyfield Farm has 30% of the RDA for calcium and 20% Vitamin D with no pesky traces of rBGH.) If it sounds artificial, it tastes that way, too.

I'm sort of being unfair to Yoplait. For the record, Dannon (makers of the ridiculously promoted Activia gut-fixing yogurt) does not report that their yogurt is free of rBGH, either. It's calcium payload is pretty pathetic, too, at 20% of the RDA. My favorite yogurt, Fage Total Greek Yogurt is the worst in terms of calcium (only 15% - eek!) and makes no promises of dairy that is free from rBGH. (It does have some protein, though.)

Sorry, I'm getting all yogurt geeky here. The point is that yogurt can and should be a woman's partner in a healthy diet. The key is to make sure that the yogurt we eat is actually healthy. (Even non-yogurt lovers like Caroline Leavittville can find a really healthy yogurt to enjoy if you search hard enough and can shell out for a cartoon of quality. I think price is actually the biggest obstacle here because yummy, healthy yogurt can run as much as $2.79 per six ounce serving.) Marketers will do their best to lure us silly women into eating their products because they tell us it will make us skinny, and if we eat a lot of chemicals that cause cancer, that can become frighteningly prophetic. Building strong bones and enjoying a tasty product are cool. Being treated like bimbo idiots and infused with additives are decidedly not.

Suzanne also blogs about life at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants, about yogurt at Live Active Cultures (she is currently obsessed with goat and sheep milk yogurts), and about creating positive social change at Just Cause.

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