Hustler Wants You Stop Using Veggies for Naughty Things

Note: This story originally published on on April 24, 2015.

With a funny new marketing campaign that parodies political ads, Hustler Hollywood is on a national mission to keep vegetables from being used as sex toys. (© Splash News/Splash News/Corbis photo)

With a funny new marketing campaign that parodies political ads, Hustler Hollywood is on a national mission to keep vegetables from being used as sex toys. (© Splash News/Splash News/Corbis photo)

Remember the scene from “National Lampoon’s Animal House” when Otter (Tim Matheson) meets his nemesis Dean Wormer’s wife in the produce section of a grocery store? “My cucumber. It’s bigger,” he says as he happens upon her.

We all know Otter’s not really talking about the size of the phallic-like gourd he’s holding — the ladies’ man is using a double entendre to proposition Mrs. Wormer. It’s funny stuff, for sure, but it’s not the first — nor the last — time fruits and vegetables were used to reference genitalia. Such healthy fare has also been used for something much, much naughtier.

Throughout history, and maybe still even today, people have used fruits and vegetables to masturbate. In fact, one of the earliest natural vibrators supposedly came from Egyptian sexpot Cleopatra, who reportedly had her servants fill a hollow gourd with angry bees (are there any other kind, really?) and then used the buzzing device to pleasure herself.

Well, Hustler Hollywood has had enough. The retail arm of Larry Flynt’s porn magazine Hustler wants to put an end to vegetable abuse — while driving people to buy its sex toys — via a funny political-esque marketing campaign that stars Phil Maholin as an advocate for the vegetables. I’ll let the campaign’s website share its mission:

“Every day, cucumbers, zucchinis and carrots are being inserted into orifices where they don’t belong. It doesn’t stop there either — we’re talking broccoli, radishes and even artichokes. These nutritional foods that are born from the sweet soil of our earth are not meant for whatever you may or may not be doing in the privacy (hopefully) of your home. … How can you Stop Vegetable Abuse? Well that’s easy. Shop Hustler Hollywood.”

In addition to the billboards and hashtag #StopVegetableAbuse, there are also three videos. What might come as a surprise, especially knowing Hustler, is that the whole campaign is SFW to reach the mainstream masses. It’s pretty funny, especially how it parodies political ads with a sense of humor, which, I think, many people forget to have these days as just about everything seems to offend or anger just about everyone.

For example, while snooping the hashtag, I found one group of “ecosexuals” that was outraged by the campaign:

Then there was this tweet from Save the Cucumbers, a group that claims to have been around since 2006 that, like Hustler Hollywood, promotes sex toys:

TheBlot Magazine spoke to Allison Johnston, marketing manager for Hustler Hollywood, about the ecosexuals, Phil Maholin and, of course, the company’s growing concerns about vegetable abuse. I mean, would you get a look at these stats:

(Graphic courtesy Hustler)

(Graphic courtesy Hustler)

I love how the campaign parodies politics and stays SFW. How did it come about?
Allison Johnston: It really all started with a billboard concept. It was just a cucumber (real) under the phrase “Stop Vegetable Abuse. Shop Hustler.” Mr. Flynt loved the billboard concept, so we decided to really blow it out and make it a full-on campaign incorporating store windows, guerrilla marketing, digital and, of course, the videos. The real political angle didn’t actually come about until we started brainstorming video concepts. From there, Phil Maholin was born!

So is Phil Maholin a real person? What’s his background?
We’ll leave this a mystery for now …

How has the reaction to the campaign been? And how are you measuring that reaction?
The reaction has been great. People really seem to be getting it and getting on board. We, of course, look at the social media presence of #StopVegetableAbuse to see how it’s spreading to measure the reaction. We also get reporting from from our store teams to see what, if any, feedback they are receiving on the store level. Thankfully, for this campaign, they are hearing a lot of people coming in who have seen a billboard in their market or saw it online and loved it.

It must be — pun only sort of intended — hard for an operation such as Hustler to make ads that get seen by the mainstream. 
Hustler Hollywood has always kept marketing a little between PG-13 and R, never crossing any lines, in our opinion. We are truly a lifestyle brand and aim for the brand to be “acceptable” in the mainstream. But no matter how innocent our marketing and creative can be, we still get completely shut down in our more conservative markets, of course. No doubt that’s because of our name — we have a pretty big target on our backs. We won’t stop challenging the naysayers and will continue to place ourselves in front of a mainstream audience. Larry Flynt is our founder — we can handle adversity.

We love the reaction we’ve received from this “witty” approach to marketing and plan to continue to do this and solidify our position in mainstream.

I saw that an “ecosexual community” “took issue” with your campaign because they “promote making love with veggies.” What do you or Phil have to say to them?
To quote Phil Maholin,  “Don’t put carrots in your butt.” That pretty much sums it up.

Similarly, Save the Cucumbers has been wanting consumers to not use veggies as sex toys since 2006, and it’s even tweeted to your hashtag. Were you aware of this community before? Maybe Phil has found his running mate?
Ah, yes, we saw that. I was completely unaware of Save the Cucumbers until they tweeted and tagged us. After we had our first billboard up in Fort Lauderdale, we searched the #StopVegetableAbuse to see what kind of traction we were getting and did find that a lovely store in the Dallas area, Sara’s Secret, had done a very similar campaign a couple years back. Our campaign was already in motion so [we] thought “great minds …” But I never saw anything from Save The Cucumbers until that tweet. But, hey, we are excited to have a partner in the fight against vegetable abuse!

Have you personally ever put a vegetable in harm’s way?
No comment. [laughs]

What’s your favorite toy in Hustler Hollywood? Why?
I have two favorites! I’m really into the Lelo’s Ina 2 right now. It’s super-powerful and has internal and external stimulation, so you’re covered! I also love the Vesper Crave. It’s a really lovely necklace that is also a vibrator — you know, for the girl on the go!

How did you get started with Hustler Hollywood?
They actually found me and recruited me! I’ve always wondered what it was about my resume that said, “Oh, she’d be great for us.” I had no experience in the adult industry prior to this, which I think has helped me be successful. I think outside of the “adult” box and can connect with our mainstream, target consumer.

And finally, what’s the best part of your job?
The free product is the obvious answer, but it’s really our team. From my colleagues at [the] corporate office to the teams at all the stores, I get to work with some truly amazing people!

Nikki M. Mascali is the editor of TheBlot Magazine

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Writers’ Wisdom

This one seems kind of poignant today as I embark on a new adventure and life, so I’m looking forward to very soon writing a whole lot of first sentences.

( photo)

( photo)

“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”
Joyce Carol Oates


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U.S. Women’s Team Kicks More Than Soccer Balls — For Way Less Pay

Note: This story originally published on on July 7, 2015.

Despite winning the World Cup for the third time, the U.S. women's soccer team's prize money is paltry compared to what the men's team gets — every time they lose (which is a lot). ( photo)

Despite winning the World Cup for the third time, the U.S. women’s soccer team’s prize money is paltry compared to what the men’s team gets — every time they lose (which is a lot). ( photo)

The gender pay gap is a sad tale as old as time for just about every working woman, and it probably always will be.

I’ve been working steadily since I turned 16 in 1993, and while I’ve (knock wood) been able to live a comfortable (and maybe a little lean when I get a bit beyond my means) life, I know full well that I don’t make as much as some of my male counterparts in the journalism world. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the pay gap has hardly changed the past 10 years; in 2013, women working full-time were paid 78 percent of what men make.

I am obviously not alone in this fight of discrimination. We as a society will stand up and fight anyone who disagrees with us, no matter how big or small the cause, but we will not put our foot down when it comes to pay equality, and that is bullshit.

The Supreme Court finally legalized gay marriage, which is a huge move that really shouldn’t have taken as long as it did. We rightfully welcome transgenders with open arms. Marijuana is, inch by inch, moving away from being taboo to becoming legal. Even the days of that universal symbol of racism, the Confederate flag, are numbered at last, yet the difference in pay between the men and women is still just one of those “Oh, shucks” things many disagree with but ultimately shrug off, like paying taxes or buying that $5 iced tea from Starbucks on the regular. We want it, it tastes good, so we fork over the cash, feel guilty maybe for a split second and go about our day without giving it a second thought … wash, rinse, repeat.

But this week, I learned of a gender pay gap that absolutely boggled my mind — and it should boggle yours as well.

Like millions of others across the world, I watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals Sunday and couldn’t help but cheer when the U.S. beat Japan 5-2, thanks in large part to Carli Lloyd scoring a record-breaking hat trick within the first 16 minutes of the game; it was the earliest hat trick in the history of the Women’s World Cup.

The final was awesome to watch, and such a powerful moment for these truly kick-ass women. Not only are they amazing athletes, but I mean, you’ve seen the size of a soccer field right? It’s ridiculously big, and soccer players willingly — like, without someone holding a gun to their heads — run around that giant field for 90-plus minutes in often-sweltering temps that would (and do) make me want to kill someone as I do nothing more strenuous than walk to and fro the subway.

For their big win — the U.S. women’s third World Cup title since the competition began in 1991, by the way — the team nabs $2 million in prize money from FIFA, the shady-as-F organization that runs the men and women’s World Cup. Men’s teams, however, gets $8 million from FIFA if they lose in the first round, and every men’s team gets $1.5 million just for playing in the tournament. Just so we’re clear here: Men automatically get $1.5 million just for showing up, and if in the first round the team loses — which, you know, is the opposite of winning — the team still walks away with $8 million.

The U.S. women’s team won, again, for the third time and will only receive $2 million. Can I get a “What the fuck?!” Especially considering that the U.S. men’s team has never won the World Cup, not even once since the competition began 85 years ago. Not. Even. Once. In fact, they’ve never even come close. Yet of the seven Women’s World Cups held the past 24 years, the U.S. team has won in 1991, 1999 and this year — and came in second in 2011.

As if the disgusting pay gap isn’t bad enough, the women were forced to play on artificial turf for the first time this year, something the men have never had to play on. Not only is turf riskier when it comes to potential injuries, it also causes a hot field to become even hotter. In fact, on-field temperatures during this year’s World Cup in Canada reached 120 degrees. That’s inhumane. Despite gender discrimination lawsuits filed by a number of players about the turf before the women’s tournament began, FIFA refused to change the field back to grass, and the players eventually dropped the case. FIFA, however, will switch back to a grass field for the 2019 Women’s World Cup. How so-very nice.

Even if you don’t like soccer, and let’s face it, not a lot of people do in this country, myself included for the most part, you can’t deny that the U.S. women’s team’s feat is beyond impressive and should be worth just as much if not more than their male counterparts — especially as they leave those men in the dust, even on fake grass.

Nikki M. Mascali is the editor of TheBlot Magazine

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Writers’ Wisdom

( photo)

( photo)

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it,
I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.”

Gloria Steinem


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CoCo Brown: Porn Star in Space

Note: This story originally published on on June 5, 2015.

CoCo Brown has spent the past few years in astronaut training, and when she lifts off next year, she may be the first porn star to ever go into outer space. (Photo courtesy CoCo Brown)

CoCo Brown has spent the past few years in astronaut training, and when she lifts off next year, she may be the first porn star to ever go into outer space.
(Photo courtesy CoCo Brown)

Some former porn stars go mainstream, or try to, while others take different paths altogether. But only one former porn star has loftier — much, much loftier — intentions for her post-porn life: outer space.

After training for the past two years with privately held aerospace company XCOR, CoCo Brown, aka Honey Love, will head 62 miles above Earth next year. She quite possibly will be the first porn star — and only the fourth African-American woman — to go to space.

“That, I think, is more exciting than all of it,” Brown told TheBlot Magazine last week while sitting in a secluded alcove in the lobby of The Bowery Hotel on New York’s Lower East Side. “I’m still the fourth African-American woman to actually say I pushed it over the threshold.”

And pushed it she has. The Berlin-based Brown, who also moonlights as a successful, world-touring DJ, has trained like a real astronaut these past few years — because she will be a real astronaut when it’s all said and done. She’s done time in the L-39 Albatros jet and the Desdemona simulator, one of the most complex flight simulators in the world. Plus, she’s been through zero-gravity training and, most recently, speed training in the Mojave Desert.

By the time she lifts off next year, the whole unforgettable journey will have cost her roughly $130,000 — for a trip that will be just an hour long. Yes, you read that correctly. “It’s a lot of money for one hour, right?” Brown asked with a laugh.


Space was something Brown had always been interested in. “When I was a kid, I saw the movie ‘SpaceCamp,’ and it was such an awesome film,” she recalled. “And I didn’t even know that that was a real place that people could actually go and train to be an astronaut.”

And now that she’s actually becoming an astronaut herself, Brown hasn’t been afraid of anything she’s come across during her extensive preparation. “I cannot be afraid to do the training,” she said. “No matter what other people tell me, if I think of all the things that would bother me, I just go with it — I’m just happy to be part of it.” Though, she added, she is a little concerned about her ears popping. “That’s my biggest fear, having my ears hurt,” she confessed.

The most exciting parts for Brown has been the anticipation of the trip, which was pushed back from last year to 2016 by XCOR, and to be able to see the Earth from above. “To say, ‘Yeah, I’m an astronaut’ and really get my wings, that’s thrilling,” she said.

And before you even ask, no, Brown won’t be filming any sex scenes way up yonder. In 2013, she told the Huffington Post that attempting sex in space “is a little difficult, especially if you’re going to do Zero G; you just really don’t that much control.” In Creative Loafing around that same time, she said, “We have gear that we have to wear, but I’ll see what I can do up there. Maybe I’ll pop my boob out and take a photo of it with the Earth in the background.”

Now, a few years later, Brown did get to see that aforementioned gear during the recent training in the Mojave Desert, and popping that boob out of the safe-but-not-stylish spacesuit might prove to be difficult.

“I was like, ‘Can we make it a little sexier for me?'”

Nikki M. Mascali is the editor of TheBlot Magazine.  

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Writers’ Wisdom

( photo)

( photo)

“Write about the emotions you fear the most.”
Laurie Halse Anderson


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Because Whole Foods Shoppers Can Afford It

Note: This story originally published on on June 26.

In this dog-eat-dog world, are we really all that shocked to learn that Whole Foods has been grossly overcharging customers who buy its pre-packaged foods? Above, Whole Foods' flagship store in Austin, Texas. (© Erik Freeland/Corbis photo)

Whole Foods proves it deserves its “Whole Paycheck” nickname after an investigation found the store has been grossly overcharging its pre-packaged foods. Above, Whole Foods’ flagship store in Austin, Texas. (© Erik Freeland/Corbis photo)

The first time I ever saw a Whole Foods Market, I was in complete awe. It was right after I moved to New York in 2012, and I was so excited to shop there because 1. we don’t have the grocery store chain back in Northeastern Pennsylvania; and 2. I mean, you’ve seen pictures of its produce section, right?

It might sound weird, but I’ve always had a fascination with grocery stores, see, because being a cashier at a small, family-owned supermarket chain was my first job. For four years, I scanned and bagged and stocked shelves, and I loved it. I loved all of it, from interacting with the ever-changing line of customers and perfectly packing their bag to moving up from cashier to front-end supervisor.

I always thought the store had been a great first job because it taught me two extremely important things: how to manage money, which was a valuable lesson in serious responsibility, and how to be polite, something so so SO many people — and not just within the customer-service realm — really need to learn (or relearn), and fast.

I still love grocery shopping — even when accompanied by my less-than-enthused significant other — and bagging my own stuff, but not, of course, the several block walk back to my apartment carrying all those bags. I’m not entirely crazy, you know. And while I’m not tony enough (yet) to live in a New York neighborhood that boasts its very own Whole Foods, I sometimes do traverse, usually on foot, the three-miles from my Harlem home to the Whole Foods on the Upper West Side. Despite the influx of stay-at-home mommies who seem to frequent this location, often post-yoga, it is, in my humble opinion, the least douche-y of all the Whole Foods in Manhattan.

Not that I’m such a health-minded eater, though Lord knows I should be, I love how healthy Whole Foods is. It makes me want to be a better eater, it really does, or at least it would if I had one around the corner. I also love how clean and big it is. If you’ve never been in a run-of-the-mill neighborhood grocery store in New York City, you probably take for granted the spacious aisles of your regular market because most of my smaller, closer stores would give a claustrophobic person nightmares.

And yes, of course, Whole Foods is often more expensive, like, way more expensive than going to, say, Pathmark or C-Town Supermarkets or pretty much any other store that’s in my neighborhood, but I don’t really mind — for the most part. At least on the rare occasions I actually do our food shopping at a Whole Foods, I don’t have the option of buying rotten, expired meats — or no meats whatsoever because meat department shelves are empty — or fly-bait produce as happens many a time at my local-er stores. It’s fresh and good as far as the eye can see at Whole Foods.

Whole Foods — or Whole Fraud?

It’s where the eye cannot see, however, that has Whole Foods getting into trouble. Earlier this week, New York’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) announced that after an ongoing investigation, it discovered that Whole Foods has been overcharging consumers buying its pre-packaged food at city-based stores. The DCA spot-checked 80 different products that included pre-packaged dairy, seafood, meats, berries, nuts and bakery items and found that all — all! — had mislabeled weights. A whopping 89 percent of those tested items also didn’t meet the maximum amount a package is allowed to differ from its actual weight, which is a number that is set by the Department of Commerce. The DCA also found that Whole Foods’ pre-packaged products are often not weighed correctly, if they’re even weighed at all.

So what, some of you might ask, which is a valid question if I do say so myself. But the so what is that the overcharges range anywhere between $.80 to nearly $15. To put it another way, that’s a $15 mistake — that unsuspecting consumers are paying for, and have paid for since at least 2010, the DCA found.

“Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers, which DCA and New Yorkers will not tolerate,” DCA Commissioner Julie Menin said in a statement. “As a large chain grocery store, Whole Foods has the money and resources to ensure greater accuracy and to correct what appears to be a widespread problem.”

On the regular, the DCA checks the accuracy of scanners and scales, tax charges on non-taxable products and pricing at all grocery stores within the city. Last fall, the agency discovered the discrepancies at Whole Foods, and on return visits in the winter, found the products were still being labeled incorrectly. According to the DCA’s press release, “The fine for falsely labeling a package is as much as $950 for the first violation and up to $1,700 for a subsequent violation,” and Whole Foods is now facing violations that number in the thousands, so this very well could be a very costly fix for the Austin, Texas-based supermarket.

It wouldn’t be its first, though. A 2012 investigation in California also discovered pricing errors that resulted in Whole Foods paying nearly $800,000 in penalties. To further rectify that situation, the store started an in-house effort to ensure accurate pricing by hiring a compliance coordinator and appointing an employee at each location to monitor prices and do random spot-checks.

Whole Foods, however, calls the DCA allegations “overreaching.” “Despite our requests to the DCA, they have not provided evidence to back up their demands nor have they requested any additional information from us, but instead have taken this to the media to coerce us,” company spokesman Michael Sinatra said.

Seriously, since most customers know going into the store that there’s a good chance they’re going to pay more automatically, why are we so surprised Whole Foods has such outrageous markups on its products? Isn’t that the very core of how corporations and we humans are operating right now, that “screw you before you screw me” mentality?

Looks like Whole Foods really does deserve its nickname because it, quite literally, might have cost thousands of New Yorkers shopping there their “Whole Paycheck” — and maybe even more so now as it will surely have plenty of fines to pay coming from this whole organic enchilada.

Nikki M. Mascali is editor of TheBlot Magazine.

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