Good news for raw food lovers like Mehmet Oz: salsa prices have dropped

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Look, running for office isn’t easy. It might sound easy, especially to outside celebrities: it’s just a popularity contest, isn’t it? But as many have learned before, there is an element that transcends mere popularity. The margin of error given to celebrities is erased, and small quirks can become big embarrassments.

Which brings us to this video, first posted by Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz’s campaign in April but which went viral for largely unexplainable reasons on Monday.

In the video, Oz is shopping at a grocery store. He says the store is “Wegner’s”, which doesn’t exist. He seems to think of Wegman’s, a chain that originated in upstate New York and moved to East Coast in Pennsylvania and, well, New Jersey. But it’s actually in a store called “Redner’s”, which is only in the state Oz hopes to represent in the US Senate.

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It doesn’t get much less awkward. In a strange echo of Barack Obama’s infamous line from Iowa in 2007 – “Anyone recently went to Whole Foods and saw what they charge for arugula?” “Oz said he was at the store for anything because his wife wanted to serve raw food. (That’s what the rich call veggies and dip.)

So he walks over and starts grabbing veggie things: $1.99 broccoli, $3.99 carrots, $3.99 asparagus (is that a component of rawness?), guacamole (??) at $3.99 and salsa (???) at $5.99.

He marvels at the accumulated costs.

“It’s $20 for rawness!” He calls it “outrageous” — and says Pennsylvanians have “Joe Biden to thank for that.”

As the person who reposted the video was asked to ask, this all sounds like an obvious political misfire. He wants to demonstrate how prices have gone up, of course, but he chooses an odd subset of grocery items to assess. How many voters have been frustrated because premade guacamole can cost more? Or because the bunch of asparagus they used to buy is now more expensive? Why not rate, like, milk?

What’s particularly interesting about this, however, is how these prices have – and haven’t – changed.

It turns out that in the four months since Oz appears to have filmed this video, the costs of this bizarre Mexican crudity-snack shopping list have actually went down.

(You can see the prices on Redner’s website: broccoli, asparagus, carrots, guacamole and salsa. I chose to price the products at the Bensalem store because it is closest to the New Jersey border. Hmm.)

The decrease is only a dollar, but still. “There must be a shortage of salsa!” Oz joked about the price of the product. Well, apparently that shortage is over.

Of course, we probably wouldn’t expect to see big price declines (or gains) in just four months. The good news is that since the internet stores copies of almost everything, I was able to find Redner’s flyers from two years before that included prices for broccoli, asparagus, and guacamole.

In April 2020, the guacamole selected by Oz was on sale, two for $5. So that price has gone up by $1.50 – but of course we’re comparing a buy-one-get-free sale price with the regular price. In another circular from the same month we see that broccoli was 70 cents cheaper – and asparagus exactly the same.

You will notice that these vegetables are identified as organic. It is then possible that we are comparing apples riddled with pesticides with fresh organic oranges. But Redner’s website does not identify any separate organic versions of the products.

There is no doubt that the prices have gone up, certainly. In fact, we can look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index to track the price trend of commodities. Since January 2021, for example, the index of broccoli rose 19% – but then it rose 63% under the Trump administration. The index of carrots rose about 7%, compared to 15% under Trump. Asparagus actually grew faster under Biden, measure in April or May 2017, 2021 and 2022.

It’s just that the example Oz is using here is obviously not the best. Of the five items he chose to include, broccoli actually gets most research interest in Pennsylvania. But Pennsylvanians are about twice as interested in apples (fruit, not computers) and thrice as interested in milk.

As a guy with family in the Pittsburgh area, I could have offered better suggestions: How have the prices of black and yellow scarves changed? Blue and white makeup? Tattoos in green and silver? How about giant, hairy, bug-eyed orange heads?

I have to talk to people about things that interest them. Celebrity worries about asparagus just won’t cut it.

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