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Good news for crudité lovers in Pennsylvania: Salsa prices are steady

Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz, center, drops by the Capitol Diner on Aug. 12 in Swatara Township, Pa. (Sean Simmers/The Patriot-News/AP)

Look, running for office is not easy. It can seem easy, particularly to celebrity outsiders: It's just a popularity contest, right? But as so many have learned before, there’s an element to it that transcends mere popularity. The margin of error granted famous people is erased, and little oddities can become big embarrassments.

Which brings us to this video, first posted by the campaign of Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz in April but that went viral for largely inexplicable reasons Monday.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nominee, has teased his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz for "crudité" shopping and his New Jersey roots. (Video: The Washington Post)

In the video, Oz is shown shopping at a grocery store. He says the store is “Wegner’s,” which doesn’t exist. He seems to be thinking of Wegman’s, a chain that originated in Upstate New York and has moved down the Eastern Seaboard into Pennsylvania and, well, New Jersey. But he is actually in a store called “Redner’s,” which is only found in the state Oz hopes to represent in the U.S. Senate.

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It doesn’t get much less awkward. In a weird echo of Barack Obama’s infamous line from Iowa in 2007 — “Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?” — Oz declared that he was at the Whatever-It’s-Called store because his wife wanted to serve crudité. (That’s what wealthy people call veggies-and-dip.)

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

He marvels at the accumulated costs.

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

As the person who reposted the video was prompted to ask, the whole thing seems like an obvious political misfire. He wants to demonstrate how prices have increased, obviously, but he picks a bizarre subset of grocery items to evaluate. How many voters have been frustrated because premade guacamole may cost more? Or because the bunch of asparagus they used to buy is now pricier? Why not evaluate, like, milk?

What’s particularly interesting about this, though, is how those prices have — and haven’t — changed.

As it turns out, in the four months since Oz appears to have filmed that video, costs for this odd crudité-Mexican-snacks shopping-list appear to have actually gone down.

Product
April
Now
Broccoli
$1.99
$1.99
Asparagus
$3.99
$3.99
Carrots
$3.99
$3.99
Guacamole
$3.99
$3.99
Salsa
$5.99
$4.99
Total
$19.95
$18.95

(You can see the prices at 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. Ahem.)

The decrease is only a dollar, but still. “There must be a salsa shortage!” Oz quipped at the product’s price. Well, apparently that shortage is over.

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

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

You’ll note that those vegetables are identified as organic. It’s possible then that we are comparing pesticide-riddled apples with organic-fresh oranges. But Redner’s website doesn’t identify any separate organic versions of the products.

There is no question that prices have risen, certainly. In fact, we can look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Producer Price Index to track how commodity prices have changed. Since January 2021, for example, the index for broccoli has increased by 19 percent — but then, it rose 63 percent during Trump’s administration. The index for carrots has risen about 7 percent, compared to 15 percent under Trump. Asparagus has actually risen more quickly under Biden, measured in April or May of 2017, 2021 and 2022.

It’s just that the example Oz uses here is pretty obviously not the best one. Of the five items he selected to include, broccoli actually gets the most search interest in Pennsylvania. But Pennsylvanians are about twice as interested in apples (the fruit, not the computers) and three times as interested in milk.

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

Gotta talk to people about the things they care about. Celebrity worries about asparagus simply aren’t going to cut it.

Update: After this article published, keen-eyed readers noticed something. Oz, it turns out, was misreading the price of the salsa!

When he plucked it from the shelf back in April, the price was $4.99; he’d read the label for the adjacent bruschetta spread. So much for the “salsa shortage."

The moral of the story: Perhaps Oz doesn’t do as much grocery shopping as he would have us believe.

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