There’s something naively charming — or is it frustrating — about a picture of Minnesota State Rep Frank Hornstein shopping at the Linden Hills Co-op and doing his part to meet a challenge to live on a minimum-wage budget for a week. Let’s call it frustrating…
Come on, Frank! This is why people roll their eyes at liberal activism. You have five bucks. That’s it. It has to feed you for a day…and you’re going to a co-op? In Linden Hills??
I understand that I will draw fire from co-op folk who will argue that good food and co-op shopping is for the people, all people, rich and poor alike. And I would tend to agree. Unfortunately, if you have $5 and you want to eat, are you going to shop where tomatoes are $5.99 a pound or $2.99? (Do the math if you need to.)
To be true to the tenor of the challenge, Representative Hornstein might have been a little more strategic when choosing his shopping venue. Yes, of course people of all income groups shop at co-ops just as all income groups shop large warehouse stores. But the choice of the co-op strikes me as being a bit tone deaf. The majority of working poor are not getting their produce at places like the Linden Hills Co-op.
In fact, more and more working poor don’t have access to healthy food at all in their neighborhoods. This is the growing problem of so-called “food deserts” that exist in our nation’s poorer communities, Minneapolis included. (Click here for local information.)
Perhaps if the working poor were otherwise well-fed 51 weeks of the year, they could go lean on their diet for a week and still enjoy a Boca burger splurge with their $5 budget, but that isn’t the way it works. (Boca Burgers, by the way, come in at about $6 a pack. I had to look it up. I’ve never had one.)
Would I rather have seen Frank at the Lake Street Rainbow Foods? Yes! To dawdle in the aisles of a relatively high-priced co-op in a well-off neighborhood reeks of cultural tourism. And just a little out of touch.
In the end, I think it is fine that some state legislators choose to submit themselves to the difficulty of living on a minimum-wage budget, but I’m not sure what it was intended to accomplish. We already presume supporters of increasing the state minimum wage know that living on the current minimum wage is a hardship whether they spent $5 on organic fruit or something else. The real victory would come if we got those people who dismiss the minimum wage hardship to live on food budget capped at $5 per day.
Get Republican State Senator David Hann or House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt on the minimum wage budget. Let them experience what most people already know through compassion if not experience. It would be eye-opening indeed. And my guess is those two would not be checking organic pears for firmness in any boutique co-op either!