Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is 29 years old — and just became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. But before she beat out New York 14th District incumbent Joseph Crowley in the Democratic primary, she was doing what many of her other contemporaries do: She was working in a restaurant.
Specifically, she spent most of her days working at Manhattan taqueria Flats Fix, serving tequila drinks and making her living on tips.
“My campaign started in food, and in a lot of ways evolved out of food,” she told Bon Appetit during an interview in the restaurant. “For 80 percent of this campaign, I operated out of a paper grocery bag hidden behind that bar.” Between shifts, she’d change her clothes and go out canvassing.
“For me it was especially potent that I was working in the food service industry while running for office because I wasn’t, like, reminiscing on some summer job I had when I was a teenager. This was the life I was living.”
Ocasio-Cortez told Bon Appetit that food is political. “The food industry is the nexus of almost all of the major forces in our politics today,” she said. “It’s super closely linked with climate change and ethics. It’s the nexus of minimum wage fights, of immigration law, of criminal justice reform, of health care debates, of education. You’d be hard-pressed to find a political issue that doesn’t have food implications.”
And because she personally worked in restaurants — up until February, in fact — she said she knows that better than many of her now-colleagues. “Many members of Congress were born into wealth, or they grew up around it,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “How can you legislate a better life for working people if you’ve never been a working person?... I have that perspective."
While working as a bartender and waitress, which allowed her to help her mother financially after her father died, she worked alongside immigrants and learned from their stories.
“For me what’s important is to value the hands that go into your food,” she told Bon Appetit. “All of them.”
As of this past January, Ocasio-Cortez was still bartending full time while working on her campaign.
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