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AOC’s cooking live streams perfect the recipe for making politics palatable | US news

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or talk up a storm about the minimum wage, healthcare and the existential struggle for democracy.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s latest Instagram live stream found the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress standing at a chopping board with two lemons and a plastic jug as she expounded her political philosophy.

“Both Democrats and Republicans,” she said, scooping up a lemon with her right hand, “when they indulge in these narratives of commonsense policies being radical,” – setting the lemon down on the board again – “what they’re trying to is really shorten the window of what’s possible.”

A twee icing contest on The Great British Bake Off this is not. And as far as we know, Gordon Ramsay, Ina Garten and Nigella Lawson have never been heard to exclaim, “Shoutout to my fellow radicals!” as Ocasio-Cortez did last Thursday night.

But for anyone worried that politics might become a little too boring under Joe Biden’s presidency, “AOC”, as she is universally known, is bringing comfort food. The 31-year-old New York Democrat has gained a vast social media following with her intimate videos of cooking, fashion tips, furniture assembly and behind the scenes in Congress.

The Hill

Rep. AOC: “All these Republicans and all these folks who were anti-shutdown are the same people who weren’t wearing masks who forced us to shut down in the first place.” pic.twitter.com/85bW0lNefU

December 11, 2020

This may say something about a public craving for authenticity in politicians: Biden, Donald Trump and AOC’s mentor Bernie Sanders have it, as far as their supporters are concerned. Similarly Ocasio-Cortez, from a working-class family in the Bronx, comes over more like your relatable drinking buddy than a Washington stiff but combines it with a millennial’s instinct for social media and a timeless star quality.

But it is also proof that entertainment and politics have become mutually indistinguishable. The trend arguably began 60 years ago with the televised Kennedy v Nixon debates, received a boost from Bill Clinton playing saxophone on a late-night talkshow and reached its apotheosis with Trump, who went from reality TV host to reality TV president.

So Ocasio-Cortez offers a glimpse of where we’re heading. Her Instagram live streams typically begin with the type of bit that might feature on daytime TV before pivoting to policy. It is a technique that serves journalists, novelists and other storytellers well: first hook your audience with something engaging, then move on to the substantial idea you really want to talk about.

A cooking video last year began with Ocasio-Cortez in an unglamorous kitchen, rinsing rice in the sink. What are you making? asked viewers. The answer: chicken tikka masala. “I am missing ginger, which is a really big bummer,” she said, before fielding questions on everything from Medicare for All to presidential impeachments.

In last Thursday’s edition, lemons were a suitably sour match for Ocasio-Cortez’s mood in a country where 3,000 people a day are dying from coronavirus, Congress has stalled for months over providing economic relief – and Biden appears in no hurry to put her progressive allies in his cabinet.

Wearing a “tax the rich” sweater, the congresswoman was visibly more angry and frustrated than usual. “If people think that the present day is like radical far left, they just haven’t even opened a book,” she said with expressive hand gestures. “Like, we had much more radicalism in the United States as recently as the 60s.

Photograph: Instagram AOC

“We talk about how labour unions started in this country. That was radical. People died, people died in this country, it was almost like a war for the 40-hour work week and your weekends. And a lot of people died for these very basic economic rights. We can’t go back to that time.”

She added: “Doubling the minimum wage should be normal. Guaranteed healthcare should be normal. Trying to save our planet should be centrist politics.”

She became even more irate as she talked about Covid-19. Hands resting on a plastic jug, she said animatedly: “Here’s the thing that’s also a huge irony to me, is that all these Republicans and all these folks who were anti-shutdown are the same people who weren’t wearing masks who forced us to shut down in the first place.”

The final 12 words of that sentence came in a rapid staccato, accompanied by Ocasio-Cortez’s left hand clapping or chopping her right for emphasis. “I wanna see my family,” she said. “I haven’t seen my family in a year, like many of you all. I wanna be able to visit my friends without being scared and I wanna be able to hang out with my friends when it’s cold outside and not have to be outside.”

If anyone was depending on AOC for their dinner that night, they were in for a long wait. Ilhan Omar, a fellow member of “the Squad” in Congress, teased her on Twitter: “@AOC you forgot to tell us what you were making tonight sis.”

Ocasio-Cortez confessed: “I tried to make salmon spinach pasta but got carried away about how jacked up our Covid response is and how badly we need stimulus checks and healthcare that all I did was zest a lemon I’ll post my meal when it’s done.”

And she eventually did post a photo for “accountability purposes”. (Her pet dog looked intrigued.)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

For accountability purposes pic.twitter.com/hlRoYAsN4A

December 11, 2020

The style has been honed over time. Last year there was the live stream of Ocasio-Cortez in her unfurnished apartment where she had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor. Again, relatable. “I’ve been living like a completely depraved lifestyle,” she said, chewing on popcorn (top tip: add ground pepper) and assembling a table. “There’s something very satisfying about putting together Ikea furniture.”

But she also delivered meat in the sandwich. “Your grandchildren will not be able to hide the fact that you fought against acknowledging and taking bold actions on climate change,” Ocasio-Cortez warned opponents. “We have 12 years left to cut emissions by at least 50%, if not more, and for everyone who wants to make a joke about that, you may laugh but your grandkids will not.”

Another classic of the genre came in August this year when Ocasio-Cortez shot a video for Vogue about her skincare and lipstick routine. On one level, it was glamorous and fun. On another, it was a golden opportunity to riff on patriarchy, the gender pay gap and what it is to live in systems largely built for the convenience of men – in a medium that was infinitely more digestible than a dry university seminar.

“The reason why I think it’s so important to share these things is that, first of all, femininity has power, and in politics there is so much criticism and nitpicking about how women and femme people present ourselves,” she said. “Just being a woman is quite politicised here in Washington.

“…… There’s this really false idea that if you care about makeup or if your interests are in beauty and fashion, that that’s somehow frivolous. But I actually think these are some of the most substantive decisions that we make – and we make them every morning.”

One of the keys to understanding the phenomenon of Ocasio-Cortez, and the backlash against her, is her years of working as a bartender and waitress. Critics seek to portray this as a weakness, with Twitter jibes such as “Shut up and sit down, bartender”. On the contrary, it is a strength, a schooling in the art of conversation and listening.

Ocasio-Cortez shot back last year: “I find it revealing when people mock where I came from, and say they’re going to ‘send me back to waitressing’, as if that is bad or shameful. It’s as though they think being a member of Congress makes you intrinsically ‘better’ than a waitress. But our job is to serve, not rule.”

The US constitution stipules that the president must be at least 35 years old. Ocasio-Cortez turns 35 less than a month before the next election. She is already campaigning from her kitchen without knowing it.

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