Muckraker: Grist on Politics

In perhaps one of the more bizarre controversies this Election Day, the final day of the Montana gubernatorial race was consumed with debate over what the Republican candidate, Roy Brown, does and does not eat.

On Monday, Brown responded to an email rumor circulating the state alleging that Brown and his family are (gasp!) vegetarians.

“I am not and have never been a vegetarian,” said Brown yesterday. “I am disgusted by the baseless allegation that I am a vegetarian and that my personal eating habits should somehow be construed as opposed to the economic interests of Montana’s livestock industry.”

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Brown did say, however, that he and his family temporarily cut back on their consumption of meat and dairy products 25 years ago while taking care of a sick loved one who couldn’t eat those products.

The rumor was apparently started by Brown’s neighbor in Billings, Pat Etchart, who alleged that when the Browns moved next door, they invited Etchart and her husband over to get to know one another.

“In the course of conversation, he told us that he and his wife are vegetarians,” said Etchart’s email. “At the time, I thought nothing of it, but as Roy now makes the rounds and campaigns for governor, I have a concern. Would it not be a problem, in a state where cattle ranching is such a vital industry, to have a governor who does not eat meat?”

“What caused me to think about this is that I told my brother-in-law, a rancher who usually votes Republican, about it,” she continued. “And he said that he could never vote for a vegetarian, because it’s against his economic interest.”

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Etchart sent the email to Dennis McDonald, chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and a cattle rancher, who in turn forwarded it to some ranchers in the state. The rumor also made its way into some agricultural news outlets and blogs in the state.