BRADDOCK, Pa.—Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman, who once weighed over 400 pounds, called his rival campaign "nasty" after it suggested he eat a vegetable. As mayor, he spent over $1,000 of his own money to tell poor residents of Braddock to do the same.
On the corner of 4th Street in Braddock, where Fetterman served as mayor from 2006 to 2019, sits a city sign likely not seen anywhere else in the United States. The sign doesn’t display the speed limit or parking hours, but rather an order to passersby: "NOTICE: EAT MORE VEGETABLES." Fetterman spent his own money to install the signs as a way to encourage residents to eat healthier, according to local press.
The signs Fetterman installed highlight how the Democrat, who is seeing his chances to win in November decline due to voter concerns about his health and far-left record on crime, has no problem embracing a double standard when it comes to nutritional advice. Fetterman said he was struck by how "nasty" the race was turning after a spokeswoman for his Republican opponent Dr. Mehmet Oz said if Fetterman "had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn't have had a major stroke and wouldn't be in the position of having to lie about it constantly." But Fetterman had no issue giving such advice as mayor of Braddock, which is almost entirely black and considered a "food desert" by nutrition experts.
Food deserts are locations where residents can’t easily purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Fetterman said himself in a 2011 interview that Braddock does not have a single grocery store. Unlike Braddock’s many poor residents, Fetterman likely did not have a hard time accessing fresh foods—his parents supported him financially well into his 40s by gifting him tens of thousands of dollars a year and helping him pay for his home in Braddock. Eating healthy in Braddock, Fetterman said in that interview, is "not affordable."
"It’s also difficult when you live in an oppressed environment. There are a lot of foods that aren’t healthy but are easily accessible and relied upon to provide comfort," he said. "Here, after a rough day of working for minimum wage, when you get home, all you want to do is watch TV, eat Doritos, and drink soda."
A spokesman for Fetterman did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2013, Fetterman's wife Gisele grew tired of "negative" messages on Braddock’s street signs. While working at the "Free Store," a charity in town, Gisele Fetterman designed the "Positive Parking" initiative.
"'Don't park here,' ‘Don't loiter there,'" Gisele Fetterman said at the time. "We wanted to counter those with signs spreading cheer and kindness, signs with uplifting messages."
The city council unanimously approved the project on the condition that the Fettermans pay for the signs themselves, to the tune of over $1,000. Soon thereafter dozens of signs sporting such slogans as "Believe in Yourself," "Follow Your Dreams," "Hug a Tree," and "Eat More Vegetables" popped up around the 423-acre city.
Inspired in part by truck drivers allegedly passing through town and admiring the signs, Gisele Fetterman told a local news outlet that she was hoping to expand the effort. Not only should Braddock denizens be reminded to eat broccoli, Gisele Fetterman said, but they should also know not to smoke or litter.
Most of Gisele Fetterman’s signs are no longer up in Braddock, the result of disrepair or theft. Ironically, the "Eat More Vegetables" signs remain as questions about Fetterman’s health increasingly become a liability for his Senate campaign.
The Washington Post called on Fetterman to release his medical records earlier this month in an editorial, calling "the lingering, unanswered questions about his health … unsettling." The Post’s demand came a week after Fetterman’s hometown newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, questioned his "ability to serve."
Reports also surfaced this month that other Democratic officials in Pennsylvania are privately worrying about Fetterman’s fitness for office. Those Democrats cited Fetterman’s lack of campaign appearances and poor public speaking ability, a common side effect of strokes, as cause for concern.
After weeks of deliberation, Fetterman agreed to debate Oz in October. Fetterman’s campaign initially demanded their candidate receive a closed captioning monitor to help assist him in the debate.
"We’re absolutely going to debate Dr. Oz, and that was really always our intent to do that," Fetterman told Politico. "It was just simply only ever been about addressing some of the lingering issues of the stroke, the auditory processing, and we’re going to be able to work that out."