Vegan beauty queen Merissa Underwood—the holder of the Miss Montana USA 2020 title—has stirred controversy with Montanans and meat industry group Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSA) after speaking out against global animal agriculture. In a recent Instagram story, Underwood shared an infographic created by the makers of vegan documentary Cowspiracy that outlines the devastating effects of large-scale animal agriculture. Underwood’s post sparked several immediate responses, including an open letter from MSA: “As Miss Montana USA, we think it’s vital to use your platform to represent Montana and the things that are important to our beloved state. Agriculture and the cattle industry are some of those things,” the letter states. “While we appreciate your passion, we are disappointed in the misleading and inaccurate information you shared and wanted to share some facts about the beef industry that might help educate you and others.” Underwood has also received hundreds of threatening and hateful messages from strangers that have made her fear for her safety, along with a petition filed by an individual, David Roberts, which aims to strip her of her Miss Montana USA title. 

A vegetarian in her teenage years, Underwood participated in the Future Farmers of America where she observed how animals were treated by her peers and at the county fair. In 2015, Underwood removed dairy from her diet and began transitioning to veganism after learning about the ethical and environmental implications of eating animal products. As Miss Montana USA, she aims to be a voice for Montanans who want to take steps in tackling climate change. “As someone who is concerned for the current state of the climate, I hope to encourage people to do as much as we can to become more sustainable, one of which is adopting a plant-based diet, as countless studies have shown,” Underwood told VegNews. “We have to act now.”

Photo Credit: Austin Ryde 

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