It started with the gorditas de masa. In a Jan. 1 post on X, formerly Twitter, a user pointed out that a supposed picture of the dish shared by a former Republican congresswoman was actually beef stew with sada roti — and had first appeared on a Guyanese tourism Facebook page.
The allegation kicked off a search of other food photos shared on social media by former Rep. Mayra Flores (R-Tex.), the first Mexican-born woman in Congress who is running to win back her seat. What they found has been dubbed “Grubgate” — a collection of photos that the ex-congresswoman presented as her own but had originated on other sites.
One of the first to point out the duplicate photos was Tony Ortiz, the publisher of a Substack called Current Revolt. Ortiz began poring over Flores’s food-related social media posts for the Texas-based far-right site, which counts about 23,000 subscribers.
In Monday interview with The Washington Post, Ortiz said that after seeing the viral X post his plan was to write about the photo Flores had apparently lifted from the “Visit Guyana” Facebook page as one-off incident — until something told him to dig deeper.
“I was just thinking, when people do this — passing off content as their own — they generally do it often. Like, it’s usually never a one-time thing,” Ortiz said. “That’s why I went over to her Instagram and Twitter pages and took every single food photo that didn’t have people in it.”
A campaign spokesperson for Flores, who’s running to regain her old seat after being ousted by Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.) amid redistricting in the 2022 general election, said in a statement to The Post that “it wasn’t Mayra’s intention to mislead anyone.”
Here’s @MayraFlores_TX trying to convince people that she’s living the high life and making dinner over an open fire at the ranch. Only problem is: this picture was stolen from a Guyanese facebook page. Why would you lie, Mayra? pic.twitter.com/zd4mIcJQwg
— Ben Anderson (@ben_the_dem) January 1, 2024
Ortiz scoured pics featuring tasty-looking homemade tortillas, steaks and gorditas. But almost every time Ortiz ran one of Flores’s photos in a reverse image search engine, he said, they popped up in social media posts by different users — from a Facebook page devoted to food in Tamaulipas, Mexico, to a Guatemalan magazine.
He posted about it on Jan. 3, summarizing his findings: four other food photos had appeared elsewhere on the internet before Flores posted them on her pages, Ortiz wrote. Hours later, the Texas Tribune followed up with a review of its own, which found at least two photos Flores posted in 2023 that appeared to be lifted from other sites.
The Post reviewed those five photos that were posted between 2022 and 2023 in Flores’s X and Instagram profiles. A reverse-image search connected them to the same Facebook pages as the Tribune and Current Revolt. The initial post that sparked “Grubgate” was deleted by the ex-Congresswoman “to clear up any confusion,” the campaign spokesperson said, who added that the photo “simply reminded [Flores] of her upbringing and childhood.”
Still, the food pic revelation has led to dozens of headlines. Ortiz said using photos that were not her own contradicts the authenticity Flores was trying to display in the social media posts.
Joe Biden is not invited to the carne asada.
Joe Biden no está invitado a la carne asada.#God #Family #Country pic.twitter.com/bEDModMy9v
— Mayra Flores Vallejo (@MayraFloresTX34) July 8, 2023
Flores’s social media feeds features photos of food and ranches between political posts, family pics and links to news stories. But a close-up photo of tortillas with beans posted last year could be traced it back to a Facebook page called Primera Fila Mx, Ortiz said. And an image she shared in 2022 featuring a plate of tortillas with a ranch as the backdrop was linked to a 2019 image shared by the Comida De Rancho Facebook page.
“As a proud Latina who knows how to cook, homemade Mexican food tastes better from a gas stove,” Flores wrote in a post accompanying a photo of eggs and tortillas. The photo was first posted on Facebook in 2021 by the Guatemala-based Izabal Magazine, Ortiz said.
A post shared by Mayra Flores (@mayrafloresforcongress)
The Tribune linked another photo Flores had posted of flame-grilled beef, sausage and tortillas to a Facebook page from Tamaulipas. It also found that her post about the “simple things in life” — like a “good breakfast” — could be traced back to a Mexican food photographer.
Flores told Valley Central, a Texas NBC affiliate, that the controversy had led her to gain over 8,000 new social media followers.
But for Ortiz, the low-stakes incident gives rise to skepticism about a politician who’s in the midst of a fierce battle for a competitive district.
“I’m of the belief that if somebody, especially an elected official, is willing to do something like this, it makes you really question what they would do once elected,” he said.
Five days after questions swirled about the non-gorditas de masa, Flores posted another food photo: a rosca de reyes, or three kings bread, a large ring of breaded cake that’s baked with a baby figurine inside and decorated with dried fruit.
This time, Flores was in the photo.