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Hippo Meat Almost Hit Our Dinner Tables in the US

In the early 1900s, as America faced a meat crisis due to a growing population and overgrazed lands, an unconventional solution was proposed – introducing hippopotamus meat into the American diet. This audacious plan was championed by a group of eclectic men, including the renowned adventurer Frederick Russell Burnham and Louisiana Congressman Robert Broussard. Had they succeeded, hippo steak could have become a common menu item in America. In this article, we delve into the fascinating story of how hippo meat nearly became an American food staple.

Frederick Russell Burnham’s Vision

At the forefront of the hippo meat movement was Frederick Russell Burnham, a legendary American adventurer, soldier, and chief of scouts for the British army during the Second Boer War. Burnham, known for his daring exploits and survival skills, had a unique perspective on the meat crisis in America.

Burnham observed that while animals such as cows, sheep, poultry, and pigs were an integral part of the American diet, they were not native to the United States. He believed that just as African animals like ostriches and camels had adapted to certain areas of America, hippos could also thrive in the country. Burnham envisioned a future where hippopotamus meat would alleviate the meat shortage and provide a new source of sustenance for Americans.

Robert Broussard’s Bayou Solution

Supporting Burnham’s vision was Louisiana Congressman Robert Broussard, who saw an opportunity to address another problem in his district. In 1884, a gift of water hyacinths from a Japanese delegation had turned into an invasive species, decimating local fish populations. Broussard, nicknamed “Cousin Bob,” believed that introducing hyacinth-loving hippos into the bayou could help control the invasive plants while also providing a source of meat that could adapt to the unique environment.

To bring their vision to life, Broussard enlisted the help of a notorious conman and adventurer named Frederick “Fritz” Duquesne. Despite being adversaries in the past, Burnham and Duquesne put their differences aside to collaborate on this ambitious project.

The Hippo Bill and Public Perception

In 1910, Broussard introduced H.R. 23261, also known as the Hippo Bill, which aimed to secure $250,000 in funding for the importation of useful animals, including hippos, into the United States. The media caught wind of the proposal, and newspapers like the New York Times coined the phrase “lake cow bacon” to describe the potential flavor of hippo meat. Public interest grew, and many believed that it was only a matter of time before hippo meat became readily available in American markets.

However, not everyone shared the enthusiasm for hippo meat. Critics raised concerns about the aggression and territorial nature of hippos, questioning their compatibility with the Louisiana bayou. Despite these reservations, the idea of introducing a new and exotic meat source captured the public’s imagination and sparked debates across the nation.

The Fate of the Hippo Bill

Ultimately, the Hippo Bill failed to gain traction and secure the necessary funding. While the idea of hippo meat had its appeal, practical considerations and the potential risks associated with introducing such a large and potentially dangerous animal into the American ecosystem proved to be insurmountable obstacles. However, the proposal did shed light on the underlying issues of the meat crisis and spurred alternative solutions.

In the aftermath of the failed Hippo Bill, meatpackers focused on increasing the supply of traditional meats like beef, pork, and poultry. Grazing lands were transformed into feedlots, and wetlands were drained to create more grasslands for cattle. The dream of hippo steak faded away, but the quest for sustainable and diverse meat sources continued.

The Legacy of Burnham, Broussard, and Duquesne

Although the hippo meat endeavor did not come to fruition, the key players involved in the movement went on to have eventful lives. Frederick Russell Burnham, known for his incredible survival skills and adventures in Africa, played a pivotal role in preventing an assassination attempt on President William Howard Taft. He was also invited by Theodore Roosevelt to lead a delegation in France, a venture that never materialized. Burnham eventually struck it rich after discovering oil in California.

Robert Broussard enjoyed a long and successful political career, serving eight terms as a congressman and one term as a senator. As for Frederick “Fritz” Duquesne, his life took a different turn. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen and later worked as a spy for Germany. However, his espionage activities were eventually uncovered, leading to his arrest and a 14-year prison sentence.

Conclusion: A Quirky Chapter in American Meat History

The tale of hippo meat’s near ascension to American food staple status is a fascinating chapter in the history of the nation’s quest for alternative meat sources. While the Hippo Bill failed to bring hippos into American diets, it ignited discussions about the sustainability of traditional meat production and the exploration of new culinary frontiers. Today, the idea of hippo steak may seem outlandish, but it serves as a reminder of the innovative and sometimes peculiar solutions that have been proposed throughout history to tackle societal challenges.

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