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News at Brighter Green

Executive Director Mia MacDonald Quoted in Civil Eats Article 1/26/15

Executive Director Mia MacDonald was quoted in Advisory Board member Anna Lappe's article on Chatham House's recent study on peoples' understanding of climate change and food, particularly meat production. You can view the Civil Eats article here.

New Report Released by Brighter Green and the Global Forest Coalition on the Unsustainable Impacts of Livestock and Soybean Production in Paraguay 1/22/15

Brighter Green and the Global Forest Coalition, published a new report entitled, "Meat from a Landscape Under Threat: Testimonies of the Impacts of Unsustainable Livestock and Soybean Production in Paraguay". You can access the report here.

Brighter Green Featured in NYC Meatless Monday Press Release 1/22/15

Brighter Green and Executive Director Mia MacDonald were featured in NYC City Council Representative Helen Rosenthal's press release on the push for NYC to adopt the Meatless Monday campaign.

Executive Director Mia MacDonald Appears on Our Hen House's Highlight Reel Podcast Episode 1/10/15

Brighter Green Executive Director Mia MacDonald appears on Our Hen House's highlight reel episode on January 10th. The original TV episode can be viewed here.

East African Girls' Leadership Initiative Program Update 1/10/15

Brighter Green and Tribal Link released a January Program Update on the East African Girls' Leadership Initiative. You can access it here.

Brighter Green and Humane Society International Publish COP 20 Policy Recommendations 12/4/14

Brighter Green and Humane Society International published a policy recommendation document on animal agriculture and climate change for the COP 20 meeting in Lima, Peru. You can access the document here.

Brighter Green Releases Summary on Forthcoming Nature's Rights Paper 10/14/14

Brighter Green released a summary of a forthcoming nature's rights paper entitled Nature's Rights: Rivers, Trees, Whales, and Apes.

Jim Harkness Positively Reviews "What's For Dinner?" 10/6/14

Jim Harkness Senior Advisor on China at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy positively reviews "What's For Dinner?" and interviews Executive Director Mia MacDonald.

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American Hippopotamus: The Meat Question

January 8, 2014 8:00am
A yawning hippo in the wild

A yawning hippo in the wild

In 1910, Louisiana congressman Robert Broussard introduced a bill to import African Hippopotamuses to the swamplands of the U.S. Gulf Coast to supplement the U.S. food supply. Author Jon Mooallem’s longform nonfiction multimedia story “American Hippopotamus” published by The Atavist details the origins and tracks the fate of this idea, which ultimately never came to fruition. The piece is a fascinating narrative and profile of two of the proponents of this scheme, who were once enemies fighting on opposite sides of the Boer War: American scout Frederick Russell Burnham (The inspiration for Boy Scouts and Indiana Jones), and Fritz Duquesne.

The proposal to import hippos was a response to what was then called the "Meat Question.” Mooallem writes:

“America was withering under a serious meat shortage at the time. Beef prices had soared as rangeland had been ruined by overgrazing, and a crippled industry struggled to satisfy America’s explosively growing cities, an unceasing wave of immigrants, and a surging demand for meat abroad… It was a troubling sign that maybe the country couldn’t keep growing as fast and recklessly as it had been. Maybe there were limits after all.”

Up until that point, U.S. had responded to shortages in food by land expansion, but the limits of this approach started to daylight. The introduction of African hippos to the U.S. was also an attempt to correct a problem caused by the introduction of a another foreign species. Water hyacinths—brought to New Orleans as a gift from a visiting Japanese delegation—rapidly reproduced and caused eutrophication and the formation of aquatic dead zones. The hope was that the African hippos would eat up the Japanese water hyacinths in waters of the U.S.

Burnham, Duquesne and Broussard had formed the “New Food Supply Society” to gain public and political support for this proposal. Mooallem describes the various arguments they put forth to counter initial resistance to the idea.

“Burnham challenged the committee to consider how bizarre it is that we eat only cows, pigs, sheep, and poultry—just four types of animals, basically all of which had themselves been imported by Europeans centuries ago.”

Burnham also provided a history of the adaptation of other imported animals to the American landscape- ostriches in California, Russian reindeer in Alaska, and African Camels in the American Southwest.

The ethics and potential ecological risks of bringing these animals to the U.S. are never fully addressed, as the men proposing this venture felt that those critical of the idea were either too small minded, or let emotion guide their decision making.

Despite the efforts of the New Food Supply Society, the hippo bill never got passed. Mooallem summarized a different path the nation took to answer the Meat Question:
“Rather than diversify and expand our stock of animals, we developed ways to raise more of the same animals in more places. Gradually, that process led to the factory farms and mass-confinement operations we have today—a mammoth industry whose everyday practices and waste products are linked to all kinds of dystopian mayhem, from the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to a spate of spontaneous abortions in Indiana, to something called blue baby syndrome, in which infants actually turn blue after drinking formula mixed with tap water that’s been polluted by runoff from nearby feedlots.”


Over a century after the introduction of the hippo bill, the Meat Question still remains. How do we tackle the limits of our growth, issues of global food security and the ethical and ecological consequences of animal agriculture?

Mooallem isn’t necessarily suggesting that we would have been better off if we had implemented the hippo scheme, but he romanticizes the hippopotamus meat solution as one of idealism, offering a bold, innovative attempt at problem solving. “But there is something beautiful about the America that considered importing them—an America so intent on facing down its problems, and solving them, that even an idea like this could get a fair hearing,” Mooallem wrote.

There could also be something beautiful about an America intent on solving the Meat Question today. And what might that crazy, bold, radical solution be now? How about eating plants?

Photo courtesy of Doug88888/Flickr