The day America wanted to raise hippos in Louisiana because “they tasted like bacon.”.

The American dream had a limit and that limit had reached. With no space to grow, with millions of immigrants arriving at the ports and with a productive structure on the verge of breaking down after decades of abuse and overexploitation, the North American country entered the 20th century in the middle of a deep economic, social and, above all, crisis , of identity.

It was September 1910, and trouble had summoned some of the richest people in California to a Pasadena hotel. “I am honored to be able to introduce our next speaker – began the presenter -, the only man in America who the darkest shadows of the darkest Africa … Commander Frederick R. Burnham. “As Jon Mooallem 2014 explained to us and other historians have completed in these years: Burnham had the solution.

The day America wanted to raise hippos in Louisiana because “they tasted like bacon.”

The hyacinth war

In 1884, the Japanese delegation to the International Cotton Exposition brought the ‘water hyacinths’ to New Orleans. The inhabitants of the city they went crazy with those pale flowers lavender color and began to use it to decorate houses and city parks.

In reality, the Eichhornia crassipes was not Japanese. It is a plant native to the large areas of fresh water in the Amazon basin, the Orinoco and the Río de la Plata. There it had co-evolved with its predators and they kept (are) in an almost perfect ecological balance. Out of there it becomes a plague: one of the 100 most harmful invasive alien species in the world.

The day America wanted to raise hippos in Louisiana because “they tasted like bacon.”

In a few years, the ‘water hyacinth’ took over rivers, swamps and canals. It was a thick and thick blanket that blocked the light, absorbed oxygen and ended up suffocating any plant or fish that lived in the area. It turned the mouth of the Mississippi into a vast dead zone that could not even be navigated. The lavender flowers disabled river routes that until a few decades ago had moved millions of tons.

Suddenly, fishermen and shippers were out of work and Louisiana was about to go into a spin. That’s when the problem came to the table Robert Broussard. Born in New Iberia, south of Lafayette, he had served as Louisiana representative in the United States Congress for 14 years and was one of the state’s most popular (and beloved) politicians.

The day America wanted to raise hippos in Louisiana because “they tasted like bacon.”

Broussard was a man of action. He moved heaven and earth to fix it, but nothing worked. The matter became so serious that he convinced the government to mobilize the army to clean it up. They did it. However, as Broussard himself explained, “the success has been only partial. They clean the stream today and in a month it is covered again with the same plant ”. The situation was desperate.

And one day America ran out of meat.

Until that moment there had been no reason to worry about the future: As part of its “manifest destiny”, the United States had solved all its problems by growing and integrating new territories. Above all, to the west, but over time they needed to grow north, south or make the leap to Asia. However, the wilderness has just ended.

The day America wanted to raise hippos in Louisiana because “they tasted like bacon.”

Y the population kept growing. For “intrinsic” reasons and for “extrinsic” reasons, European immigration reached one million two hundred thousand people in 1907 alone. And in 1910, they already represented 13 million people in a country of just over 90. Just that year, WN Irwin spoke before the Congressional Committee on Agriculture.

Irwin, a longtime researcher for the US Department of Agriculture and, according to the Washington Post, “the nation’s top fruit expert.” Otherwise, he was a weird guy. His best-known project had been a national initiative to get Americans to stop consuming chicken eggs and start consuming turkey eggs. That, like so many others, was a complete and resounding failure.

Yet for all his quirks, Irwin knew what he was talking about. His solutions might sound delusional, but his diagnoses were surprisingly accurate. He had realized that the United States was facing the second decade of the 20th century without the ability to grow: its productive system was on the verge of collapse. And not by chance: as the generation that ruled the country grew, the buffalo and the carrier pigeon disappeared. They were symptoms, signs: the country was running out before their eyes. And it was an open secret

The day America wanted to raise hippos in Louisiana because “they tasted like bacon.”

In fact, at that time, the United States was going through what the newspapers had called “the meat problem.” Scarcity was the problem of the moment: After decades of growth and overexploitation, North America’s cattle ranches were getting smaller and smaller. Meat was scarce, prices were rising and the American population was beginning to worry. What was happening to them?

Irwin was clear on that. “Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, after studying the resources of our country for many years, they led me to the conclusion that we should have more of the creatures we breed here, ”he told the committee. The country needed new sources of development or, as he put it, They needed to find ways to make areas productive that until then weren’t. It couldn’t grow outward, they would have to grow inward.

A solution called Burnham

What was being debated that afternoon in the Committee on Agriculture was precisely a proposal to raise $ 250,000 with which to import hippos and raise them in the swampy areas of the Gulf of Mexico. The proposal was from Pasadena speaker Frederick Russell Burnham. Born in Minnesota in 1861, Burnham was a restless man. He traveled throughout the United States, fought in the South African Boer War, and spent many years in the deserts of southwestern Mexico and Arizona.

The day America wanted to raise hippos in Louisiana because “they tasted like bacon.”

Precisely and paradoxically It was in Arizona where he learned the lesson that would lead him to the hippos. Speaking to the Agriculture Committee, Burnham recalled the time he chased a camel for five days without the best horses in Arizona being able to catch up with it.

A few years earlier, the American army had introduced the camels to fight the Indian tribes, but the soldiers rejected them because, according to Burnham, they laughed at the camellists. For the closedness of the people and not for anything else. “There is a wonderfully varied range of interesting animals in Africa. Most of them could easily get into our own Southwest, ”he explained to whoever wanted to hear him.

In fact, It was not the first time that he had tried something similar. Four years earlier, he had tried to import dozens of different animals into the United States. Fresh from the Boer War, he had managed to raise $ 50,000 to carry out the first imports of antelope and giraffes with which to reconvert the country’s moors into lands with exotic but highly productive livestock.

It got the go-ahead from the president and the country’s forest service, but the project ran into politics. The initiative came to a congress in full confrontation with President Teddy Roosevelt and quickly became collateral damage. Never received approval.

The day America wanted to raise hippos in Louisiana because “they tasted like bacon.”

Hippos in Louisiana

Now the thing had changed. This time, Burnham had a knowledgeable politician (Broussard and the entire State of Louisiana) and a recognized technician (Irwin enthusiastically joined the project by speaking and writing reports). The reason was simple.

Several expeditions had pointed out that, although the Louisiana swamps were “terribly bleak and inhospitable,” “the hippo would not find it difficult to live” in those lands. As these animals feed on large amounts of aquatic vegetation, could solve the hyacinth problem of water in a short time.

And, at the same time, they could be an amazing source of meat. Tasty meat, indeed. A New York Times editorial called them “lake bacon,” and their high-fat brisket was reported to be cured into what would be an exquisite delicacy.

The day America wanted to raise hippos in Louisiana because “they tasted like bacon.”

Hippos were the perfect solution to both problems. The Washington Post noted in another editorial that “The proposals that may seem strange at first chimerical and chimerical to most of our readers will be seen as practical propositions when become familiar. If we had learned to swallow raw oysters or to suck crab shells, why couldn’t we get used to that plump beast with an old-fashioned chimney smile? ”

The hippo only happens once in a lifetime

On September 19, 1910, Burnham stood at the Maryland Hotel in Pasadena, California, to speak to the Humane Association. He argued that this was not a crisis, this was an opportunity for “let’s not make the same mistakes again”. “This nation has reached a stage in its development where we must take an inventory of our assets and make full use of them in an intelligent way,” he said near the end of his speech.

Burnham believed that the same force that the country had used to dominate and deplete all resources should now serve to deplete it. And it wasn’t that strange. Only a couple of decades earlier, George Cawston had introduced ostriches to the country. At first they had called him crazy, but those twenty years had been enough for him to make a fortune based on the feathers of the gigantic African bird.

The success of the conference was brutal. The newspapers went crazy. However, did not have time to approve the measure in that session. Congressmen promised to introduce it again in the next term, but that never happened. In less than a year, Irwin died, the Mexican Revolution stunned Burnham at home, and Broussard found other problems to contend with. The project was forgotten, until Jon Mooallem rescued it in 2014 and historians took another look at it in detail.

In a few more years, Louisiana found another solution to the ‘water hyacinth’, herbicides and livestock began to become intensive. When they wanted to realize hippo fever had passed. Hippos are seen to be things that only happen once in a lifetime.