Of Moose & Men: an amateur history of Teddy Roosevelt & cannibalism &c.

I don’t only write about late-night Comedy Central television programming. It only sometimes seems like I do. And in this case, it seems too much — this post is about Teddy Roosevelt, not Stephen Colbert.

When Colbert’s guest, Rob Rhinehart — the inventor of soylent, the food-like food substitute — pointed out that “the environmental burden of animal products is massive” and invoked President Theodore Roosevelt in support of a pro-conservation agenda, the Colbert Report host was ready to retort in kind: “Teddy Roosevelt also said, ‘I’m going to go kill and eat a moose.'” Touché, Mr. Colbert. As host, you get the last word — fortunately, the internet has empowered me with the ability to write words and scatter them to the ether(net), and I intend to take full advantage of that opportunity to take a slightly more nuanced look at Teddy’s relationship with animal consumption.

Roosevelt’s was, of course, a hunter who loved to pose with victims he’d have to pony up $350K+ to embullet today (partly thanks to his own pioneering efforts in land and animal conservation — but more about those momentarily):

Roosevelt-and-the-elephant

roosevelt rhino

So I’m not going to pretend like Teddy was opposed to consuming (whether by digestive system or otherwise) animal flesh. That said, he proceeded in this endeavor in moderation: his nickname, Teddy, was bestowed following an incident in which he was photographed with a bear cub he’d spared from summary execution. And though he traveled West specifically for the purpose of bagging a buffalo (a task in which he ultimately succeeded, though I can’t find a photo), he quickly became convinced that dramatic steps were necessary to avoid their extinction and was instrumental in protecting the remnant of the species.

Roosevelt also became a rancher, and shipped his cattle down to Chicago for slaughter. That didn’t stop him from choking on his breakfast while reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Indeed, some suspicion-worthy accounts — which I have sadly been unable to verify — claim he, like many Americans at the time, temporarily became vegetarian himself. What’s clear is that Roosevelt was instrumental in the eventual passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, which helped remedy what Sinclair had described in his work of fiction: the infiltration of chemicals, diseased meat and rodent excrement into the food supply (and, from there, into people).

If Clarence Thomas can tell me what the founding fathers believed, I don’t think I’m venturing out on too delicate a limb in suggesting that Roosevelt took a largely pragmatic approach to edible material. I imagine that Roosevelt’s stomach turns in his grave whenever he contemplates that pink slime appears to be making a comeback as school lunch staple, or the literally billions of animals who inhabit factory farms that double as breeding grounds for antibiotic resistant bacteria, or that Mad Cow is even a thing. Rhinehart might very well be right that Roosevelt would wholeheartedly applaud his efforts to reduce the time and resources currently expended on procuring energy and nourishment. What now, Colbert?

And now, my response to the part of Colbert’s statement about moose qua moose (rather than qua meat): Roosevelt undoubtedly hunted moose. Here is he campaigning for the Bull Moose party — despite his undoubtedly persuasive rhetoric, I imagine the moose in attendance would not have voted for him:

1912_Teddy-Roosevelt_Bull-Moose-campaigning

But even admitting Roosevelt hunted moose, I find it difficult to believe he partook in eating them, as Colbert alleged on the air (“I’m going to go kill and eat a moose”). After all, Roosevelt fancied himself a moose — dude was basically a Canadian — and while the future President was certainly not above intraspecies bloodshed, I think we can all agree that, had it existed, even primitive early-20th c. political operatives would have unearthed evidence of cannibalism.

Roosevelt-as-moose reminds me of one of my favorite Teddy stories (If You Give a Moose a Muffin is an appropriate reference here on multiple levels). I’ll just let Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales handle this one (highlights in bold):

While Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 14, 1912, a saloonkeeper named John Flammang Schrank shot him, but the bullet lodged in his chest only after penetrating his steel eyeglass case and passing through a thick (50 pages) single-folded copy of the speech he was carrying in his jacket. Roosevelt, as an experienced hunter and anatomist, correctly concluded that since he was not coughing blood, the bullet had not completely penetrated the chest wall to his lung, and he declined suggestions to go to the hospital immediately. Instead, he delivered his scheduled speech with blood seeping into his shirt. He spoke for 90 minutes. His opening comments to the gathered crowd were, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” Afterwards, probes and x-ray showed that the bullet had lodged in Roosevelt’s chest muscle but did not penetrate the pleura, and it would be less dangerous to leave it in place. Roosevelt carried it with him for the rest of his life.

Total badmoose. (Since an ass is a different species entirely.)

Finally, while on the subject of Roosevelt and meese, I would be remiss in failing to include this famous photograph:

Roosevelt-Riding-a-Bull-Moose

The “LIFE” in the bottom right is a nice touch — especially because the depiction is a complete fabrication. Still, I decided to include this because it’s nice to imagine a President who was all about so much more than just hunting and killing animals doing something with an animal other than hunting and killing it.

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2 thoughts on “Of Moose & Men: an amateur history of Teddy Roosevelt & cannibalism &c.”

  1. “his nickname, Teddy, was bestowed following an incident in which he was photographed with a bear cub he’d spared from summary execution. ” Well, actually you have no photo of him and such a bear cub. 🙂 Because actually it was an old, fat, 235-pound bear that had been run down by Roosevelt’s hounds, clubbed by his guide, tied to a tree, bleeding to death, and was trapped in a watering hole. Roosevelt wouldn’t shoot it because that wouldn’t be “sportsmanlike” to count such a “kill” as a hunting trophy. Instead the guide and a buddy risked their lives struggling with the bear, and the guide stabbed the bear to death, putting it out of its misery. (Sure seems to me it would have been more humane … and more sensible…for Roosevelt to go ahead and just shoot the bear in an act of compassion and just not claim it for a trophy. Also seems it would have been more compassionate on the guide…) What we ended up with as the “model” for the teddy bear was a political cartoonist’s Urban Legend version of the events, in which the cartoonist took “creative license” and turned the lumbering bear into a cutesy cub, and implied that it was “spared” from death. “The rest of the story” didn’t have such a happy ending for the real bear. Check out more details at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-history-of-the-teddy-bear-from-wet-and-angry-to-soft-and-cuddly-170275899/#Xljf9pH641xc2KJt.99

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