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Photo Does Not Show RFK Jr. Eating Dog — or Goat


Claim:

A photograph shows Robert F. Kennedy Jr. holding the carcass of a cooked dog.

Rating:

On July 2, 2024, Vanity Fair published a profile of independent U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. One claim made in that story, written by Joe Hagan, immediately went viral: that Kennedy had sent a photo of himself appearing to eat dog meat to a friend while recommending places to eat dog in South Korea.

 

As originally reported, Vanity Fair wrote:

Last year Robert Kennedy Jr. texted a photograph to a friend. In the photo RFK Jr. was posing, alongside an unidentified woman, with the barbecued remains of what appears to be a dog. 

Kennedy told the person, who was traveling to Asia, that he might enjoy a restaurant in Korea that served dog on the menu, suggesting Kennedy had sampled dog. The photo was taken in 2010, according to the digital file’s metadata—the same year he was diagnosed with a dead tapeworm in his brain. 

(A veterinarian who examined the photograph says the carcass is a canine, pointing to the 13 pairs of ribs, which include the tell-tale “floating rib” found in dogs.)

Kennedy responded to the claim in a July 3, 2024, interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum, denying that the photo showed him eating dog meat. “It’s me in a campfire in Patagonia on the Futaleufu River eating a goat, which is what we eat down there,” he told MacCallum. 

Based on several lines of evidence, Kennedy’s defense appears to hold up to scrutiny with one exception: The meat in question is more likely to be lamb than goat. By email, Kennedy told Snopes that our conclusion of lamb was, in fact, correct. “You are correct,” he wrote when asked if it was possible he confused the two meats. Lamb is the meat of juvenile sheep. 

‘Tell-Tale’ Sign of Dog?

The claim that 13 pairs of ribs combined with the presence of “floating” ribs make for a “tell-tale” sign of a dog carcass is inaccurate. Several animals, including goats and sheep, have 13 pairs of ribs, including some that are floating — i.e., unattached to the sternum or another rib. 

Vanity Fair appears to have walked back its assertion. The veterinarian’s opinion that the carcass in the photo was likely a dog was removed from the story in a July 3, 2024, update. Hagen did not immediately respond to Snopes’ request for comment about the removal of that quote or his confidence in his initial determination that the photograph showed dog meat.   

Simply put, neither the presence of 13 rib pairs nor the presence of floating ribs makes for a positive identification of a dog. Sheep and goats are both ruminants, and as such both belong to a class of hoofed mammals with 13 pairs of ribs, including some that are floating

The Futaleufú River

In responding to the allegation that the picture showed dog meat, Kennedy said the picture was taken during a whitewater trip down the Futaleufú River in the Patagonia region of Chile. Kennedy has a long history with the Futaleufú River, and the photograph at issue is consistent with travel to this region of the world. 

Kennedy has been going to this river for decades as both a tourist and an advocate against the construction of a hydroelectric dam on it, taking celebrities or family with him. In 2006, he wrote a narrative feature for The New York Times describing his history with the river and with a guiding outfit named Earth River Expeditions:

In March, I made my third annual trip on the Fu with Earth River Expeditions. This time, I took my 10-year-old daughter, Kyra, who fell in love with the river on her first trip last year, and three of her girlfriends. Among the other guests were Darren Barber, an Olympic gold medalist rower; the “Baywatch” star David Chokachi and his wife, Susan; and the New York financier Michael Falk and his wife, Anne, and their two daughters, Kayla, 12, and Gigi, 10. The Falks were neophyte rafters, and this was also their first camping trip.

… A three-hour bus trip on a narrow dirt road introduced us to the stunning landscapes of Andean Patagonia. At the confluence of the Fu and Azul Rivers, we donned wet suits, helmets and life jackets, and paused in a jungle clearing for a safety briefing and a seminar on paddling techniques. Class V white-water rafting is inherently risky, but with experienced guides and good safety plans, it is no more dangerous than skiing or touch football.

Earth River Expeditions’ trips to the Futaleufú river have been widely covered in adventure- and conservation- related media, and as a result, we know that one of “the most popular dishes” on this trip is spit-barbecued lamb known as Chilean asado. As described in a 2016 piece for National Geographic:  

Earth River Expeditions include daily lunches at a local restaurant or remote picnic site, such as on the banks of a stunning waterfall swimming hole. Also included are daily chef-prepared breakfasts and dinners served at the lodges. One of the most popular dishes prepared on trips is Chilean asado, spit-barbecued lamb roasted slowly over an open fire.

Chilean asado

While Chilean asado can refer, broadly, to any Chilean open pit barbecue, lamb is what the people in this part of Chile are best-known for cooking in this fashion. As described in a 2016 Vice article about eating lamb in Patagonia:

The wooly livestock form a staple of Patagonian diets, and you can find mutton in any form: on pizzas, in empanadas, and in perfectly spiced burgers. The classic preparation, however, is cordero al palo, which is lamb roasted directly above a wood fire, the carcass stretched across an iron cross. 

This colorful description matches the type of cooking seen in the Vanity Fair photo, and it also matches other photos of this classic Chilean dish. The image below shows lamb being roasted during a Chilean barbecue, prepared in a manner that looks nearly identical to the food Kennedy was pictured with:

The Bottom Line

Because the photo matches a dish frequently served in the region Kennedy claimed the photo to have been taken in, and because Kennedy has a documented history with a guiding service that explicitly serves the meal, Snopes concludes that Kennedy is not pictured with dog meat or goat meat, but with lamb. Presented with this logic, Kennedy agreed with Snopes that he was pictured with lamb and not goat.

The source who shared the photo with Vanity Fair said Kennedy led him to believe it was dog based on the context in which he sent the photo:

The friend says that Kennedy “sent me the picture with a recommendation to visit the best dog restaurant in Seoul, so he was certainly representing that this was a dog and not a goat. In any case, it’s grotesque.” by sending it alongside a recommendation of places to eat dog meat in South Korea.

Snopes takes no position on the claim that Kennedy intended to represent the photo he sent to his friend as him eating dog meat. 

However, because the central evidence used to link the image published in Vanity Fair to dog meat is factually incorrect, and because the photo is consistent with lamb meat along multiple lines of evidence, we conclude that the photo itself does not show Kennedy alongside the carcass of a cooked dog and therefore rate this claim “Miscaptioned.” 

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