Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Meat Food

Sundays are an exciting day around the Zeide-Horn-Vedder household, because our cat, Eddie Vedder, gets to feast like a king (or at least like one of those fuzzy white cats on a Fancy Feast commercial). Sundays are the days when Eddie gets to eat what we call his "meat food."  That is to say, he gets dry cat food out of a bag six days a week, but on one glorious day, he gets wet food out of a can, which he just goes nuts for.

A long time ago, we noticed that Eddie had learned the phrase "meat food" and that just the very words got him excited. So then, Justin started this little game with Eddie where, around 5 PM on Sundays, he would say other unrelated words (usually the names of famous philosophers) to see if Eddie reacted to them differently than he did to the words "meat food." At first, of course, he paid the philosophers no attention and then leaped up with excitement when the exalted "MF" finally came. But then, smart cat that Eddie is, he began to realize that the philosophers names were a sign of things to come, and began to perk up in response to those as well. See the building excitement, and then the turn towards the door to head down to his food bowl in the kitchen here:




Who knew a cat could get so excited about Spinoza and Thomas Hobbes?!

So, this is cute and all, but it also raises a thorny question I've been thinking about a lot in the past year. With all this attention to how we feed ourselves, and how those food choices shape the larger world and environment we live in,  how can we not pay attention to what we feed our pets?

Now, a lot of people, when they first hear this question or a version of it, say things like, "Now these crazy environmentalists/vegetarians/animal-rights-activists are worried about what their pets eat! Can you believe it?!"  But the thing is, pet food is more intimately tied to the profitability of factory farms than most of us realize.  The high rates of downed cows (cows that are too weak or die before slaughter and can't be sold for human consumption) on factory farms would make the whole operation un-profitable if the operations weren't able to sell these downed cows to pet food companies. They would actually be forced, financially, to start taking better care of their animals in order to avoid so many deaths.  Marion Nestle, always a source of wisdom, writes in her recent book Pet Food Politics:

"Pet foods have always been made from the leftover parts of slaughtered farm animals that are not going to be used for human food—the bones, organs, ears, and other nutritious by-products. The need for an outlet for the leftovers of animal slaughter is one of the reasons commercial pet food exists."
And yet, the options for non-factory-farmed pet food are limited. Some people make their own cat and dog food by visiting local butchers and asking for scraps of meat. Others try to raise animals wholly vegetarian and feed them on beans and grains (I've read many examples of people who successfully do this with dogs, but I think carnivorous cats are a whole other story). There are good websites devoted to pet nutrition. But I think the majority of people--even those who care about their food sources--continue to buy traditional pet food from regular grocery stores.

We've done our best to think about where Eddie's "meat food" and his dry food is coming from, but it's not easy. Even our trusty co-op has limited options for dry food, so we're still searching for the perfect solution.

Anyone out there have ideas or leads? Experiences or thoughts to share?

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