Creating a sustainable diet for a pet is a tricky prospect. It’s probably as challenging as it was for a human to eat local and or organic ten years ago.
Until the Menu foods recall, I never gave what I fed my troupe much thought; I bought a premium brand, and let it go at that. Then, when the scandal happened, I was outraged to find out I was paying more for what was essentially a grocery store brand in a fancier bag.
Now my menagerie of two dogs and one cat eat the best food I can find for them – made with human grade meats (as opposed to the byproducts in most pet food products), and I try to keep them away from grains and artificial ingredients.
That adds up to a lot of extra money. So, about a year ago I started making homemade dog and cat food. I’m not an expert, so I’m not giving out a recipe, (it’s pretty easy to do your own research, if you’re interested. Start with Pitcairn, and be sure to check out the ASPCA’s list of foods not to feed your animals. You probably know about chocolate – but did you know about grapes or onions?) I still do feed my dogs and cat a partially commercial diet – about 40%, both for the convenience factor, and because I don’t feel confident balancing their diet on my own.
But trying to feed them a sustainable diet is going to be an even bigger challenge. So far I’d say I’ve upgraded the ingredients for about 60% of my homemade mixtures (vegetables and fruit are easy, but I can’t afford to throw out the poultry and meat I already have in the freezer.) Treats for the dogs are a big issue too; positive reinforcement based dog training is a passion of mine, and I go through a lot of treats in a week. I’ve already use real food – chicken, sausage, cheese, etc. But I’ve been buying things like giant bags of frozen pre-cooked chicken breast strips. And now that stuff is off the table.
It is certainly cheaper and easier to just turn a blind eye to all this. I drive an SUV, so clearly I can live with compromise. But, just like buying and eating a factory farmed chicken, which lives in the dark all of its life and eats a diet awash in antibiotics, to feed myself, feeding that chicken to my animals only perpetuates the big agriculture system. It’s not sustainable, or ethical and I’m not willing to do it any longer.
And I don’t want my trio eating that junk either. I signed up to give the animals in my care the best lives I can. Just as it makes me uncomfortable that I can afford a better diet than many people can, it also saddens me that my animal companions are eating healthier food than a lot of children.
To borrow an example used by Patricia McConnell, you might think the money I spend on my companion animals is out of line, but I don’t enjoy buying or collecting shoes, (or clothes for that matter) – something that mainstream culture totally endorses. Luckily we all get to set our own priorities. And that’s what this project is all about for me – setting new priorities. Or at least new to me.
When I was a young adult, I used to tease my mother relentlessly because she liked to cook for her dog, rather than just feed him kibble. “You’ve got to get a life, Mom,” I’d say. I wish Mom were here now to get the last laugh.