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Alternative Proteins for Pet Foods: Of Insects, Worms and Lab Raised Meats

Posted May 25 2011 7:00am
In case you don’t know this about me I have a thing about where my pets’ food comes from. I want it to be healthy, wholesome and biologically appropriate to their species, of course, but I also care about the protein itself: Was it sustainably sourced? Humanely raised? Humanely slaughtered?
 

Unless I’m cooking with ingredients I’ve either raised myself, paid top dollar for, or managed to trade for using my backyard eggs and home-made cheese, I’m generally not feeding them humanely raised/slaughtered and/or sustainable meats and fish. I’m getting whatever a high-end pet food company’s version of these meats might be. And surely that also means I’m sacrificing a whole lot on how much green goes down the drain in shipping and packaging.

That’s what it means to feed commercial — whether we’re talking about feeding ourselves and our human families or our pets.

Yes, there are trade-offs everywhere you look — even at Whole Paycheck and its ilk (gasp!). And at the end of the day we all make sacrifices that are the ruination of all our good intentions on the green front — or so my right brain tells me in my darkest moments of despair for our blue planet and its animals.

So can you blame me for wringing my hands about how we’re going to feed our pets in years to come?

Sorry to raise the specter of any more doomsday scenarios in a week chock-full of creepy predictions and killer tornadoes, but the scary truth is along the lines of what New York Times food guru Mark Bittman says (and I paraphrase): As humans we might as well start eating less meat right now, seeing as our species is destined for vegetarianism soon enough anyway.

(btw, if you don’t have at least one of Mr. Bittman’s books on your kitchen shelf you really need to stop what you’re reading right now and order one immediately.)

The guy’s got a point. At some near future date we’ll likely be arguing over who gets the protein: the cat … or the baby? Who needs it more? Who deserves this version vs. the other? And how do we decide?

This is why I was so excited last week when I got treated to not one but two (!) news stories on the subject of alternative protein sources. And no, this time it wasn’t about the dreaded algae (but I will agree that the ick factor is up there). This time it was more to do with the following two options: (a) laboratory-raised meats, and (b) insects.

Yes, really. Because both are really great protein alternatives. I mean, most of us practically subsist on near lab-raised meats anyway, right? What else would you call Chicken McNuggets or Chef Boyardee meatballs or Taco Bell’s burrito fillings? Sorry, but that kind of meaty fare is too divorced from the actual animal to make me wonder whether a petri-dished hunk of stuff might be better.

In fact, I’m sure it’s a better alternative. By far. Because then at least my roadside stop might not be either as unhealthy or as ecologically and animal welfare challenged. And I wouldn’t feel the constant nag of, "are my pets getting fed biologically appropriate foods?"

Not that happily raised real animals would be an impossibility. But because better conditions would inevitably cost more, our agriculture species would be relegated to the role of luxury foods … not a daily necessity, as they are now.

But insects? Really?

Sure, the yuckiness here is near unbearable. Though a great many cultures have called insects dinner for millennia, here in the west people have never favored an insect diet. I mean, for us locusts are a plague — not a plate. And meal worms are for horror movies, not for dinner.

But protein is protein. And just as sushi had its slow beginnings in the west, I predict insects will start to make a big splash in about fifty years —  once our natural protein sources start running really dry.

But what’s so wrong about advancing that time frame for our pets? Insects, after all, can be raised safely, humanely and sustainably in vast quantities. And while we may suffer the ickiness of it, insects contain the very same proteins as the ones in our fish and meat species. Maybe they wouldn’t be recognizable as such — not even as insects — in the canned and machine-extruded foods we feed our pets. But the nutritional value would be the same.

And while I’d dearly love to have my dogs and cats consume the same foods I do, I also recognize that at some future date (maybe sooner than we’d like to think) we’ll be divvying up the proteins like so many cards on the table. Sacrifices will have to be made. Like it or not.
 
 

Dr. Patty Khuly
 
 
Pic of the day: Thailand: Cooked worms, grasshoppers and bugs. by Xosé Castro
 
 
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