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?Poisonous People Food? ?Seriously? (and other modern pet food musings)

Posted Sep 07 2008 8:38pm

The problem with this Good Morning America segment on the ABCNews website is all in the title: “Poisonous People Food.”

Beyond the scary headline, everything contained therein is pretty responsible, just like everything else Dr. Marty Becker works on. My criticism is confined to the acknowledgment that whenever “people foods” get singled out for their evils (even in this case, where toxic foods are deservedly maligned), a significant percentage of pet owners will invariably assume that all “people food” is potentially poisonous.

After all, most of you know that we humans can be pretty limited in our thinking when it comes to feeding our pets.

Case in point: Every day I still get clients who proudly proclaim that their pets get “no people food.” “Nothing but the best,” they say, while stuffing too-fat Fido with Pup-Peronis hand over fist.

Like so many pet owners, they’re still stuck in the mindset that all “human food” is somehow “bad” for pets and that the animal equivalent of a Milky Way bar is somehow preferable because it’s made with pets in mind.

Never mind that sometimes food made with pets in mind does get extra-special treatment…in lax Federal oversight when it comes to safety.

But that’s another topic…

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s my view that “human food” as no-no is a lie initiated by Madison Avenue at the inception of the pet food industry’s call to standardize the feeding of pets back in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Before then, Americans had always fed pets their leftovers and/or selected cheap cuts of meat. As a result, pets often suffered nutritional diseases at rates arguably proportional to the lack of prevailing knowledge on canine and feline nutrition.

The standardization, commercialization and marketing of pet diets changed the dynamics of daily feedings forever, giving humans the convenience they needed to keep pets in their homes and strongly suggesting that pets belonged “in the family.” So too did it provide more balanced diets for pets, much-needed research into nutrition and eliminated the vast majority of nutritional diseases that previously afflicted pets.

Some of us may decry the mass marketing of pet foods today (and for good reason), but back then commercial pet food made pet keeping possible, saved lives and stimulated the US’s drive to become a powerhouse pet culture.

But things are different now—at least for those of us who want better for our pets and demand more from pet food manufacturers. We’ve come full circle. Pet foods extruded from machines in staggering volumes no longer astound and amaze—they disgust and incite suspicion, instead.

How can you expect me to feed her THAT, every day of her life, forever and ever AMEN until the day of her death?

Still, that’s not the way most human feeders of pets see it. And I can’t completely blame them. As in this ABCNews piece, they’re warned that people foods hold potentially frightening compounds you may not know are harming your pet. You’re urged to stick with commercially prepared products for pets if you’re not 100% sure that what your feeding will not bring on your pet’s death.

Vets have a big hand in propagating this belief. Mostly, that’s because we want your pets to be safe. We don’t want to see you use your own [presumably limited] judgment in writing your own pet food recipes because we fear that our tacit endorsement of your doing so makes us complicit in the illnesses your pets may consequently suffer. Same, too, for raw food feeding, etc.

Yeah, Dr. Becker in this segment toes that veterinary party line, too. And I can’t blame him. He’s got five minutes to explain the basics. He doesn’t have the luxury of explaining that well-educated pet owners can feed raw if they’re careful in x, y and z ways or that feeding “people food” as a supplement (or even as an entire diet, if undertaken knowledgeably) isn’t actually preferable to a single commercially prepared diet day in, day out.

Problem is, the implication is still there: Stick to your machine-made, mass-produced pet foods. “People foods” are worth fearing.

What I wouldn’t give to know that carrots and apple slices had finally supplanted Fido’s Pup-Peronis (for good) and that a healthy diet with the variety nature intended could be had for all pets…without all that hand-wringing over “spoiling” Fluffy’s diet with that evil “human food.”
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