Several months ago, I read a book called Pet Food Politics by Marion Nestle. Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and who Michael Pollan calls one of the seven most powerful foodies in the world, wrote the book after the 2007 recall of contaminated pet foods. Chinese melamine was used as a cheaper substitute for wheat gluten, sickening thousands of pets and causing at least 14 animal deaths. (One online database received reports of 3,600 deaths. The U.S. Department of Agriculture received approximately 8,500 reports of deaths, but it confirmed only 14 cases. Due to lack of centralized government database of animal sickness or death, many sources speculate the full extent of the pet deaths and sicknesses caused by the contamination may never be known.)
In the book, Nestle details the globalized nature of pet food industry. Eight multinational corporations control 85 percent of the pet food market. Since pet foods account for a smaller percentage of these corporations’ product portfolio, they outsource manufacturing to companies that specialize in pet food production. Ol’ Roy, Iams, Blue Buffalo, and Science Food Diet are all made by the same pet food manufacturer. This manufacturer, a Canadian company called Menu Foods, was subsequently found to be the culprit in the 2007 recall. Pet food manufacturers source ingredients from all over the world, and they ship their products to numerous countries. The globalized nature of pet food industry confounded the investigation to trace the source of contamination. Some pet food manufacturers attempt to cut costs by using cheaper substitutes, further increasing the chances of contamination and contributing to the 2007 recall.
Nestle’s book opened my eyes to many issues that surround pet food industry, but one fact surprised me more than anything else – pet food manufacturers make their products using leftover meats from factory farms.
I’m not sure why I didn’t previously research what I was feeding my pets. I suspected commercial pet foods weren’t made with best ingredients, but I had no idea that I was feeding factory farm meat parts to my pets. So much for not supporting concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). I thought I wasn’t supporting CAFOs since I only purchase locally- and sustainably-raised meats to feed my partner and me. Not only was I inadvertently supporting CAFOs, I may also have been feeding my pets food that contain trace antibiotics and growth hormones. Yuck!
Nestle points out in the book that pet food manufacturers serve an important role in the society by recycling meat parts that are deemed unfit for human consumption. That may be the case, but I’d rather see a society that wouldn’t have to recycle meat parts from factory farms. I’d rather see a society without CAFOs.
I picked up Nestle’s follow-up book to Pet Food Politics. In Feed Your Pet Right, Nestle and co-author Malden Nesheim, Professor of Nutrition Emeritus at Cornell University, attempt to answer the question of how best to feed your pets. They analyze food products, basic ingredients, sources of ingredients, and the optimal ways to feed dogs and cats. They write about ethical considerations that affect pet food research and product development, how pet foods are regulated, and how companies influence veterinary training and advice. They conclude with specific recommendations for pet owners, the pet food industry, and regulators.
I learned a lot from the book and recommend it if you are curious about what you are feeding your pets. One line in the book stood out more than anything else – “If you don’t need a Ph.D. to cook for yourself, why would you need one to cook for your pets?”
When I read that line, I decided to stop feeding commercial pet foods to my dog and cats. It is so true. I don’t have a Ph.D. in nutrition, but I cook for humans all the time. Why would I need a Ph.D. to cook for my pets?
So, I made the switch from commercial pet foods to homemade ones. Mei the Dog now eats locally- and sustainably-raised raw meats and veggies. She eats most of them as they are, so I rarely spend time preparing her food. (I’ll write about how I feed Mei in a future post, so stay tuned!)
Cat food, on the other hand, require a bit more preparation, but it’s still super easy. I use the recipe by Dr. Lisa A. Pierson, which is posted on her website. Since I’m a visual person, I watched a video produced by Cat Nutrition before I embarked on cat food making. The video is posted above and shows all the necessary steps to make cat food at home.
Dr. Pierson’s recipe calls for 3 pounds of bone-in chicken thighs with skin. I buy my meats from Falling Sky Farm in Marshall, Arkansas. Owned and operated by Cody Hopkins and Andrea Todt, the Falling Sky Farm is a small diversified grass-based livestock farm that produces amazingly delicious and nutritious beef, pork, chicken, duck, and turkey. My partner and I have eaten their meats for some time now, and now our dog and cats eat them, too!
Dr. Pierson’s recipe also calls for 2 eggs. I use eggs from my chicken girls in the backyard.
I sourced most of the supplements (fish oil, Vitamin B-Complex, and taurine) from Drug Emporium. I bought powdered Vitamin E capsules online. After studying Dr. Pierson’s website for about a month, I finally invested in a Tasin T-108 meat grinder that can grind meat and bones. I bought mine from One Stop Jerkey. One Stop Jerkey also sells replacement parts for Tasin grinders. My shopping experience with them has been nothing short of great!
My initial attempt to make cat food took a little over an hour. Nowadays, I only spend about half an hour every other week to make my cats’ food. Three pounds of bone-in chicken thighs make about 14 half-pint jars. I serve one jar to my two cats everyday.
I initially used Ziplock bags to store my cat food. I found cleaning Ziplock bags to be tedious and difficult. I also didn’t enjoy seeing Ziplock bags accumulate in my kitchen sink. I switched to freezer-ready half-pint Ball jars, and they’ve been fabulous! Every morning, I take out a jar from my freezer, pop off the metal lid, defrost the jar in microwave, serve food to the cats, and put the lid and jar in my dishwasher. The jars made the clean-up much easier, and I can also reuse jars much longer than Ziplock bags. Sweet!
Let’s talk costs. I used to pay $20-35 for a 5-15 pound bag of organic cat food. Nowadays, I pay roughly $31 per month to buy chicken thighs and liver to make the food. The supplements required an upfront investment of about $25, and the Tasin grinder set me back by $150. The supplements, however, can be used for multiple batches of food, and the grinder can be used for other projects like sausage making.
Although the financial costs of making your own cat food may not be significantly lower than buying organic food at the store, I feel better knowing that I am not feeding CAFO meat parts to my cats. Raw food diet also has an added benefit of making cats poo less and their feces smaller and less smelly. Eddy, our resident litter box cleaner, now cleans less, thanks to our cats pooing less.
I have not noticed significant differences, positive or negative, in my cats’ health after I began feeding them homemade food. Their coats look shiny, and they may have lost a few pounds, which is a good thing for them. (I have had friends use the word F-A-T to describe them, although I vehemently deny that my cats were or are overweight. My girls aren’t fat, and if you even imply that in our household, we will scratch and kick you out.)
I have noticed that my girls are much more eager to eat food. My girls have always liked to eat (they take after me), but they seem to prefer homemade food over store bought. I don’t blame them. Who wants to eat highly processed food made with CAFO meats every day of his or her life?
Initially, though, my cats stuck their nose up when I served them homemade food. I had to mix a small portion of homemade food with dry kibbles to get them to start eating. I gradually increased the portion of homemade food and reduced the amount of kibbles. After about three weeks to a month, I succeeded in switching them over to eating 100 percent homemade food. Now, they complain when I accidentally forget to make food, and I serve them kibbles left over from before the switch!
Overall, I believe homemade cat food has made everyone in my household happy. Cats are happy that they get to eat fresh real food. Mei the Dog is happy when cats are happy. Eddy is happy that he cleans litter box less. I’m happy that I no longer feed CAFO meat parts to my cats. I’m even happier that I no longer have to go to the store to pick up food for my girls. I love to shop from local farmers, but I have an aversion for other kinds of shopping (grocery store, clothes, furniture, etc.). Making my own cat food saves me from a trip to the store, which makes everyone happy since I become very disgruntled when I have to go to the store. Ain’t nobody happy when momma ain’t happy!
So if you want to eliminate CAFO meats from your household or are interested in feeding healthy, nutritious, fresh food made with locally- and sustainably-raised produce, try making cat food at home!