Rethinking Pet Food

By Olga

One of the greatest aspects of life in the Bay Area is how conscious many residents are about what they eat...not just for health reasons but for a wider concern about who grows and raises their food, and how, in the case of livestock, the animals are treated. I had considered myself to be a pretty conscious and conscientious consumer when it came to choosing foods that were both healthful and humanely and sustainably harvested. I embraced Hippocrates proclamation of ‘let your food be your medicine’ and took very seriously Marrion Burros’ New York Times article in which she argued for the importance of local food over even organic [a revelation to me at the time]. Then with the recent troubling developments with commercial pet food, I began to think about what effect buying and feeding supermarket dog food had on both the environment, the animals whose parts are used for this food and of course on my dog. Its no secret that conditions are grim for animals who are raised for food in industrialized facilities. While the so-called ‘good’ parts go to supermarkets and restaurants of all levels, do the odd cuts then get processed into pet food? Thus by purchasing name brand pet foods are we supporting some cruel farming practices? I don’t know and I don’t claim to here...I’m just wondering aloud. And what about the nutritional value to our pets of feeding them food with preservatives?

While I don’t know the conditions surrounding the raising of the animals used in pet food, I do know, at the other end of this particular food chain, that for my dog’s whole life, most of the food she’d been given was from a can or a bag that has a frighteningly long shelf life; she had never been fed fresh foods. For that matter, she hadn’t been fed any vegetables, just meat and whatever is in her kibble.

So recently I found a few great solutions to feeding my dog, Lucy, a 10 year-old Shar-pei mix. This being the Bay Area, there’s a meat purveyor called Prather Ranch ( which is Certified Humane by the much-needed and pioneering group, Humane Farm Animal Care ( Prather insures that all of the animals they sell are not only raised and fed humanely but are humanely ‘processed’ (as they say in the industry) as well. Prather sells (for $4/lb) ground up odd cuts of beef that are not for human consumption, but that make great pet food. I serve some to Lucy every evening with her old kibble, in hopes of all together once I get organized and start steaming brown rice. I know there’s debate on whether or not raw foods are the best option for your pet. And I’m not someone who believes in pampering pets with extravagant foods. However, it just seems natural to feed a dog a bit of raw meat with some good complex carbohydrates.

Vegetables: I had no idea my dog even liked them until, as an experiment, I started feeding her the discarded stems of my spring asparagus. She loved them. She eats grass in the park so it only makes sense that she’d like veggies. Another hint that she would have liked vegetables is that she often raids the compost bin. I know ‘yuck’ but she’s an animal after all, and clearly an omnivore.

If anyone out there has thoughts on how to feed pets in accordance with goals of sustainability and the humane treatment of all animals, I’d love to hear from you.