“More and more dog owners are beginning to cook for their dogs, not only as a special treat, but also for everyday meals. It is a healthier, safer alternative to store-bought dog food.”
Promotional blurb for The Culinary Canine: Great Chefs Cook for Their Dogs – And So Can You!
I must travel in the wrong circles, because I haven’t met anyone who prepares homemade meals for their dog, let alone gourmet dishes dreamed up by celebrity chefs. Honestly, I have a hard enough time cooking creatively for my family; cooking special meals for my dog had never crossed my mind, until I read about Kathryn Levy Feldman, a co-author of The Culinary Canine, in a recent issue of my college alumni magazine.
I know better than to compare my own humble accomplishments to those of fellow alumni who have taken the motto “Princeton in the nation’s service” to heart, classmates like Eric Schlosser ’81 whose 2002 bestseller Fast Food Nation opened our eyes to the health risks and environmental ills of our industrialized food system. A decade later, here comes Ms. Feldman ’78 to persuade us that our dogs deserve better than the same dull, and potentially harmful, diet of kibble, day in and day out. Animal liberationist Peter Singer, a Princeton professor of bioethics, might well agree that speciesism abounds in the poor food choices we make for our dogs.
The Culinary Canine offers savory recipes such as brown rice arancini with sweet potato and ground chicken to delight a dog’s palate. My human family would be gobsmacked if I managed to produce such a labor-intensive dish for them, even on a special occasion, and I’m pretty sure my dog, Eddie, would prefer that I spend my free time outside playing with him rather than in the kitchen. (Okay, maybe I’m projecting.)
Ms. Feldman and her co-author, Sabina Louise Pierce, began to solicit recipes for The Culinary Canine from dog-loving chefs across the country following a major pet food recall in 2007. The Diamond Pet Foods recall this spring has renewed concerns over contaminants in the highly processed diet our canine companions have consumed since manufactured dog food replaced table scraps in the mid-20th century. Some purists would have us turn the dietary clock back even further, to before dogs were domesticated; the New York Times reports that the raw foods movement is gaining traction among health-conscious pet owners, with sales of commercially prepared raw foods topping $100 million in 2011. Maybe a new Culinary Canine brand of microwavable gourmet dog food is in the works to bite off a chunk of the $19 billion pet food industry? I’d be happy to volunteer Eddie as a taste tester.
For those of us who try to follow author Michael Pollan’s food rules (“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”), the Omnivore’s Dilemma now extends to what our dogs should eat for dinner, too. A stroll through the dog food aisles at PetSmart reveals an astonishing proliferation of “natural” brands, each more wholesome than the next – or at least packaged and labeled to make us think so. But, inevitably, questions about truth-in-labeling and sustainability arise. A few choice examples:
• Blue brand Wilderness kibble promotes itself as a “Natural Evolutionary Diet with LifeSource Bits.” Will my timid cockapoo evolve into the dashing blue-eyed husky pictured on the package after ingesting these mysterious LifeSource Bits on a daily basis?
• Innova says it contains “high-quality proteins” and “farm-fresh fruits and vegetables like apples and carrots.” Was this unspecified animal protein raised on a factory farm? Is the produce conventionally grown and harvested with migrant labor?
• Eukanuba’s Naturally Wild has a kibble flavor made from “New Zealand venison and potatoes.” How sustainable is it for American dogs to be eating a product with ingredients sourced from the other side of the planet? Will the gamey taste of venison arouse Eddie’s inner wolf?
• Pet Botanics is a “gourmet” kibble made with “real salmon” rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Is the salmon wild, or the genetically engineered, farm-raised variety?
• Nutro Ultra canned food bills itself as a “holistic superfood” – whatever the heck that means! Are the cans are lined with BPA, a known endocrine disruptor?
• Blue also makes a line of canned dog food based on “family favorite recipes” like “Sunday Chicken Dinner,” “Mom’s Chicken Pie,” and “Backyard BBQ.” I guess there is a market for a Culinary Canine brand of commercially-produced gourmet dinners, after all.
A vegetarian myself, I didn’t want to foist a meatless diet on my dog, but I’ve still tried to honor my food principles by feeding Eddie a brand called Organix (by Castor & Pollux) whose #1 ingredient is certified organic free-range chicken. Organix proclaims it is “produced without chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, artificial preservatives, added growth hormones or antibiotics” and “contains no corn, wheat, or soy.” Available at Whole Foods, it’s “made with love in the USA.”
After hearing about The Culinary Canine, though, I’m wondering if I should just set another place at the table for Eddie. After all, my uninspired cooking hasn’t poisoned anyone yet. Now, if I could just convince him to quit snacking on mulch and rabbit droppings….
Animal nutrition expert Lew Olson, author of Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs, summarizes the development of commercial dog food and the ongoing regulatory and scientific debate over canine nutritional standards in this brief article.