So before I begin, lest you think me crude – I’m speaking literally, about the latest dog food recalls. The recalls are due to salmonella, spread via… feces.
Why is this important?
I’ve always been serious about dog food, but I got really serious about it after 2009 when the big recall hit: hundreds of dogs dead, all due to a large contract manufacturer (more on that later) using an adulterated ingredient. Melamine was intentionally added by Chinese suppliers of wheat gluten – this inexpensive but deadly additive fools tests for protein content and makes cheap ingredients look to be of higher quality. It also kills pets. Thousands of pets were sickened, hundreds are believed to have died.
Now we’re here all over again, with a pet food recall that started small and has grown rapidly, and we’re seeing some of the same problems play out as they did before. The food manufacturers quietly dump their press releases on Friday night, when they’ll attract less notice, after denying that their products are involved.
As with before, this recall involves a contract manufacturer: Diamond Foods. Contract manufacturers are another dirty little secret of the pet food industry; many of the brands that we all think of as major are not produced by the companies that sell them, rather they are contracted out to another manufacturer. This of course is hidden from the consumer. Contract manufacturers frequently use ingredients and equipment that are common to many different product lines, so a simple problem can become very widespread very quickly, to many different brands – such as the adulteration of their product with, frankly, raw shit. That’s how one spreads salmonella, the subject of the current recall.
For the last four days or so I’ve been feeling terrible. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that I’ve needed to be close to a restroom. I considered a few options including the flu based on what I’ve been exposed to, but then this morning I got the ever-expanding list of brands of the current recall of dry dog foods. I stock three different brands of dry dog food for my 5 dogs, brands chosen carefully based on their ingredients, their reputation, and their honesty. I really got serious about research after the 2009 disaster and tried my best to find foods that are a good value by honest companies. 2 of the three types I feed are on the recall list, one is not but dry foods by the same manufacturer are – and each company has not behaved ethically in the slightest despite knowing for nearly a month now that their food was potentially affected. In doing so, they have risked both my health and the health of my pets.
I’m done with dog food.
Dog food companies have spent a fortune, much of it on “vet education”, convincing the public that feeding a dog is rocket science, that only they can be trusted to deliver the precise formulation that will keep your dog in perfect health. Hogwash. Kibble was invented in the mid-1800s and popularized in the convenience-mad consumer culture of post WWII America; prior to that domestic dogs ate human food (and mostly human scraps) for tens of thousands of years. The modern incarnation of kibble is mostly a profit system for food megabrands: large food conglomerates like Nestle and Mars use dog food as a profitable disposal system for food scraps they cannot sell, frequently for legal reasons, to human beings.
When my last hospice dog, Macho, was dying I turned to homemade food out of desperation. He would no longer eat any wet or dry food I could find, so I cooked for him, and discovered to my surprise that it wasn’t that difficult or that expensive. I would make my meat mix once per week – a trip to the grocery store and I’d cook up a week’s worth of protein. Daily I would set my rice cooker as I left the house to walk dogs with rice and vegetables and when I got back I would let the hot rice warm the meat mix from the refrigerator and throw in some supplements and a vitamin tablet. He never once refused it and I had the comfort of knowing where each and every ingredient came from.
Sure, I’d love to feed my dogs raw – but where I live, that’s highly impractical. I’m in the South Bronx, it’s not like there’s a farm on the corner and a local butcher serving up organic pasture-raised local meat at any sort of reasonable price. I can guarantee you, however, that anything I source from the local grocery store will be a damn sight better than what is legally allowed to go into your average bag of kibble and be described as, say, “chicken”. It will be prepared in my own kitchen to my own standards (and by cooking everything I can make sure that pathogens are killed) with the same tools and utensils I use for my own food. I will be able to vary the diets quickly and easily with what’s available, what’s fresh, what they like, what they’re allergic to, and what’s good. I don’t think it will be all that much more expensive, either – and I won’t have to load it up with preservatives.
And you know, I’d have a very hard time being any worse at it than the companies that claim to specialize in it. My cooking hasn’t killed anyone yet. I plan to keep it that way.