I’m not a pet owner; I shrink instinctively from such responsibility. But, these days, I am tending a friend’s cats while he’s abroad (and perfect angels they are, too). And that has led me to contemplate cat food more than I have before.
Cats and humans are different species, and have different diets. Homo sapiens is a great ape, and, like the other apes, an omnivore. We aren’t picky. Nevertheless, the natural diet of cats tends to entrées not popular with the American consumer: rats, mice, small birds, insects, their own dead offspring, and other cats’ vomit.
Of course, some of these items are standard fare to other cultures. (The subject of cultural food taboos is a rich one; I recommend Harriet Ritvo’s fascinating study of animal classification, The Platypus and the Mermaid.) Americans’ taste in meats is mostly restricted to domestic ungulates, some poultry, and a changing roster of fish, crustaceans, and molluscs. Rodents and insects, to be acceptable, must be blended into sausage filling, or masked by the brown and oily paste of chocolate or peanut butter.
Still, I’m struck by the fact that commercial cat food features little of the natural, locavore feline diet, and specializes in foods cats would not usually eat, like cattle and tuna. I understand that it’s the homo sapiens that do the shopping, and that they wouldn’t buy “Roach ‘n’ Robin Feast,” “Rat Grill,” “Household Pest,” “Puke of the Litter,” or “Stillborn Kitten.” Even tie-ins to popular cartoon characters like Tweety Pie or Mickey Mouse would probably do poorly.
And so a compromise is struck. The American shopper feeds his cat only those foods palatable to both of them. Perhaps this is because he eats much of it himself — which would explain why manufacturers add poultry seasoning to the turkey.
I’m a vegetarian, myself; but see no reason to impose my own preferences on anyone else — even when lectured at by intolerant burger buffs. I certainly wouldn’t dream of forcing my own diet on another species. But then, that’s why I’m up here in the ullage, finding fresh air where I can.
Has anyone seriously pursued the “cats and rats” idea? In this model business, cats are butchered and fed to rats; rats are butchered and fed to cats; and the pelts are sold to discriminating furriers: clear profit with little overhead. If this appeals to any of you entrepreneurs in this troubled economy, let me suggest that some rat parts could be set aside to test the market for locavore cat food. I offer the brand name “Scaly Tales.” Poultry seasoning and an attractive label might make it viable.
(Posted by Doug Skinner)