Even when I was a carnivore—which was a choice, not a condition—I couldn’t stand raw meat. Raw meat has a stink, and a neon pink-red color straight out of an acid nightmare. And though the supermarket meat section is principally stocked with muscle meat, it all looks to me like organs—human organs—brains and kidneys and livers all covered in sheets of plastic and put under lights. (Two pounds of ground beef shaped just right can look like the lobes of a human brain.)
A trip to the meat section always seemed like a trip to the morgue to me.
And of course it is. It’s the refrigerated graveyard for chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs, lambs, fish, and other animals—and sometimes they leave the heads on the fish, so we can all take in the bug-eyed stare of a dead creature.
When I became a vegetarian and later a vegan I was happy to skip the meat section. The more time I was off meat the less time I could take being around it. When I would set foot in a supermarket I could easily sniff out the meat section and head in the opposite direction. Had I the choice, I would have traded those germaphobic hand wipes that they hand out at the front doors of supermarkets for a couple of barf bags, in case I had to scrape by the meat section.
I have four cats, and while it’s possible to “convert” dogs to veganism, it’s difficult if not impossible to do so with cats. Humans and dogs are omnivores. Cats are strict (“obligate”) carnivores. Though there are a scattering of people out there pushing products who claim that it’s safe and healthy turn them into vegans, I am skeptical that this is effective in practice. To say nothing about forcing a diet on an animal that is contrary to its nature.
So I have always fed them meat. Out of cans. Commercial canned food. (Dry kibble is all kinds of bad in my opinion, but I don’t have time to go into that here.)
I bought the canned food at pet stores. No meat section to circumvent.
Recently one of my cats developed a persistent health issue and veterinarian visits and antibiotics were not helping. I consulted with a homeopathic professional and she pointed to diet as the first and most important issue to address.
Her primary advice was to wean them off the commercial stuff and feed them raw or at least cook it myself.
She told me something that I had already suspected: commercial food, even the high-end/organic/grain free/“free range” (a bullshit term) stuff, is junk.
Most of the meat used in commercial pet foods is the slaughterhouse dregs—you will often read on the label in small print “not fit for human consumption.” This substandard gruel is then cooked to death to squeeze out whatever few nutrients were in it in the first place. Junk.
Cats (and dogs, for that matter) are dependent on us for their survival, since hunting for food has largely been bred out of them. That’s our fault, they had no choice in the matter. We snatched them from the wild and brought them into our homes to become our little friends. While it’s a long way from squaring things up with them, I figure the least I can do is not feed my cats the equivalent of McDonald’s every day.
So in the last month I’ve found myself trolling the meat section in the supermarkets. In fact, I’m a regular there now. I’m holding my breath against the stench and poking around all these pink cellophane-wrapped slabs of once-living things. I’m talking shop with butchers, and my desert island list of People I Do Not Want to Be Stranded With would place them just below hunters and slaughterhouse owners.
Slabs of meat jumbled in rows under bright lights—this presentation makes me feel like I’m scoping the wares at some porn newsstand (sexual meat). I look around to make sure no one I know sees me.
When I get home I have to prepare the meat. I add water to it and a small amount of organic vegetables, cook it in some cases (a couple of my cats are more likely to eat it if it’s cooked ), and then mix in a few supplements.
I puree the meat in the food processor and it’s messy. It splashes, spurts, and spatters, it dribbles thickly like pink-colored snot and sticks to counters, cupboards, my fingers, the ceiling, and hours later I’ll inevitably find some globule of raw meat hanging off me like alien larva.
I wash my hands every time I touch the meat—so many times that I often scrub them raw—and the stink has me gasping like I’m wading through a gas attack. I feel like I’m rooting around in radioactive Play-Doh.
In the beginning there was also a nagging fear. I was afraid that cooking the meat—the smell of it—would somehow awaken old carnivore “instincts” and perhaps transform me into a drooling, gibbering, meat-crazed Neanderthal. Is eating meat like an addiction that I could easily slip back into? I suspect that meat eaters think that this is exactly what would happen to a vegetarian or a vegan in a weak moment.
Nope. More like, I felt like I have made my kitchen into a slaughterhouse.
I realized that using commercial canned pet food all these years was yet another way to remove myself from the animal doomsday machine that is the meat industry. Another way to disconnect my appetite—or in this case, the animal’s appetite needs that I’m taking care of—from the pain and suffering of the dead animal on the plate.
Or in the can. The meat in canned pet food is cold, it’s cooked, it’s processed—so it looks, smells, and feels less like what it really is—dead animals. (The meat in dry kibble of course is also dead animals, and even more disconnected from reality, since it’s molded into shapes that look like children’s cereal niblets.)
That cooked pet food in the can is a neat round shape but it’s just as ugly as the raw pink stuff: the main ingredient for some commercially processed canned chicken food for dogs, for example, is baby chicks tossed into a meat grinder. They’re alive when they’re thrown in.
After only a few days on the fresh meat—mostly raw, some of it cooked—my sick cat’s health improved (though his condition hasn’t disappeared completely). It wasn’t a slight improvement, either. It was dramatic—he went from a low-energy sulker to a bouncing-off-the-walls cat more typical of his young age, and his coat became softer and shone like peacock feathers. I’ve since transitioned all of my cats off of commercial food for the most part, and they all look better.
But every time I go to work in the kitchen, mucking around in that repulsive pink slurry, I think of living, breathing, feeling, suffering animals. This is precisely how my brain is wired now: show me a piece of pork and I think of Babe. Getting shot with a nail gun.
I became a vegetarian because I woke up. I became aware that I was living a paradox: the animal lover who eats animals. I could not live with this anymore and I needed to change. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made about anything.
But now I’m living the twistier paradox of the animal lover who serves up dead animals to his cats that need the dead animals to survive.
I love my cats and I would do anything for them.
I love all animals and they deserve to be spared the brutalization, torture, and murder that lands them in neatly-stacked cans on the shelves. Or being hacked into pieces and displayed as pink porn in the butcher section.
All animals deserve to be spared these fates.
Except, apparently, the animals that are murdered to feed my cats.
Dealing with raw meat every day has allowed me to see the truth. The truth is an ungodly pink color, and it has a stench.
I’m not vegan but try and eat as organic as possible. This includes poultry and fish. Although even that has become more tempered, I still like these foods. So I’m not as much of a purist in my diet. Now I’m also a huge cat lover and found the idea of animals eating animals that are the dregs interesting. Cats do like meat, but I buy the “good stuff” Now I’m going to read the labels more carefully. Yes it’s a conundrum, I find so much of life is. I’m not one to cook for my animals, mostly because of time. But I will see if I can suss out the best product possible. And I do a little kibble, well my kitties do. No? I thought it was good for the teeth? Damn I hate to be made to think!!!!
Hi Diane :). Thanks for reading and the comments. “Organic” just means the meat isn’t laced with pesticides. In pet food, you can have “organic” meat that is still bottom-of-the-barrel in quality. And the dry is pretty bad, it’s usually loaded with fillers–even if it doesn’t have grains, which is very bad for cats–and the idea that dry is good for animals’ teeth is a myth. It’s definitely a step below wet food, which is a huge step below fresh. I know, I like to write about sticky subjects a lot, I can’t help it. This all bothers me too.
I’m starting to see a trend happening, where there’s really been an improvement for cats and dogs to eat fresh made food at home, whether cats for cats or dogs. it’s a very scary picture to see when we can’t trust store bought products though.
On a side note, I fed my aquarium fish fresh peeled green peas and they lasted three years than they were expected 🙂
Hi Andy, thanks for reading and the comments. Yes, frankly most processed food–whether for humans or animals–is not very good for either species, and of course the corporations selling the products aren’t falling over themselves to inform us of that. What, were they frozen peas? The beauty of refrigeration…
Yep! frozen peas, thawed off with a little bit of aquarium water which i chop up to pieces and fishes love it! plus, it’s got a bit of water cleaning effect too 🙂
Hmmm. Interesting article
It’s a paradox. I try not to dwell on it. You are correct, as I too understand a cat’s nutritional requirement. It causes me angst. I thought about picking up fresh road kill, but that’s no solution, there’s just not enough road kill. My cats would starve and I’d get sick. I thought not to have cats and that was fine until I rescued two. And when I say rescue, I mean being at the right place at the right time to save their lives, not a happy visit in search of a companion at the local animal shelter—which is an admirable thing too. So then, I’ve done a good deed in saving the lives of two cats. But now the critters have to eat. And they have to eat what I’m opposed to eating. Damn, I’m getting angst again.
Hi Peter, thanks for reading and the comments. Yeah, I have angst too, though I didn’t write this to beat you up or beat me up either. Certainly you do wonderful things for animals and I try to as well, and if there’s a big ledger in the sky I think we’re in the black rather than the red. As with you, all my cats are rescued and had I not intervened would have lived out their lives in misery or literal death in a kill shelter. I just wanted to write about what I think is the elephant in the room for vegans, and more than anything to point out that the canned food itself seems to be another tool to disconnect us from what’s going on–it disconnected me somewhat, that’s for sure. Being disconnected is what paves the way for animal abuse and murder in the first place, so I was just trying to shine my little light on it a bit.
Hi Michael, I never took this as you beating me up. Sorry for the misunderstanding. And you’re absolutely right this is an enormous elephant in the vegan living room, I’ve danced around it many a time. Funny you should say elephant though. 🙂 Peace to you and the gatos.
I buy my cats raw meat once in while, cause it is better for them. I also have trouble in the meat section cause of the smell of raw meat, the nauseating smell of death. But I approach the whole aspect of it very practical. Cats need to eat meat, their bodies need it. Humans don’t, there is no reason for us to eat it. If stores had only the meat we would feed our cats, the world would still be vastly improved on every level that the meat industry causes havoc: Land, water, starvation, Global warming and of course less tortured and killed animals. As it is a problem way bigger than my own disgust when I cut and serve it to my felines, I get over it very quickly by detaching myself. Probably similar to how meat eaters detach themselves all the time from what they are eating. Again the difference is, that People don’t need to eat it, but cats do.
I agree with all your points and of course it’s supremely significant that humans have a choice in what they eat, cats don’t. But your comment that you detach yourself is exactly what I’m after here and what I wanted to bring in the open; and for exactly the reason you stated: because it’s the same as “how meat eaters detach themselves all the time from what they are eating.” Detachment is the enemy of compassion. I have no solution here, I just wanted to bring it out in the open for myself if for no one else.
what a conundrum. Which seemed to be a no-brainer for you. I think pets are happy with the trade, and probably participated in the handshake to make the deal thousands of years ago. Man is pretty domesticated, too–live in houses, shop in stores, wear clothes. We also seem OK with it.
Some days, I’d love to move to a mountaintop…
I don’t know, I detect a touch of snarkiness. I don’t pretend to live on a mountaintop and have no desire to live up there either. This is a thing that bothered me–and the distance we have from our food is an important topic–certainly for vegans. I’m just exploring a different angle on it I think. So I wanted to write about it. I don’t know about the “handshake deal”, more like a deal made under the threat of the whip. That’s another topic, and I can certainly see the argument that companion animals have it pretty good in many cases, but you also have to consider this ridiculous overpopulation boom that condemns millions of unwanted cats and dogs to death every year. They don’t have it so good. I’d argue the human domestication as well… your comments are always appreciated 🙂
I am very happy that my cat eats dry cat biscuits most of the time (is that what you call kibble?). He had kidney stones so I have to buy him expensive special ones that help prevent the stones. I would hate to have to do what you are now doing, but hats off to you and I would do it too as I love my cat! PS I am vegan as well.
Yeah… I think that is what I mean by the kibble. A lot of cats do okay on it, but dry kibble is typically not the healthiest of foods, and my cats had some serious urinary tract issues until I took them off of it years ago. Thanks for reading and the comments, it’s great that you’re vegan as well.
powerful and thought provoking words, michael. it is a very challenging balancing act to say the least, a catch 22, trying to be mindful of animals, while trying to keep one healthy. thank you for this thoughtful post – beth
Thank you Beth 🙂
I understand the dilemma. I am vegan but frequented the meat counter regularly to get ‘good’ meat for my dog. I loved doing it because I loved her, and that was what she needed. It didn’t hurt me much preparing the meat, the smell of it, etc. I used to eat meat years ago, and even ate raw meat sometimes as a child….But I thought, “I don’t support the commercial meat industry, and never would…. but -hey, yes I do, because I needed to get good food for my dog!
I guess the only possible way around that is to source the meat from ethical farmers not factory farms, for a start. (Even then -there’s murder involved) but if a source can be found where the animal has lived a good life, grass fed, treated well, slaughtered quickly and humanely…(?) Expensive meat, but about the only way I can think of to reconcile oneself to this awful fact that cats are definite carnivores.
(Cats, by the way are the worst murderers if hunting for themselves. They rarely kill outright. A bird/mouse etc suffers worse than if a fox had caught it.)
I didn’t want to give my dog vegan/veggie food as my first 3-day experiment ended up with her getting a very upset belly, and she was happy on meat/fish.
A strange dilemma for a vegan, I know….
Thanks for your reading and comments and sharing your experience. Yeah, I don’t know what the solution is. Some people have been telling me that the vegan food works, but I look at the ingredients and it’s all grains, which is absolutely some of the worst food to give a cat. Cats’ hunting instincts are definitely peculiar and not pretty by normal standards, but a lot easier to stomach than the wanton murder occurring daily by the millions in slaughterhouses. Yeah, I would think vegan diets would even be kind of tricky with dogs, who are technically I guess omnivores… probably have to go real slow or bring them up as pups that way. Thanks for reading. 🙂
Sounds like a definite conundrum! I admire your willingness to not let yourself off the hook and allowing yourself to feel your conflict rather than shutting down to it. It doesn’t seem really that there is an alternative to the choice you made. You bring up some really thought provoking points that don’t normally get openly discussed so thank you.
Thank you, Diahann 🙂
Ugh. Even feeding our loved animal companions is getting more challenging. If I’m being careful about what I’m ingesting, I choose to do the same for my dogs. So the question that begs for me, Michael, is who/where are the most authoritative and credible sources for nutritious dog and cat food. There seems to be a plethora of views ‘out there.’ Any insights or recommended ‘go to’ experts?
Thanks for the informative and engaging article.
Thanks for reading and the comment. This link has quite a bit of information on companion animal diets. http://www.vegepets.info. I just found it myself, and I’m going to read up on what he says about cat vegetarian diets. There is a great section that tells you exactly what is in the meat of the processed pet food you buy at the store (under the “diets” dropdown menu)–it’s disturbing but everyone who has a companion animal should know what they’re feeding them.
What jumped out at me from the post was this line, ” But now I’m living the twistier paradox of the animal lover who serves up dead animals to his cats that need the dead animals to survive.”
Clearly, the choice of becoming a veggie emanates from one’s acquired perceptions. While this might sound harsh, such a choice remains principally against nature. As we see around us, we realise that for life to perpetuate and sustain, food chains need to be complete, And each species, including us Homo Sapiens, have a place in that. Based on where we are, we are meant to eat certain kinds of food. Do you see this is the reason why you are being forced to scour around and serve animals to your cat?
Humans are omnivores. Period. It is certainly not “against nature” to eat plants instead of animals. Recent studies have shown that even the idea that paleolithic man as principally a carnivore is false. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00114-012-0942-0. There are theories now that ancient man was actually more of a vegetarian until plant food he could eat became scarce in certain periods–so then he hunted animals. If you are aware of what goes on in industrialized slaughter, and I don’t think you are, then you can hardly call the system we have now “natural.” I do not even understand your last argument. Cats are principally carnivores, it is in their nature, but humans choose to eat meat for luxury, not necessity. There is nothing natural about cows, chickens, pigs, etc. being overbred, pumped up with hormones to make them grow faster, antibiotics to combat the diseases and the effects of this growth manipulation, then trauamatized and tortured before they are slaughtered on an assembly line… this is not any semblance of a natural “food chain”.
EXCELLENT piece Michael. It raises the conflict that us vegans looking after cats face every day. I totally agree that it is a cop-out to buy the canned stuff full of preservatives – but resembling pink mousse.
Recently I too made the decision that I had to be honest enough to cook for our feline residents. I only buy certain fresh fish and free range chicken again deluding myself that this is preferable to battery farmed animals. My darling cats do, though, appreciate this chicken or fish menu and are so much healthier and hopefully will live longer.
Thank you, Emy. 🙂
I too hate the smell of raw meat and have the vegetarian-cat-owner dilemma. We named our first cat Murphy after the Law of that name because he’d chosen probably the only vegetarian household within 30 square miles. We didn’t even have any milk or cream to offer the poor mite.
Thanks for sharing a wonderful essay.