The first time I saw the film Grey Gardens I made certain promises to myself, such as: I will never wear pantyhose on my head, or attempt a sexy flag dance. Or eat my pet’s food.
And yet, here I am.
I was a goner not long after Hanna Mandelbaum of Evermore Pet Food brought me a pint and a half of her organic pet chow. For more than two years, she and her partner Alison Wiener, both of Brooklyn, have been making all-natural, unprocessed food for the enjoyment of dogs and cats. To prove the point that our animal BFFs should be getting the same whole foods and good nutrition as us, Mandelbaum and Wiener give out ice cream-taster spoons to encourage human sampling of their products: beef and chicken meat and offal mashes—roughly the consistency of pate—combined with a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds, oats and oils.
The resulting concoction is packed with more nutrition than is in most human meals. This was perhaps part of their decision to spend the whole month of March eating nothing but their products. One meal a day was straight-from-the-container pet food, sometimes with condiments. For their other meals, they ate only things that could made with the ingredients in the food. During that time they even catered a party with meatballs and a parsley chimichurri, all made with Evermore ingredients.
The verdict? “It was great!” says Mandelbaum. “We felt healthy, we lost weight. We had a lot of energy.”
Pet food of any kind is really only a human conceit—live with a dog and you soon see that they don’t make the kind of distinctions that we do when it comes to who should eat what. According to my dog, pizza crust is a dog food and human consumption of such a thing would make you a selfish whore.
The fact that we have similar dietary interests and needs as our pets is fundamental to the evolution of dogs from wolves. The process of domestication that began more than fifteen thousand years ago happened largely because humans became more stationary and less nomadic. With settlements came dumps, and the dumps attracted wolves; the wolves that were the least scared of approaching humans were more likely to get close to our discards. Those are the animals whose descendants would end up snuggled on our sofas.
But the relationship was mutualistic: sharing with dogs benefitted humans, since wasted food was better off eaten than left to attract less benevolent creatures—ones that couldn’t pull a sled or guard a house or pilot a World War I fighter plane.
Fast forward a few millennia and you find a time where dogs are forced to live most of their lives in world’s set up for humans, not for them. It’s a world where they need us a lot more than we need them: With thousands of generations separating them from their foraging and hunting ancestors, they look to us for food. But I have a hard enough time feeding myself—the microwave has way too many buttons—let alone figuring out what needs to go into my dog’s daily dish. That’s why I’ve often been drawn to a bag or can that offers promises made by vets and scientists who profess to know better than I.
But my dog is my best friend and I want him to live a long healthy life. At some point it occurred to me that if I could mandate the food intake and exercise regiment of the people I love most, I would. So why not exert that kind of control/love over my dog?
Wiener and Mandelbaum came to a similar conclusion. Wiener is a “health-supportive personal chef.” (“I used to live in California,” she told me.) Mandelbaum’s background is in dog walking and dog training. For Wiener the sense that something was wrong with how we feed our pets first dawned on her not long after the adoption of her dog Connor six years ago. “I’ve always been drawn to clean healthy food, so thought my dog would have the same approach to eating,” she said. She fed him the best pet food she could find, but then there was a labeling change that awakened her inner Michael Pollan. With a background in linguistics, she sensed something was up. “I remember [one dog food company] changed the language on its packaging from ‘antibiotic and hormone free meats’ to ‘no added antibiotics and hormones.’ And I thought What the hell does that mean! Who would ADD antibiotics and hormones to meats?”
When they started feeding Connor their food, myriad health problems and behavioral issues disappeared. The food is now sold online and throughout New York City and the Hudson Valley. By this summer, they’ll be available at pet stores on the East Coast from New Jersey to Maine.
Evermore contains Bell & Evans organic chicken and Niman Ranch grassfed beef. Using the site’s calculator, I estimate it’d cost me about $2 a day to feed Amos on the stuff. If only I could afford to feed myself such a nutritionally balanced diet at the price. Actually, I guess I could. Maybe it just needs some salt.
For those with more kitchen abilities than I, Mlles Mandelbaum and Wiener suggest the following recipe fit for the Alice Waters of dogs:
(With descriptions from Hanna and Alison)
50 to 70 percent of your dog’s meal should be ground meat, according to Evermore’s calculations. This should ideally include some organ meat. The rest can be produce. They suggest some combination of the following ingredients. Cook the starchier items first, then add the meat.
- Dark leafy greens, especially parsley or kale
Parsley not only freshens breath but has serious cancer fighting properties, a ton of vitamin C and iron. We cannot oversell the value of Kale, it is so awesome for so many reasons: antioxidants, fiber, detox, anti-inflammatory properties, Vitamin K, Vitamin A, VItamin C, heart health, cancer prevention, etc…seriously kale rules, eat it. Feed it to your dog, and please do cook it, kale is a tough green and its hard for humans and canines to get at all that nutrition unless the cellulose is broken down a bit.
- Whole grains such as oats, barley, brown rice, or quinoa
In addition to containing valuable trace minerals, kelp contains alginic acid, which binds to toxins in the body and helps flush them from the system (in the wake of the Japan nuclear crisis there has been a serious run on kelp on the west coast). It is important to buy organic kelp.
Buy organic, wash well and include the skins, because this is where the antioxidant levels are the highest. Yams are a great source of fiber (better than oatmeal if you include the skin), potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
An excellent source of Vitamin A, which promotes eye health, assists thyroid function, and strengthens the immune system, bones, and teeth.
- Salmon oil
A great source of Omega 3’s, aids in brain functioning, great for a shiny coat and had anti-inflammatory properties.
- Coconut oil
Thanks to the lauric acid in coconut oil (also found in breast milk), it has anti-microbial and antiviral properties.
- Chia seeds
They are as high in omega 3’s as flax seeds, but they don’t need to be ground for bioavailability. They are also a great source of dietary fiber.
- Apple cider vinegar
A prebiotic, excessive heat will render it useless so add after food has cooled.
- Fermented vegetables (like kimchee)
A good source of probiotics, make sure to use a mild kimchee and add it after the food has cooled.
- Vetri-science vitamins
A lot of nutrition can be found in the skins, so feel free to include them, just make sure to buy organic, and make sure not include seeds.
Featured illustration by Robert Grossman