In a fascinating story in the New York Times Magazine, Frederick Kaufman—he of the infamous “Debbie Does Salad” food porn story for Harper’s—takes readers into the weird and not entirely wonderful world of pet food, a $15 billion business.
Kaufman follows a University of Illinois animal scientist named George Fahey, who pioneered the study of the canine metabolism in part by surgically placing clear plastic spouts in the sides of dogs: The tubes run from the dogs’ intestinal tract to the outside, enabling Fahey to gauge what a dog is and isn’t absorbing, whether the resulting waste is likely to stain a condo’s white carpet, and if the food’s digestible enough to allow a dog to hold it for a whole late-capitalist working day.
“Our culinary ambitions for our pets have defined something of a utopian project,” Kaufman writes, “and its refinements have mirrored our own relationship with food.” That’s never been more true than now. It isn’t an accident that nutritionist Marion Nestle, author of the book What to Eat, is now working on a follow-up, What Pets Eat.
According to Nestle, pet food is developing on a similar track as human food: organic, local, luxury pet food made with human-grade ingredients that are origin-labeled or anonymous industrial byproducts that are, in Kaufman’s words, “spray-dried with minuscule beadlets of fat, protein and calibrated savor.” And if premium pet food is becoming more like premium human food, it is likely that crappy human food may, in turn, become more like pet food. Fahey is experimenting with adding corn fiber, an ethanol byproduct, to dog food, and he doubts it’ll stop there: That biomass has to go somewhere.
‘We will see corn fiber in human foods like cereals and snacks,’ Fahey told me. ‘There’s no reason that it should not be able to be used.’
Yeah, no reason.