By Sharna Johnson
Pictures of delicate and juicy chunks of meat surrounded by peas and carrots call out from the labels of the cans.
The messages they give: Nutritious and tasty, a well-balanced meal of vegetables and meats all brought together in one serving.
And the price tag is the best part — they are cheaper than most other things on the shelves — sometimes found for under a dollar.
Occasionally there is a satisfied cat or dog pictured, but many times the feast-like contents of the can are shown dished up as if for a fine dinner.
Add a language barrier, and confusion about the intended consumer is understandable.
It’s quite common to encounter stories of immigrants, who, still learning their way, have bought pet food, thinking it a very affordable type of potted meat.
The outcomes of those mistaken purchases vary, some horrified to discover they have eaten cat or dog food, while others have continued because it is affordable and, though not the tastiest, it provides much needed nutrition on a nonexistent budget.
But it’s not unique to immigrants.
In the early 1970s, a congressional nutrition study found there was a noticeable rise in the sale of canned pet food, particularly in ghettos, only there was no misunderstanding. With a rise in the cost of human food, America’s poor were eating the cheap, canned meats sold for pets to stay alive.
Though potentially stomach turning — historically fed at a lower standard than people, traditional pet foods are made up of the parts that don’t meet the threshold for human consumption — the meats in pet foods have gotten people through some rough times.
Now, however, there is a new trend afoot.
The new generation of pet food might just be better for people than people food, or so say a handful of nutritionists and pet advocates.
Throughout Europe and the U.S., people have come forward to tout the health benefits of the kibble and are so adamant in their beliefs, that they are proving it by going on animal food diets.
In 2011, a UK nutritionist ate the same thing he fed his dog for a month and at the end, claimed to feel great and have lost seven pounds.
Going the opposite direction and trying to improve quality, in 2013, a California woman launched a company bent on marketing gourmet pet foods. She still tastes and eats all the kibble she produces in her human-grade, FDA approved kitchen.
Most recently, a Washington woman vowed for 30 days, to eat only the food she sells in her pet store to prove to the world that the ingredients are healthy and natural.
The reports of elderly, poor and homeless resorting to pet food in times of need are still out there, but as the trend leans toward pet owners feeding the critters higher quality, and higher priced, chow — American pet owners dished out a whopping $21.6 billion for kibble in 2013 — that option may be diminishing.
Pet food has improved so much over the years, that some experts are agreeing — recalls and incidents of poisoning and contamination aside — the newer generation just might be healthier than what most people eat, chock full of nutrients and balanced food groups one simply won’t get at a drive-thru window.
As our pets continue to receive higher standing in society, the line between what we eat and what we feed our critters is blurring.
The good news: Not only can quality kibble go on the table in a pinch, keeping toddlers out of the dog’s dish may become a concern of the past.
Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org