You may have noticed that pet food is no longer just pet food. When we had our first cat 35 years ago, my mom plunked a bag of cat food into the cart at No Frills and that was that. My Dad supplemented the critter’s diet with all kinds of gross extras, like lumps of gristle. It was disgusting and Nooly just chowed it all down and lived to a healthy ripe old age. We’d find bits and pieces of mouse lying around, leading me to believe that our cat invented the sushi craze.
Now, I go into emporiums devoted to pet food, pet beds, pet toys and guilt. I spend more time peering at labels on tins of cat food than I do investigating what I feed my family. The internet is no help at all; if I listen to those crazy people, I should be spending three hours a day working on my Michelin star for our Cateteria. On the Internet, everybody is a pro. If I got itchy over people declaring themselves doctors and lawyers because of their Internet learning, I soon discovered the vast armies of homemade veterinarians out there.
I blame advertising, of course. Like many people, I’ve watched Mad Men and been made even more aware of the sinister side of selling, evil people plotting up ways to make me buy things I don’t need with money I don’t have wearing clothes I don’t like while asking myself why people wear false eyelashes.
It was bad enough when the ads were targeted to my sons. We had many, many battles over Nutella, a jar of chocolate gloop I refused to buy them. The boys dragged me to watch a commercial declaring it wholesome. For breakfast. I refused. Nutella had to pay fines over those misleading ads, but not before an entire generation was brainwashed into thinking it was the equivalent of spreading broccoli on their toast.
Advertising shows me frisky puppies and sleek cats next to labels featuring streams and vegetables. They leave out the part that animals eat animals; maybe they should show that purring calico bringing down a chicken. Most of it is so expensive, Christopher calls it câté.
We used to take Nooly to the cottage. We’d found him as a stray, and he knew his way around the outdoors. I was always terrified something would pick him off; he was nowhere close to king of the jungle up there. One time as we packed to head home, he had vanished. After a few hours of calling into the forest, my father announced we were leaving. Two girls with horror-stricken faces pressed to the back window of the station wagon wailed most of the way home. How would Nooly survive if he didn’t hear the can opener every night?
Two weeks later, we pulled into the cottage driveway, and Nooly was sitting on the back step. He looked fine. The cat and my father exchanged glances as we raced to open tins of food for our four footed Robinson Crusoe.
It’s this memory, of course, that nibbles around the edge of my brain as I scour labels for added fillers or too many carbohydrates. Venison, chicken, turkey, beef, ten kinds of fish, every kind of vegetable and I’ve yet to see the only label that would make perfect sense: mouse. They could even draw up a little label, make a cute commercial.
As I stared at the latest labels a few days ago, stressing over the fact I’d bought something with brown rice in it, I heard the kids start laughing.
The kitten had eaten a gummy bear.