One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.Virginia Woolf
As I write this story, I am supervising the renovation of my new-to-me 1965 Shasta Camper, Birdie. My daughter, Emma, is headed off to college this fall, and I am going all-in on a dream I’ve been cultivating since she started middle school: to be a digital nomad and travel full time while I work. The camper is only 60 square feet. Talk about downsizing!
Konverts have nothing on me. Everything that makes it into those 60 square feet is either a necessity or something that brings me joy – and that includes Olive the Pug. I am Olive’s 3rd favorite human. First is Emma. Next is whoever is in the room with her. And then me.
Fortunately, with a dog, that really doesn’t matter because when it’s just the two of us, she loves me more than you can wrap your head around. And so, to deal with the separation anxiety from Emma going off to college, Olive and I will be heading out for a year of travel.
I’ve been nervous about feeding her while we travel. She has some scarcity issues and requires food to be in her bowl all the time whether she’s hungry or not. She will literally bring her bowl to you if it’s empty. She is also a bit picky. While she’s happy to eat cat poop and has been known to enjoy a locust or even a bit of concrete from the porch, she 100% will not eat in a moving car. Dry dog food also takes up a lot of space. Space that could be used for a book I can’t live without or one of my 25 natural beauty products. And the Fresh Pet that I started spoiling her with a few years ago would also be taking up valuable refrigerator space – in my very tiny refrigerator.
Turns out none of this matters because I recently learned that Olive can, for the most part, eat the same food that I do, or at least that I should.
There is evidence that refined sugars found in processed dog foods contribute to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Likewise, the omega-3 fats from natural sources, such as certain fish and fish oils, significantly decrease inflammation in dogs’, just as they do for humans. And that’s not all – you know those superfoods we are always hearing about, such as Blueberries, Carrots, Kale, Quinoa, Coconut Oil, Sweet Potatoes, and Seaweed? All of those will be good for Olive too. As an added bonus, pumpkin and yogurt are also really good for our pets!
Maybe you are like me and have heard your whole life that giving dogs table scraps is really bad for them. Yet according to Dr. Jessica Fusch, the founder of Key Vet and Farmer’s Market Fido, the opposite is true.
Maybe you are like me and have only bought natural dog food for the past very many years. The truth is natural pet food is not always what it says it is. This is one place where pet food and human food is very different. There’s a law that allows pet food companies to take their own time to change their labels, unlike human food. There are also loopholes that allow them to say their product is Made in the US, even if all of it isn’t.
In 2015, the FTC filed a complaint saying that Mars Petcare falsely advertised that one of their products could extend your dog’s life by 30% based on a 10-year study – of which they had no proof of ever conducting. A final judgment was put in by the FTC over a year later, and Mars Petcare was punished by being told not to do this anymore.
It’s even more complicated than that. In 2018, according to topdogtips, a website on a mission to provide dog parents with accurate and in-depth information on any canine related subject that is based on evidence, testing, and years of experience, the top three major pet food brands brought in a stunning $31B in combined annual revenue. This includes Mars Petcare, Nestlé, and Big Heart Pet Brands – so basically almost every pet food company you’ve ever heard of (Pedigree, Whiskas, Royal Canin, Alpo, Purina, Fancy Feast, Beneful, Meow Mix, Kibbles n Bits, Milk Bones, 9 Lives, and many more).
I haven’t done the research, but it seems there are less independent pet food companies than there are independent craft breweries left.
Overall, the pet food industry isn’t winning any Best in Show awards any time soon. There are numerous sites that report unfair treatment of employees at health food plants and large settlements paid out. It’s commonly known that pet food routinely includes meat that has been determined not fit for human consumption. Clearly, the shipping of pet food contributes to our Fossil Fuel problem.
These are all the reasons Dr. Fusch encourages her clients to feed their pets using local ingredients from their Farmer’s Market.
Last year, she started a YouTube channel where she teaches viewers how to make their own dog food. Videos include topics like cancer-fighting food, macros for dogs, and even crock-pot recipes. She chose the name because everything you need to create a fresh, healthy diet for your dog can be found at your local farmer’s market.
In her role as the founder of Key Vet, Dr. Jess, as we call her in our house, is a come-to-your-house veterinarian. It’s amazing that she does office visits to your house – animals are so much more comfortable when they are in their own space! And it’s even more special and important that she practices alternative therapies like acupuncture with your pets and that she provides end-of-life ceremonies at your home. It’s whole pet care for your dogs and cats. So it seems only a natural transition that she would also start teaching us how to make fresh, healthy pet food.
It’s much larger than a natural extension of Key Vet, though.
Dr. Jess sees the move to feeding our pets more consciously and sustainably as a vital part of the shift needed to create a more sustainable culture for all of us.
She’s actively working to shift the culture from pill for an ill to preventative behaviors that create overall wellness.
From the strictly sustainability angle, Dr. Jess explained to me that one of the big changes that can happen from feeding our dogs fresh food is less food waste overall. “Although not everything we throw away could be given to our dogs, a lot of it could. For example, dogs need more calcium than humans. One of the ways they can get calcium is from raw bones that we take out of chicken before it’s cooked. Another way is from grinding eggshells in a coffee grinder and making a powder. Dogs also need Vitamin D, but they don’t make it themselves as we do. Vitamin D is found in the organs, which are routinely discarded.
The culture shift branches out from there. Millennials are choosing to have more pets than kids. Dr. Jess encourages her pet parents to choose fresh food and then to talk about it with their friends because it could be way less controversial than talking about climate change or factory farming. She says eventually this will make it easier to talk about those things as well. And she talks to all of her clients about it. Although some don’t buy-in, many do. I can tell you from experience that it’s hard not to just believe everything she says. She’s incredibly smart and kind and her love of our pets is so clear from the moment you see her with them. I asked her what she thinks it’s going to take to really shift the culture.
Nutrition affects energy too. And energy affects happiness. And happiness affects health. When we are happy and healthy, we have good energy. When we have good energy, we want to be more conscious. When we live more consciously, we have more capacity to care and experience empathy. When we care about others and feel empathy, we are healthy and happier. This is true for us and for our pets. It’s the Circle of Life our movement is missing.
Here’s what that looks like in practice. As I’ve written about many times, I’ve suffered from disordered eating for the past 20+ years. In 2008 things got so upside down when it came to food that I stopped cooking altogether. I literally exist on whatever Emma cooks, organic chicken tenders, and grilled cheese – or takeout. But, as I listened to Dr. Jess talk about feeding Olive the same food that I eat, I thought to myself, “I would never feed Olive most of the food I eat. It’s gross.” What a lightbulb moment that was. Now I’ve replaced my anxieties over feeding Olive while traveling with thinking of meals we might both eat – that don’t have to be cooked.
Dr. Jess told me that she will know she was successful if “only 100 people start feeding their dogs’ fresh food,” but that she one day hopes to have a dog food cooking show on a major network because then she will know that her message has reached the masses and real change is happening.