Pet Food and Capitalism

So last night I was on my way home from Walmart (you know - those dreaded Saturday night Mormon runs to make sure you have milk, etc. for Sunday. We might as well make it a ward activity. Half the ward is there.) Anyways, I was on my way home, listening to talk radio, when a very interesting conversation came up. (I have tried to find the text of the conversation for you, but it seems impossible since I don't have a subscription to the site. Based on the KLIF website, it appears I was listening to "Coast to Coast AM Encore", to a rebroadcast piece from 5/20/97 by Art Bell interviewing Ann N. Martin, authority on commercial pet food production. I am going to recap the best I can.)

Ann was explaining how dead animals (road kill, dead pets, euthanized animals, livestock unfit for human consumption, etc.) are rendered to create pet food. The entire animal (minus head because it's sent to a lab to be tested for rabies) is ground up - hair, bones, everything. Then the ground up animals are boiled for about 20 minutes at a high temperature. The fat floats to the top. The rest sinks to the bottom. The stuff at the bottom is dried out into "meat meal", which is then used to make pet food. Ann was saying that she feels human food is more healthy for animals to consume than pet food, despite what veterinarians may say.

Art then said something like this, "I've heard that sometimes people who are poor, particularly the elderly, will eat pet food because they can't afford real food".

Ann laughed and said that although she had heard that, it didn't appear to be true - just more of an urban legend. For one, she said, pet food is more expensive than alternative forms of protein. When comparing a can of tuna to a can of pet food, the tuna is cheaper, so she can't imagine someone choosing the pet food. Plus, she had researched these claims thoroughly and had never found anyone who had eaten pet food because they were too poor to afford real food.

Art replied like this, "Well, that's because you live in socialist Canada where they take care of their own. Here in America, our capitalism allows people to slip through the cracks, so believe me, people are eating pet food. I know".

Can someone please explain his logic to me because I am just not getting it. If people are "slipping through the cracks", that means that the government is not providing food for them. That leaves them with a few options:

  1. Go to a charity. What charities are giving out pet food to hungry people?
  2. Purchase your own food. As Ann pointed out, pet food is more expensive than people food. Since capitalism assumes people make rational choices in their best interest, what rational person would choose to purchase the more expensive pet food to eat if they are basing their purchase on cost?
  3. Steal. But again, if someone is stealing food, what rational person is going to choose to steal pet food rather than people food?

(Plus, there's the fact that he acknowledged she was a world-wide expert in commercial pet food and believed everything she said applied to the U.S. except this one little thing. I think that if you are going to discredit some aspect of someone's research based on the fact that they are "only in Canada", then you would need to discredit all of it.)

So, I am really not getting it. My take is that this was a very ignorant stab at capitalism. Am I missing something?


Grégoire said...

Minor point: If Art Bell thinks that the standard of living in Canada is in any way higher than in the U.S., he's dreaming.

Just comparing the living one can make in British Columbia versus the American State of Washington, the difference is night and day, with the U.S. coming out on top in every category. Minimum wage is higher in Washington, fewer people are homeless, and even environmental laws are more stridently enforced.

Canada is not a "socialist" country by any stretch of the imagination. It's true we have the MSP for health care, but that causes its own problems. Many small towns have no hospital, and doctors sometimes strike.

Immigration is about four times more plentiful from Canada to the U.S. than the other way around. This is not an accident.

The Faithful Dissident said...

(w)hat rational person would choose to purchase the more expensive pet food to eat if they are basing their purchase on cost?

The key word there is "rational." No "rational" person would eat a can of Friskies over a can of tuna, but people who are not in their right mind may. You can get a can of Friskie's or no-name cat food for 20-something cents at Wal-Mart, but good luck finding even the cheapest tuna at that price. (It's true that the good cat food is more expensive than people food. I bought a tiny tin of tuna cat food with no animal bi-products and it cost me more than 2 full-sized cans of real tuna that people eat. I usually buy my cats people tuna, so I only bought this cat tuna to see whether one of my cats -- who loves tuna but throws up every time she eats it -- would tolerate the cat version better, but she snubbed it). Anyways, I only give my cats real fish or cat food made of fish without any animal bi-products for exactly the reasons that Ann explained, as well as the diseased animals who make it into this "meat meal," their cancerous tumours and all.

So anyways, back to my point about "rational." People who eat pet food aren't rational. They're usually mentally ill or have dementia. Or perhaps have that cheap-skate sickness -- you know, the type that have a million bucks in their bank account but go to food banks. We have an old married couple who lives in the dementia ward where I work. They are the type of people who would eat cat food to save money (I'm not saying they ever did, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did). They're millionaires, never had any kids, but let their house fall apart and ate rotten food (literally) until it got so bad that the authorities intervened. My co-workers tell me that when they went to their house, they found cartons of milk that were 8 years old and bags and bags of old food that they were living on. One evening a few months ago while helping them get ready for bed, I found a tube of toothpaste they were using that expired in January, 1982. A can of Friskies may have been a step up for these people. Obviously, they were never "all there" and the older they got, the more extreme it became. They were known in town for going to funeral luncheons of people they didn't even know just to take the food.

As far as Art's comment is concerned, it wasn't even intelligent enough to be a stab at capitalism -- or anything for that matter. An ignorant listener could come away thinking that Canadians don't believe in capitalism.

Grégoire, without turning this into a "which country is better" discussion, you have to look at the reasons why more Canadians go south than the other way around. Coming from a border town, I've seen a lot of people (mostly from my ward) leave for the US, usually because they married an American. A lot of them have done very well and most stay there with their American spouse. However, especially in recent years, a lot of them have come back to Canada, along with their American spouse and families. Most cite health care and social programs/benefits as a main factor. Even my best friends in my home ward, a Canadian-American family (the wife is CDN, the husband US) have moved back and forth many times, they idolize Rush Limbaugh, think Obama is the Antichrist, and are always complaining about "socialist Canada." And yet they're not going back to the US even though they can. I'm sure it's a real sore spot for them, and I have to say that they are incredibly hard-working and have hearts of gold (which is why I love them), but they had a real hard time making it in the US. Once their unmarried daughter got pregnant, they decided to come back to take advantage of the health care system that they are always complaining about.

Many Canadians go to the US because of lower taxes. Some do great. Others don't. Another big factor is weather. Who wants to live in Canada when you can live in sunny California or Arizona? America's big cities are also an attraction to young people. Canada's population is roughly 1/10 the size of America's. It goes without saying that America is more "exciting" and has more varied opportunities for certain young people simply because of its size and geography. It's the same reason why I see so many Scandinavians go abroad to continental Europe. Weather and opportunity are huge factors, especially when you're at the age where you want to explore.

Grégoire said...


I'm not a citizen of the U.S. and it isn't *my country*. There is no national chauvinism in anything I've said, just honest observation.

The climate is no different in the American State of Washington than it is in B.C.. My total tax bill is about 10% lower in B.C. than it is in WA.

In WA, the minimum wage is much higher than it is in B.C.. Even with the U.S.'s disastrous health care policies, medical care is more accessible and of better quality there in most circumstances. The only exception might be in the case of a horrific car accident in which case you'd end up in a trauma center. In that case Americans just declare bankruptcy anyway.

For all of America's faults, working people in the U.S. simply tend to live *better* than they do in Canada. That isn't a value judgment, it's just a simple fact. Coeur d'Alene Lake is much cleaner than Kootenay Lake. The surrounding mountains aren't clearcut in the U.S.. Americans tend to be a bit better read and better educated than people just across the border.

None of this is meant to be insulting. It's just my experience. A 400 percent immigration deficit seems to suggest that its not unique to me.

Back to the point: People who describe Canada as a socialist country either don't know what socialism entails, or they've never been to Canada outside of a weekend trip to some border town. I suspect Art Bell is the type of guy who thinks that Barack Obama is a socialist. In short, it's a way to subtly degrade a political opponent rather than indulge in serious discourse.

Stephanie said...

I got the impression from the show that Art is more liberal. I don't think he was knocking Canada - probably just ignorant or over-exaggerating to knock the U.S. I think I can just laugh about his capitalism remark considering that he doesn't appear to understand either capitalism or socialism.

Stephanie said...

Speaking of mental illness, FD, this article is interesting (in a sad way).

The Faithful Dissident said...

Most of my family is in the US and I've been all over the US (except to WA state and that area) and I just can't believe that the average American lives better, has such a better education, or has more accessible health care than the average Canadian. I know there are exceptions but I'm speaking in general terms here. I would consider all of us (my family and all my US relatives) to be middle-class people and just comparing notes, there's no way I would have wanted to trade places with them. It's such a struggle for them to keep their heads above water, mostly because of the health care problem.

So, Grégoire, I guess you and I have had vastly different experiences and observations living in the same country. Southwestern Ontario isn't the most exciting place in the world, but I had a good life there and I'd go back if we someday leave Norway. But actually, if my husband had his way, we'd probably go to BC. So I better not let him read your comments. :D

Stephanie, I saw that article on MSNBC a couple of days ago. It really is sad. I can't imagine what it's like to have young mental patients and elderly dementia patients sharing a room. In the ward where I work, each patient has to have their own room (unless they're a married couple or both bed-ridden), which is very important for those who suffer from dementia. When I read that article, I suddenly remembered a scary episode I had at work a couple of years ago that could have ended the same way. It was late, all the patients had gone to bed (so I thought) and I was alone. We had a bed-ridden patient who yelled constantly, even at night. The guy in the neighbouring room got so upset that he got up, went into his room, and started punching the bed-ridden man in the face. If I hadn't have gotten there when I did, I think he may have killed him because he was so frail and utterly helpless. I think I probably locked his door after that, which we're not really supposed to do. One of the most difficult parts of my job is trying to balance the patient's personal rights and freedom vs. their personal safety, as well as others around them.

Usually when we get really difficult patients (those who are violent and threatening towards other patients, or yell all the time), they get to be too much for our ward and they get sent to the mental hospital either short-term or long-term. There they are usually at least 1 health care worker per patient (perhaps more in some cases). I can't imagine what it's like to work in such a place because all the patients are so challenging. But sometimes it's hard to get them in there because rooms there are in such high demand. Cases of dementia are growing, as are cases of mental illness among young people. I think this is a challenge to virtually every society these days, even in places that have the best of health care services. And the challenges are going to grow in the years to come. I was talking to a co-worker last night about what we think nursing homes will be like when my generation gets old. Apparently it's harder to recruit workers in care for the elderly these days and I think that my generation will have a lot of demands that probably can't realistically be fulfilled. Another challenge is the aging immigrant population, specifically Muslims, who have their own demands, such as separate quarters for men and women, only same sex contact between patient and worker, special dietary requirements, prayer room, etc. We haven't had any Muslim patients, but it would be a challenge -- especially if we were to get male patients since it's a totally female-dominated profession. In my ward, we are 100% female, whereas in the rest of the nursing home I would say it's at least 90-95% female.

Grégoire said...

Most of my family is in the US and I've been all over the US (except to WA state and that area) and I just can't believe that the average American lives better, has such a better education, or has more accessible health care than the average Canadian. I know there are exceptions but I'm speaking in general terms here. I would consider all of us (my family and all my US relatives) to be middle-class people and just comparing notes, there's no way I would have wanted to trade places with them. It's such a struggle for them to keep their heads above water, mostly because of the health care problem.

If all this were true I wonder why there'd be a four-hundred percent immigration deficit. Mexico is arguably more exciting and has a better climate than other countries also. There's no immigration deficit there. ;)

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Brent.H said...

To be honest I have seen someone eat dog food, but it was a presentation to a biology class and the point that he was making was that if push came to shove a person could considerably eat a can of dog food if there was nothing else. As to say that because we live in America, live under capitalism and are therefore worse off than those that live under socialism is absolute rubbish! I have two examples, the first one is that when my dad was battling brain cancer, God rest his soul, he met a man that was from Canada who had come to the USA to receive the top medical care. My dad asked the man why he wasn't staying in Canada to receive hie care there, because the care was free or at least that was the perception that everyone had in America. The man told my dad that he was in line for care, but was way at the bottom and if he wanted to live any decent amount of time he had to pay out of pocket and get his care from the USA, so that is what he did. The second example is that if people are really destitute and hungry there are local food banks all around, and if needs be you can take a trip to the local welfare office. So to say that people are better off living in a socialist country than a capitalist country are mad, just mad.


Anonymous said...

Interesting topic...
I have no political stance on this. I'm American and I'm very poor. Maybe it would be better in Canada. I don't know, and it's not important. Point is, capitalism can really suck at times when you live at the bottom.

But yes, I've eaten pet food several times, when there is no other food in the house and the checking account is empty. It's true that wet/canned pet food is damn expensive, but DRY pet food (kibble) is really cheap. It's the cheapest source of protein out there, and good because:

1. It's not loaded with fat
2. It's somewhat balanced. It has nutrients in it, fiber, and some carbs.

3. It's the most affordable version of "Human Chow," a basic food item where you get what you need (protein, carb, and some fat) in one package.

I'm surprised you guys are surprised/doubtful about poor people eating pet food. It's actually sensible when you live on a dollar or two a day. (You can't get enough protein otherwise.)

And before you go second guessing me... I AM employed, but they pay crap (min wage, even though I've been there for years!) don't give us enough hours due to the economy, and no one is hiring, thanks to the horrible job market. I've been trying to get second job for six months now. I didn't qualify for food stamps or assistance, apparently because I'm employed, single, and childless.

I don't eat pet food every day - only when I'm between paychecks. I get the two pound bag of dry cat food from the dollar store, and keep it in the house at all times for emergencies.
There is a food charity around here, but it's downtown, quite a long walk for me. (I'm a non-driver, obviously - like I could afford a vehicle?) But when it's late at night and I'm hungry and the cat kibble is there, YES, I eat it. It's better than starving.

The real question should be, what "rational" person would ever eat DOG food? Cat food is the best way to go, because it's 30% protein, and Dog food has only half that.

In conclusion, be thankful for what you have. I'm thankful just to still be alive and have a roof over my head. I'm thankful even to have that $1.08 to spend on cat food, and know that I'll have something to eat for the next several days, until I get a few more dollars in the account. And at least it's something that is not just pure sugar/empty calories.
A lot of poor people are overweight (though I'm not), and I think it's because protein is wicked expensive, but carbs/sugar are totally cheap.