People are led to believe that dry food, aka kibble, is the BEST food for their dog or cat. Why is that? Let’s uncover the lies and falsehoods.
Here are some comments that people have about kibble diets.
“What do you mean- I thought that that was the only thing they could eat?”
“I buy the most expensive brand on the market. It must be good”
“My vet said that was the best food to give him and that I can’t give him anything else.”
“Isn’t it good for his teeth? So, I do not have to brush them?”
“I was told that I should NEVER give him people food.”
“Every time I give him something that is not dry food, he gets diarrhea.”
Let’s delve further into each of these statements. Before I address specific comments, it is important to have an understanding of food and our relationship with it. Where does food come from? It’s a valid question. My personal evolution of the understanding of food is part of the reasons of why I do what I do today. This greatly influenced my relationship with food and how it interacts within my body and the bodies of my patients.
What was my process of understanding the food I ate?
Growing up in Brooklyn, NY in the late 60s and 70s had its benefits but farming was not one of them. Perhaps like many others growing up in a city, I used to think food came from the supermarket. A hamburger was some chopped up looking meat on a paper tray wrapped with plastic. To my own potential embarrassment, believe it or not, growing up in a concrete jungle, being as far removed from any semblance of a farm, it took me 16 years to realize the hamburger I was eating came from an animal called a cow.
Oh yes, I knew about cows. Most of them I learned about from books and on TV. Growing up in Brooklyn in the late 60 early 70’s, my only source of information was my parents, my school curriculum, the 13 channels on our TV, the entire collection of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the occasional trip to the library and the 411-information hot line that I found NOT helpful in many ways. And on my own, my understanding of cows was that they roamed the lands of the Midwest, were herded by cowboys and dogs and gave you milk when you pulled on their udders. It was not until I was enrolled in the mandatory meal plan as a freshman in college and one day saw the leg of a cow, cooked and displayed being cut up and served on a plate. I was 16 years old when I finally made the connection between the cellophane wrapped ground meat and the animal! As you can see, it is never too late for an eye-opening education.
With that in mind, I’d like to shed some light on how it is that we have arrived at where we are today.
The Birth of Processed Foods
The beginning of the 1950s was a magical time for the age of processed foods. Before then the world was coming out of a terrible recession and psycho-economic depression. The crash of the stock market in 1929 led to the Great Depression of the 1930’s which lasted for approximately 10 years, just to be followed by the impetus of the beginnings of the second World War.
In preparation for the War in the early 40’s the government suspended production of most food equipment and all the metal and resources were used to make weapons and other war machinery. Canning food was not an option. New ways of delivering food were on the forefront of the minds of entrepreneurs to capitalize on the needs of the county, for humans and their pets alike.
The technology created to help win the war spurred the largest and most successful addition to our economy, and the largest metabolic assault to our health and that of our pets… the processed food industry.
How did that effect the pet food industry? After reading this you will most likely have a different perspective about the food you eat and what you feed your pets.
Brief History of Pet Food
In the mid- 1800 an American electrician by the name of James Pratt who travelled to London to sell lightning rods, one day witnessed dogs hanging around a London shipping yard eating scraps of discarded biscuits that the sailors ate. These were made of flour, water and salt. This gave him the idea to create his own line of “dog” biscuits. He called them Spratt’s Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes and they contained a mix of blended wheat, vegetables, beetroot, and “the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef”. The actual source of the last ingredient was never disclosed. Being that house dogs were becoming more popular and were in the possession of the more affluent population, Mr. Pratt saw an opportunity. His biscuits were expensive, with one 50-pound bag costing the equivalent of an entire day’s work for a skilled craftsman, and Spratt wisely targeted the “English Gentlemen” who could afford the higher price point.
Despite the high cost and lack of transparency about his meat source, Spratt claimed the biscuits to be a dogs’ primary food source. In the 1870’s he launched his company in America, targeting health-conscious pet owners, dog shows and showcasing his product on the first cover of the American Kennel Club journal. This advertising convinced the American public to begin feeding their dogs Spratts Biscuits instead of the real food table scraps that they were offering.
Keep in mind that the idea for ‘special food’ for pets was historically happening in other places. The first veterinary school in the world was founded in Lyon, France by Claude Bourgelat in 1761. By the time the first US Veterinary School was founded in 1895, self-styled experts were already giving advice on dog diets. Many said that dogs needed to be “civilized,” and since wild dogs ate raw meat, domesticated dogs shouldn’t, and that advice influenced the pet food industry for the next 100 years.
In 1922, after the end of WWI there was a surplus of deceased horses and a man named PM Chapel saw an opportunity and put this horse meat into cans. He sold the first canned dog food under the name Ken-L Ration. It was marketed as “lean- red meat”. Never disclosing that it was from horses, the government at that time having 90% share of the market stamped it with their seal of government approval. The 1930s was also a time that Gaines Food Co introduced canned cat food and dry meat-meal dog food.
The Great Depression of the 1930s and early 40s had a significant impact on the growth of the commercial pet food market, however, lack of industry regulation invited anyone who wanted to make a buck to produce a can or bag of pet food. During that period, canned pet food accounted for over 90 percent of the market. By 1940, the success of canned dog food was so high that producers were breeding horses just for dog food and slaughtering an estimated 50,000 horses per year. This number infuriated a large population of animal lovers, and they had to stop using horses. Other animals were being used, but there was conflict for human resources, and the concept of the 3D’s (Dead, Dying, Diseased) use of animals for food was deemed acceptable. And it still is to this day! This also coincided with the rendering process.
In 1941, in preparation for the weapons and resources needed by the government for WWII, the canning industry virtually stopped. Once again, an opportunity arose for innovative companies to create a shelf stable food that could be sold in bags or boxes.
A New Era
During World War II (1939 – 1945), not only was metal rationed, but pet food was categorized as “non-essential” by the U.S. government. This combination spelled death for the canned pet food industry. In addition, food rationing led to fewer table scraps. Pet owners who could afford to bought dry pet food or dog biscuits – the only commercially available products at the time.
It was here during the late 1930’s where veterinarians began to apply nutrition research to pets, and companies like Hills Science Diet, (owned by Colgate-Palmolive) and Iams, Eukanuba (now owned by Mars) presented themselves. Purina pet food (owned by Nestlé) came later in 2001. Pet food became a lucrative business under the guise of wellness.
Welcome in the era of the processed foods for humans and animals!
By the time World War II ended, pet food sales had reached $200 million. In the 1950s Spratt’s became part of General Mills. For companies such as Nabisco, Quaker Oats, and General Foods, pet food represented an opportunity to market by-products as a profitable source of income. Major companies like General Mills were racing to capitalize upon the prospects of the booming dry food industry. Cereal companies were ecstatic about the prospects of creating a dry cheap food from their leftovers and waste products. This led to the beginning of what we now call the dry dog food industry, also known as Kibble. Over a short span of time larger corporations were attracted to the pet food industry with a promise of a high profit margin. This also led to the public commercialization of dry kibble being sold as convenient, healthy and the only food your pet should ever eat.
It only took 45 years, 2 Wars and a Depression to convince people that this was not only true, but the best way to care for the nutritional needs of their pets! This idea coincided with the human processed food revolution where everything was designed to be easy, convenient, and stay fresh longer. It was about that same time when Nestle and Mead Johnson companies aggressively advertised powered baby formula, and convinced mothers that not only was breast feeding, and breast milk not good, but formula was better. Times were changing after the war, and people were tired; emotionally, mentally, and physically. More women were entering the work force and the prospect of “quick and easy” became the new state of being to strive for.
People were in a highly suggestible state and would believe anything if it promised a quick, easy and better way.
What else was happening during the American post war Industrial Revolution?
After years of rationing, consumption of meat, poultry and dairy soared to new levels. Cake mixes, developed by General Mills and Pillsbury, made it easier for families to celebrate. Refrigeration and the rise of suburbia lead to the creation of supermarkets. America’s new highway system allowed for more efficient distribution of food and the rise of fast-food chains. Television becomes the entertainment of choice, and Zenith invents a remote-control device, appropriately called Lazy Bones. Sales of new kitchen appliances go through the roof, prepared foods proliferate, and more convenient packaging makes food preparation less time consuming.
1954 C.A. Swanson & Sons introduces the first TV dinner- Roast turkey with stuffing and gravy, sweet potatoes and peas. It sells for 98 cents and comes in an aluminum tray (few kitchens had microwave ovens). Supposedly, executive Gerald Thomas comes up with the idea when the company had tons of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. Companies like General Mills, Nestle, and Kraft were investing in ways to put food in a can or a box and give it a long shelf life, the longer the better. They basically figured out what chemicals and artificial compounds they could add to the food to make it last longer and still taste and look good. Unfortunately, you could only do that with the help of chemical food colorings, artificial flavors and carcinogenic preservatives. Which for some is equatable to the formaldehyde embalming process.
Processed food was part of the beginning of the giant corporations, and media moguls dictating and indoctrinating a society and a culture to be a sedentary, ill and pharmaceutically dependent population. All for the good of wealthy investors and financial gains. The food industry was never about health, it was all about business.
The Extrusion Method
In 1956, the extrusion method was designed by Ralston Purina company. Extrusion is a method of mass-producing shelf-stable foods by mixing wet and dry ingredients together, and then fed through a machine where it is subject to extreme heat (500 degrees F) and high pressure and then fed through a die-cutting machine to form the kibble shapes we are familiar with today. Extruded food products are commonly coated after drying with synthetic vitamins, food coloring and fats such as chicken, pork, and lard to increase palatability and energy supply.
This end product was a dry pellet that came in a cardboard box or bag, had a long shelf- life, was inexpensive to make, and had high profit margins. The ingredients were virtually unregulated and unidentifiable and was marketed as healthy, convenient, and affordable. Who wouldn’t want that?
“What do you mean- I thought that that was the only thing they could eat?”
The use of extrusion for commercial kibble production gained momentum throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s as companies used the technology to create new flavors and varieties. In 1964, The Pet Food Institute (a group of pet food industry lobbyists) launched a series of ad campaigns warning consumers about the dangers of feeding table scraps and the importance of feeding processed food to pets. They also tried very hard to convince consumers that commercially prepared dog food was the only option to feed. Companies began marketing their products as “complete” foods and started the idea that feeding table scraps was actually dangerous. And the people believed it!
The campaigns were hugely successful in convincing the American public that their dogs’ diets should be kibble-based and were reminiscent of the early marketing strategies employed by James Spratt so many years before. Once kibble had been established as the leading pet food option, advertising strategies became more niche-based to differentiate brands. By the 1960s, Hill’s Pet Nutrition had introduced prescription kibble for different ailments (like kidney and liver failure) and continued to diversify by the 1990s producing kibble based for weight management, and different stages of life. This has continued into the present where they add 1-2 specific ingredients to a known formulation and label it as the new “prescription diet”. This highly controlled prescription diet business between these major corporations relies on the veterinarian to prescribe the diet. These companies financially support the veterinary schools and are the leading educators of nutrition within these schools. Veterinarians are taught a biased viewpoint and are enticed with the promise of free food and high profits if they promote the use of these products. This can be considered what is called ‘a conflict of interest’.
Within a concept based upon fallacies and untruths, created to bring fear, uncertainty and suppress any critical thinking, a ready-made ‘prescription diet’ in theory sounds good. This highlighted the veterinarian as the expert in diet and nutrition, when in reality veterinarians like human doctors get very little training in nutrition and most of it is taught by the representatives from the dog food companies. Big business is and always will be about profits and to the benefit of shareholders, and as such, the quality of ingredients and processing methods have been greatly affected.
It is important to note that in alignment with Hippocrates quote “Let Food be Thy Medicine”, specific medical conditions do require the addition or elimination of certain foods, but not under the guise of big business. It is called functional food medicine which is subscribed by holistic practitioners in the veterinary and medical fields.
The Toxic Truth
The highly convenient, easy human and pet food solutions may have seemed glorious then, but little did anyone know that it would lead to the biggest health crisis, anti- wellness epidemic and the greatest war fought and still fighting…the war on Obesity, Cancer and Chronic inflammation. This war, as is turns out, has been an even bigger successful addition to the $1170 billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry. Yes, America has become, despite our abundance of resources and wealth, one of the sickest countries in the world and the consumer of over 65% of the world’s pharmaceuticals. Our animal companions are not far from those statistics.
During the extrusion method of producing kibble, the extreme heat and drying removes beneficial vitamins, nutrients, enzymes and moisture that pets need to truly thrive. The high heating process also creates carcinogenic by products like heterocyclic amines and acrylamide compounds, through a process called the Millard reaction. As the quality of our food has degraded over the years with industrial processing, short cut farming practices resulting in high soil turnover, and fewer nutrients in the soils where food is grown, and the addition of the pharmaceutical and big corporate driven use of glyphosate, pesticides, and herbicides; our digestive tracts have been ravaged, our immune systems have been compromised and our overall health has steadily declined as illness and chronic disease is at an all-time high.
With the lack of vital nutrients and the presence of toxic chemicals, our food is slowly killing us. Humans and their pets today are living in an epidemic of being overfed and undernourished.
It’s never too late for an eye-opening education and the solutions are here.