When I go shopping for cat food, how come I never see any with pork in it? —Wendy, Saint Paul
I go to the cat food section in the store, and there are all kinds of tasty-sounding flavors: chicken, seafood, lamb and rice. So why do I never see pork on the shelf? Do cats consider the pig an unclean animal because it doesn’t have fur to lick? I asked you this a long time ago, but I guess you’re stumped. —Sharon, feeder of cats
The first time I got this question I ignored it, reasoning as follows: who cares? The second time I thought: these fricking cat people ought to form a support group and leave the rest of us alone. The third time was from Sharon, who not only continued to harp on the issue but construed my ongoing failure to grapple with it as proof that I couldn’t.
I’ll confess this wounded my vanity. I roused my assistants Una and Fierra, who after the exhausting labors of recent weeks were looking forward to spending the rest of the winter whittling around the stove. Ladies, I said, I must send you once more into the breach, just to shut these malcontents up.
They shuffled glumly out the door. We had a bit of discussion in the ensuing days via radiotelegram: “IT’S HALAL,” I told them, “NOT HILLEL. PLS KEEP THESE DETAILS STRAIGHT.” But at last we got to the bottom of the matter, or close enough.
1. To the excitable pet lover, “never, and I mean never” apparently means “not very often.” We went to the supermarket and found some pork-containing pet food in about five minutes. Granted, there wasn’t much. But when we surveyed the major pet food companies, four of eight respondents said they used pork in their products on occasion and four said they didn’t. So let’s not pretend a prohibition against pork in pet food is some immutable fact of life.
2. One of the four swinophilic pet food makers, Royal Canin, spoke in such glowing terms of the pig meat in its products that it seemed to us the real question ought to be why all manufacturers didn’t use this food of the gods. “Pork is very digestible for dogs and cats,” the company told us, “and in some cases its digestibility exceeds that of chicken or fish.”
3. Iams stated pork fat was used only in certain products in its Veterinary Formula line, remarking that a dog was less likely to have an allergic reaction to it since the fat had gone through a special refining process to remove the more allergenic protein. We found this cryptic. Are dogs likely to have allergic reactions to unrefined pork fat? On the other side of the fence, Crown Pet Foods said A. it excludes pork to help pet owners avoid products that might cause food intolerance issues but B. pork isn’t specifically problematic. Huh?
4. Natura said it had no specific reason for excluding pork other than uncertainty about whether it could get a consistent, high-quality supply. This was unpersuasive. The supply of caribou meat might be erratic, but pork? The vagueness of all these responses suggested: We’ve always done it this way and don’t really know why, so we’re going to make something up.
5. Hill’s said it uses pig lungs, spleens, and livers in its products. This may be all the explanation we need for pork’s limited visibility. Try and imagine a TV ad ending with the tagline “Because your cat deserves lungs and spleens.”
6. Regal Pet Foods said it didn’t use pork due to increasing sales in Europe and Israel—the implication being that doing so would run afoul of religious dietary laws. The religion in question is Islam, not Judaism. Although Leviticus and Deuteronomy call pigs “unclean” and prohibit touching their carcasses, rabbinical interpretation holds that this doesn’t apply to everyday handling of pork, and Exodus explicitly says the thing to do with nonkosher meat is feed it to dogs. The Quran, on the other hand, has been interpreted to mean any contact with pork is haram, or forbidden. (Permitted things are halal.) In 2007, Muslims living near Rugby, UK, objected to plans for a new pet food factory out of fears it would contaminate the air with pork residue.
So, here’s my answer, Sharon et al. To the extent pet food makers exclude or at least downplay pork, they do so out of worries there’ll be trouble if they don’t.
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