Have you ever looked into feeding your animal friends anything but kibble? (Have you ever wondered what kibble actually is?) Have you looked through any of the myriad well-meaning books saying cats and dogs should eat mostly raw meat, or have you ever tried making them a pureed meat and vegetable stew, as I did years ago, per the directions of a certain book on cat nutrition? Have you, like me, ever found that your cat would have none of it, and only would eat "cat food", maybe even a certain brand of "cat food"?
I got really into trying to feed my cats a natural diet....oh, about eleven years ago, when Ewen was still alive and Beatrice still a kitten. Beatrice took to it right away, at the time, but Ewen would only eat chicken liver (or kibble), nothing else. It was challenging to give one cat one food and the other cat something else, and the soup I had made for them, which the author said was ideally nutritious for cats, was its own weird process that didn't quite fit into my life. I never got the hang of batch cooking - making a large quantity of food ahead, freezing portions for later, and then thawing and heating up said portions when needed - and the thawing and warming up process was annoying.
Admittedly, I also have always questioned the healthfulness of freezing food, except perhaps if you live in a very cold climate and can freeze your food naturally by putting it in a snow pit, as my dad's family did when they lived in Hokkaido. But that is another story.
I had learned about how bad kibble really is through reading books on cat care from the health food store - how the ingredients that go into it can legally be just about anything - from sawdust to meat from diseased animals which didn't pass USDA inspection for human food, and just about any other nasty thing no one should ever eat, as the industry is very unregulated. So I wanted so badly for this natural diet thing to work for my cats, but it just didn't. So, I invested in the most expensive "natural" kibble, which really does seem much better than Meow Mix or what have you, and which my cats love/d.
Fast forward to a few months ago when we got a new kitten. A kitten named Simon who eats anything. Several times he has stolen buttered toast from my plate when I turned my head. In terms of inedible things, he ate two ear plugs, three or four olive pits, and two plastic bits, one from each end of my hoodie string. He sneaked a scone off the counter one day and ate most of it. He was never far from the butter dish when it was out. (If you are wondering, no we don't let the cats on the dinner table, it's just that we don't eat at the table that much - I always eat breakfast and often other meals, when I am home alone, in my study, on the ground where I also sit to write, or on the porch in nice weather.)
Simon's obsessive search for food and willingness to eat non-foods, got me thinking once again about cat nutrition and pondering what is a natural diet for cats. The popular idea now, as far as I can tell, is similar to what is popular for humans: That cats ought to eat meat and fish (mostly raw) and some vegetables, and that's it. No milk, no grain. The idea of a super-specific diet for my cats, indeed a super-specific diet for my cats which would cost much more, ounce-per-ounce, than my own, seemed stupid and also completely impractical.
Enter the book Cats Naturally by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. The book was published in 1991, but the author was an elder when she wrote it, and it reads like it is from a hundred years ago. Her ideas about how to feed and care for cats and other domestic animals are entirely different from what people are saying now - regarding lifestyle, reproduction, and nutrition. Really her whole perspective is different, and it was, to me as I read it, such a refreshing perspective.
I had heard of Juliette (we are on a first name basis now, in my mind) before, as the herbal teacher of Rosemary Gladstar and Susun Weed, but I didn't know much about her or her life, and hadn't read her books. Liz Migliorelli, one of my herbal teachers, recommended a documentary which was made about her called Juliette of the Herbs, so I watched it, and from there bought her book about cats. Juliette's initial training was as a vetrinarian, but after she graduated from vetrinary school in England where she had grown up, she felt she hadn't really learned anything about how to keep animals healthy and vital. So she went to the peasant farmers of southern Europe (Greece, Spain, Italy) and to the Romani/Gypsy people, who were all living in more traditional ways at that time, and according to her were very healthy and had very healthy animals. She studied with them and developed life-long friendships with them, living with them for periods of time off and on. So that is the context that her work, and any advice for cat nutrition, is coming from.
Now this was some cat nutrition I could get down with. Basically she just fed her cats whatever she was eating, but typically with proportionately more meat or fish. She suggests sweet corn, cooked oats and barley, fresh cheese, yogurt, black beans and lentils, chopped fresh herbs and vegetables, as well as the more predictable poultry, fish, rabbit, lamb, eggs, raw milk and raw bones for chewing after meals.
She says things like, "All cats and dogs love corn and will eat it fresh off the cob when it is very young and milky. They also love tinned corn." and "An occasional meal of spaghetti is a treat enjoyed by cats and is quite healthful. Sprinkle it generously with finely chopped herbs and some grated hard cheese."
That last suggestion made me laugh out loud! That was when I realized, though she never said so, that Juliette was simply giving her cats the foods she was eating.
I told several friends about these bizare ideas on cat nutrition, and one of my friends had some valuable information to add: She had lived in Russia for a year as an exchange student, and she said that all the Russians she knew there had a deep distrust of processed food and would never buy commercial cat food, and instead fed their cats in the traditional way: They fed them the same foods they themselves were eating, which often was cooked grains with fresh milk - and the cats appeared in excellent health.
That was all I needed - someone with some personal experience with this stuff.
So I started trying Simon (and Beatrice, who is now an elder cat) on pretty much anything I was eating as long as it was not spicy or sugary, and it turns out Simon loves polenta with butter or cheese, plain yogurt, raw milk, arugula and nettles as long as they are chopped finely, as well as any meat or fish. He loves raw eggs and baked potato with butter. He does not, however, like anything that is soupy or super mushy, including gravy. Within a few days, he slowed down his obsessive eating of anything in sight and even leaves food in his dish sometimes. Beatrice is old and more picky, and so I'm mostly giving her fancy kibble still, though it's been fun to give her little bits of eggs and fish, which she loves. Now that I'm not trying to do this stupid batch cooking soup thing, it is easy to just feed one cat food I am already making and eating, and give the other one kibble.
Basically, I am loving this and I can honestly say, after a couple months, it is going great.
Have you tried giving your cats "people food"? Have you experimented with weird, unpopular ways of caring for your animal friends, which nevertheless work really well? Have you checked out any of Juliette's books? TELL ME ALL ABOUT IT!