While preparing dinner at a friend’s apartment a few nights ago, I asked if their cat should eat too. Then someone fed the cat. Then I asked if I should eat cat food too. Then people said “yes” and I did. I think that’s how it happened. I know it started as a joke but then it tasted surprisingly OK. Later at a deli I excitedly selected cans of wet cat food for a taste-test experiment I promised myself I’d do first thing in the morning. After my hangover subsided, I felt more able to seriously consider two futures: The one where I’d never know what wet cat food tasted like, and the one where I would. In both futures I’d eventually end up dead, but the one where I’d eat cat food seemed more exciting. With that said, actually making myself eat the canned reconstituted-meat morsels took longer than anticipated. I succumbed to misguidedly productive acts like finding the perfect eating-cat-food outfit (pink, striped dress: too naive. Button-down under a black sweater: too smart. Red, flannel dress: just right?), photo testing locations for the best place to eat (a plate on the floor: obvious and kitschy; sitting at a table: unrealistically ordinary; bed: psychotic), and letting “research-based” internet activity devolve into gawking at YouTube videos about cannibalism and falling asleep with a knife under my pillow. OK. Enough explaining, I’m introducing this like I’ve committed a sex crime or something. I ate some cat food. That’s all that happened. Here’s what I thought.
Purina Cat Chow: Naturals Plus Vitamins & Minerals
Packaging: 16-ounce green bag with a Ziploc seal for freshness. Features colorful clip-art-like illustrations of vegetables, grains, and a woman resembling Mona Lisa sleepily nurturing a happy, attentive cat on her lap.
Aroma: A little vitaminy.
Texture: Harder than Captain Crunch, but denser, so it didn’t make those little cuts on the roof of my mouth. Moist enough so there was no fight to combine it with saliva, but crunchy enough to not let me forget I was chewing.
Flavor: I remember saying, “It’s like those ‘Chicken in a Biscuit’ crackers.” And, “It’s ‘umami.’ Do you guys know ‘umami,’ that new taste called ‘umami?’” There was a tangy aftertaste. It wasn’t unpleasant at all. Ate a few voluntary handfuls.
Beverage pairing: An affordable sparkling wine. I had been drinking Korbel (Brut, I think) at the time, but a sweeter Prosecco would also fare nicely.
Closing remarks: Could be transformed into larger vessels for humans to spread cheese on.
Fancy Feast: Turkey Feast, Chunky
Packaging: 3-ounce can featuring a cartoon of the iconic white Persian, Fancy Feast Cat with a facial expression somewhere between “bemused resignation” and “romantic longing,” gazing just past the can’s logo into some faraway or nonexistent distance. Its paw is near its mouth. I felt sad writing that just now.
Aroma: Immediately familiar, briny, almost rubbery, unmistakably and intensely “Fancy Feast-smelling.” Scent is detectable less than two feet from my face.
Texture: I was expecting to see little squares of meat but this looked smooth and pâté based. Encountered something hard (more like a wooden nub than a rubbery tendon) in the chewing process that gave me goosebumps as I swallowed.
Flavor: Salty, grainy, and metallic, like chasing fermented corn with an anvil. Tastes like a much more complex version of its smell. Does not taste like turkey or any meat I’ve eaten. Its lack of meat flavor combined with its dominant, forceful graininess makes it seem “angry” to me.
Beverage pairing: I followed it with a sip of room-temperature coffee, which, 15 minutes later, is actually making an interesting taste happen in my mouth. It tastes like Chef Boyardee when I burp. I could also see this going well with a 40-ounce Bud Light that had been opened and forgotten for at least one night.
Closing remarks: When I’ve run out of “good cat food” and bought Fancy Feast, my cats have rarely eaten the poultry or beef flavors. Seems like they know something, like how in disaster movies there’s always a shot of birds flying landward a few seconds before the tsunami wave rolls over the city.
Wellness Cubed Chicken Entrée in Morsels of Rich Gravy
Packaging: 3-ounce purple can with a yellow calm-faced sun graphic and lavender silhouette of a cat surrounded by hearts and circles. In the left-hand corner, a little ribbon-shaped icon quietly brags “Grain Free.”
Aroma: Milder and less guilty smelling than Fancy Feast, but it’s still obviously cat food. Smells like standing downwind from the primordial soup where Ren and Stimpy evolved.
Texture: Spongy cubes suspended in something gelatinous. Consistency is more uniform and easier to chew than Fancy Feast. Flecked with a few dark, papery spots, suspicious in their infrequency, which suggest vegetable ingredients.
Flavor: Bland, brothy, and vitaminy. I’m relieved to not taste anything metallic. Gagged when I detected a liver scent in the back of my mouth, but only because I don’t like the taste of liver. Seems like a plus that it has a distinguishable flavor.
Beverage pairing: Gin (to overpower the liver taste) mixed with Vitamin Water lemonade (to “liven things up” and complement the vitamin taste).
Closing remarks: Feeling a little queasy right now, which seems more like a byproduct of my social conditioning than a byproduct of the meat byproducts in these cans (Wellness brand does not contain meat byproducts).
PetGuard Savory Seafood Dinner
Packaging: There is a lot of text on this label. Other things I could’ve included between “PetGuard” and “Dinner”: Next to Nature, Natural Food for Your Cat, Chelated Minerals, Ester-C. This 5.5-ounce can features a boldly color-blocked placeless background against which a sedated-looking tabby cat gazes vaguely judgmentally at the space where my left hand comfortably holds the can.
Aroma: Fishy, mild, and slightly metallic, but by far the least cat-foody smelling.
Texture: Remarkably soft and consistent. I barely even need to chew. Aside from the brownish-gray color and how many times I’m guessing its meat has been taken apart and reassembled, PetGuard is totally palatable.
Flavor: Sort of like shrimp mousse laced with pennies. I thought this one would be the worst, but these chelated minerals are really doing something for me.
Beverage pairing: I can easily picture myself lounging in an inner tube floating down a lazy-river ride at a Florida water park—a Corona Extra with lime in my left hand, a can of PetGuard Savory Seafood Dinner in my right, nothing but blue skies ahead.
Closing remarks: If I were an alien from District 9 I would totally use this as chip dip.
Natural Value Pâté Style Tuna & Chicken Dinner
Packaging: The head of what I’m 96 percent sure is a photo and 4 percent sure is a cartoon of a highly rebloggable cat on amphetamines dominates the orange label of this can, which looks like it has been designed in Photoshop.
Aroma: Considering its higher chicken content, oddly fishier than PetGuard.
Texture: Soft and nutty, like whipped oatmeal. Easier swallowed than chewed. In addition to its livelier, medium-pink shade, Natural Value also contains more “surprise granules” than PetGuard (not as much as Fancy Feast, though).
Flavor: Fishy but not salty, which is always a little weird. There are at least ten tastes hidden in this but my stomach is not strong enough nor is my brain quick enough to identify them. Natural Value tastes like a cloud of salmon skin that’s spent centuries churning through the water cycle and will someday materialize as a tree on a planet with less gravity than Earth.
Beverage pairing: The sharp tartness of a chilled Pinot Grigio would slow down the flavor play of Natural Value and allow each of its layered tastes to have their spotlight on the tongue. If one desires a more casual “Natty Night,” an icy keg of Natural Ice or National Bohemian would surely please a crowd of even the most discriminating palates.
Closing remarks: The additional bites necessary for me to provide closing remarks have been surpassed by my desire to only experience Natural Value and these other food products in one direction (downwards), as they were intended.
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