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Food

I Tried Eating Gourmet Dog Food and Now I Hate Myself

I read about a health food store that prepares gourmet dog food out of restaurant-quality ingredients. Obviously, I had to try it so that I could compare it to the worst human food available commercially.

by Jules Suzdaltsev
12 April 2014, 11:00am

Photos by Elizabeth Vazquez

Most dog-food companies want to convince you that they sell high-quality dog food. Just Food for Dogs wants to sell you high-quality human food to feed your dog, who would probably be just as happy with a still-greasy fast-food bag. After watching my dog eat for seven years (RIP), I’m confident that these animals are more like chubby stoners than raw vegans. Since I’m all about weed and spicy chicken sandwiches, who better to try out this haute-cuisine puppy chow than the guy who’s had fast-food diarrhea for the last nine weeks?

The company website—which includes a blog and a newsletter—promises better digestion, a healthier coat, raised energy levels, and an all-around increase in being a good boy after your pup transitions onto his homemade diet. The president of a similar company in San Diego claims to quality-control her products by eating her own dog food. So in the spirit of health, and because their flagship store was six blocks from my apartment, I drove over to pick up some dinner.

The store is located on Santa Monica Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, across the street from the biggest health-food market in West Hollywood, a city which banned the sale of real fur last September. Inside the aged-wood and polished-metal storefront, an employee bounded over and asked what kind of dog we owned. I realized that there was no way they were going to let me buy dog food for myself, so I lied to her face and told her we owned an Akita that weighed 140 pounds. “That’s a huge dog! What does he eat?” “Mostly tacos," I answered.

She laughed uneasily and brought us over to a small freezer section with what looked like packages of blended vomit organized by meat. “All of our food is whole food, made with human-grade ingredients, so it’s all USDA-approved. Restaurant-quality meats, grains, and vegetables.” I caught myself before saying, "That sounds delicious."

This stuff looked like it was vacuum-packed in the sick bay of the USS Enterprise rather than handmade in Ellie Krieger’s kitchen. I sadly realized that my visions of carefully organized chunks of steak covered in a sweet glaze topped with baby corn were probably misguided. I also realized that this was a great place to find a rich, gullible sugar mama with a sweet-ass dog. 

Still, their selection was impressive. I picked up one of each flavor: Lamb with brown rice, fish with sweet potatoes, turkey with whole-wheat macaroni. I also got their special of the week: free-range bison with organic millet. I tried to buy something with kangaroo in it too, but apparently I needed a prescription. I also grabbed some beef-jerky-like venison and paid $50 for an amount of food an actual dog could probably finish in two sittings. On the way home we stopped at a convenience store for sliders, pizza bagels, and a spicy bean burrito, plus a liter of orange soda to wash it all down. At least I could trust that these were decidedly not good for anyone.

At home I began preparing this dodgy feast. The package suggested either defrosting in warm water or microwaving on low, so I boiled two bags and nuked the others. My kitchen quickly took on the familiar smell of cheap, preservative-filled, corn-based, canned dog food, which was exactly the smell I was hoping to avoid, and I wondered whether this wasn’t all one big scam.

Oh, wait, of course it was.

I cut open each bag and squeezed out something like undigested poop. The stink was atrocious, and worse yet, half the food was still cold. I started with the bison, which included asparagus and peaches. I forked a bit in my mouth and immediately gave up on the idea that this could be an improvement over junk food. Though I have no idea what bison tastes like, it was definitely not this; the lukewarm mush was somehow both soggy and dry, and almost impossible to swallow. I choked it down with a big gulp of orange soda. One of the many pamphlets that came in the bag suggested slowly weaning your pooch onto an organic diet to avoid digestion problems, and I became a little worried that I’d straight shit my pants in the middle of everything. This was going to suck more than I thought. I began sweating. Maybe I was turning into a dog. 

I moved onto turkey with macaroni and took a whiff. The smell of dog food came in hard, although at least the pasta was a familiar shape. I wolfed down a bite, and was immediately reminded of my grandmother’s goulash, only if it had been made with wet kibble and left on a balcony overnight. The ground turkey was the real culprit, but still somehow better than the bison. I realized that I was being unfair; to a dog I could see this being a massive improvement over supermarket-brand chow. I turned to my photographer.

"I feel gross."

"I'd be judging you if you didn't," she replied.

Next up at the plate was a mess of tilapia and sweet potatoes—dangerous territory. Luckily, this one smelled nothing like dog food, and it didn’t reek of fish so much as ooze it. Overconfident, I shoveled in a mouthful and retched immediately. It was warm, and all I could taste in my nose was starch and bitter salt. I anxiously eyed the sliders, which smelled amazing by comparison. My stomach sounded like a howling wolf. Uh-oh.

Last on the list was the lamb and brown rice, which actually smelled exactly like the undercooked, over-processed bulk meat it was. I nervously tried a chunk. Hm, not bad. I took a bigger bite. This was actually—dare I say it—barely decent. I ate another forkful and tried to savor the cooked lamb. All it needed was a bit of salt, and you could probably serve it in a dog hospital or a dog prison. I dived in and tried to clean my plate; at least this was palatable.

Thoroughly disappointed, I launched into the sliders and pizza bagels, opening my throat to let the microwaved, soggy trash enter my body. There was no comparison. Shitty human food won hands down, and not just by familiarity. The texture was right, the flavor was divine, and it occurred to me halfway through the leaky burrito that perhaps dogs have a different palate than humans. Perhaps their taste is less refined, which would make some sense. I guess that’s why the whole concept of organic gourmet dog food is almost as stupid as lying your way into eating it. 

I settled down to chew some of the venison treats, which were basically rawhide—though meat-flavored gum that cleans your teeth is a genius idea. I felt full and a bit queasy for the next hour as the rumbling in my stomach became increasingly urgent. This was not good. I worried that I was going to shit my pants. I assume that my body had recognized the dog food for what it really was and called an emergency mandatory evacuation.

I don’t want to go into what happened next in the bathroom, but it wasn’t great. What little food was left over from the night before came firing out, and my belly gurgled angrily as it took some small revenge in the form of heavy, wet dog farts. My eyes watered, and I waited out the battle as bad choices and indigestion raged on the inside. Finally defeated, I left the bathroom. My photographer disappeared while I was pooping, but not before sneaking the below photo through the keyhole. She sent a text that said, “Had to run, sorry!” I didn’t blame her.

A few hours later a strange, unfamiliar feeling came up my spine. I thought I was done having new feelings, so I’m really not sure how to describe it—sort of an unfocused clammy tension, almost like the beginning of a panic, just lingering for a while. I don’t really want to blame the dog food. Obviously my poor diet, lack of exercise, and various addictions are much easier to pile the blame on. I’ve been doing those for a long time, though, and this was something else, like an existential dread. Is this what being healthy feels like? I smoked a cigarette, and the feeling went away. I have no idea what to make of that. I guess just don’t eat dog food.

You’re welcome.

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