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What’s in Pet Food: A Harrowing Tale

Times Staff Writer

Cats can be turned into vegetarians.

A yummy mix of cooked garbanzo beans, brewer’s yeast, vegetable oil and a supplement called Vegecat can substitute for the protein-rich--and occasionally entertaining--tuna, milk, birds and rodents that most cats seem to crave, according to the July-August issue of Harrowsmith, a slick, informative Vermont-based bimonthly that comes in a plastic wrapper stamped biodegradable.

This recipe is one of the more palatable items in the magazine’s cover story, “Inside Pet Food: Chicken Feathers & Other Fixings” by the aptly named Craig Canine, a free-lance writer who reports that dogs also can be wooed to meat-free cuisine--and probably lots more easily than typical hooked-on-flesh cats. (A photo of an angry cat sitting on a pile of fresh and dried vegetables accompanies the article.)

Pet food, Canine writes, is a $7-billion-a-year business, churning out at least 140 types of dried dog food, 59 brands of canned dog food, 43 brands of canned cat food and 48 brands of dry cat food.

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Some of these pet foods contain “4-D” materials that come from dead, dying, diseased or disabled animals. Such materials--indeed most dry pet food--are processed by extruders, machines that employ high pressures and high temperatures to sterilize and blend offal with other ingredients, including ground corn, soybeans and beet pulp.

“The main difference between a good and a bad food . . . is the quality of the ingredients, especially the protein,” Canine notes.

One source told him, ". . . you could meet your basic crude-protein requirements in a dried food simply by dumping a lot of feather meal--processed chicken feathers--in there.”

In his research, Canine found that pet food philosophies fall into three camps--mainstream, revisionist and radical. Mainstreamers feed their pets grocery-store pet food. Revisionists eschew popular supermarket brands for premium labels such as Iams, Science Diet, ANF and Perform. Radicals shun almost all commercial pet food in favor of preparing their own or feeding only natural pet food brands that don’t contain animal by-products.

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Two books are the bibles of radical pet-feeders, according to Canine, who admits to feeding his six cats and two dogs commercially available food.

The easiest to swallow--for pets--probably is “Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats” by veterinarian Dr. Richard Pitcairn and his wife, Susan. Canine reports that the book is replete with recipes such as “Feline Fatty Meat Menu” and “Potatoes au Canine.”

Pitcairn told Canine, “There are rules about what can be put into human food, but most of them don’t apply to animal food. Things that are inedible, like chicken heads, feet and feathers, or things that have something else wrong with them, like infected or tumorous tissue, can be used in pet food.”

The Extreme Approach

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The most extreme approach to pet food, Canine discovered, is that advocated by Barbara Lynn Peden in her book “Dogs and Cats Go Vegetarian.” A confirmed vegan--a vegetarian who doesn’t eat eggs or dairy products--Peden found that fulfilling the nutrition needs of cats “required long, scientifically involved detective work,” Canine reports.

On the other hand, it’s relatively easy to switch dogs to an omnivorous rather than carnivorous diet, according to the Harrowsmith article.

When Canine tried out the vegetarian dish on his pets, only one of his six cats “lapped up every bit and requested more.” He adds, “Vegecat made its biggest immediate hit with our two dogs, who always seem to prefer what the cats are eating to their own fare.”

Fidel Castro’s Cuba

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Cuban President Fidel Castro has ruled his island nation for more than 30 years. Now it is time for him to step aside.

So asserts veteran Cuba-watcher and documentary maker Saul Landau in the July-August issue of Mother Jones, the recently revamped liberal San Francisco magazine.

“Fidel . . . is the state,” Landau writes. “After visiting Cuba on a regular basis for more than 30 years, it seems clear to me that free discussion and sound development, including some Cuban form of political debate and economic restructuring, cannot take place when such power resides in one man. . . . Fidel never tires of describing how the masses participate in defense, women’s organizations, block committees and so on. But participation without choice is a flawed political foundation.”

While crediting Castro with solid accomplishments in nation-building and foreign policy, Landau portrays Castro as too rigid and authoritarian to allow badly needed fresh ideas to flow into Cuban political and economic life.

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(Although Landau’s article makes no reference to it, the current trial of 14 former officials for drug-trafficking and the earlier firing of two cabinet minister’s of Castro’s government are seen in some quarters as a purge against the forces of change.)

Moreover, Landau observes that, although Castro has put a veneer of modernity over most of the nation, he has not erased its spiritualist, superstitious past. In fact, Castro may rely partly on a carefully cultivated non-Communist mystique for his image as a strong leader. For example, Landau reports that beneath their neatly pressed uniforms many Cuban soldiers wear “Santeria beads--the tokens of belief in an Afro-Caribbean religion far more pagan than Christian. Fidel has godlike status among these believers. . . . On the street he is widely known as el caballo (the horse), a virile, almost invincible man.”

Not surprisingly, Castro dislikes any mention of his possible retirement. When he raised the subject recently with the Cuban leader during a filmed interview, Landau reports that Castro “leapt from his chair, almost tearing the microphone cord from his lapel. ‘Leave that for the next film,’ he chided.”

More Reasonable Views

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“It’s true. George Bush is a wimp,” Virginia I. Postrel writes in her first published statement as new editor of Reason magazine, the Santa Monica-based flagship of libertarian thinking in America.

Reason pointed out that Postrel--who came to the magazine in 1986 as an assistant editor, having worked as a reporter for Inc. magazine and the Wall Street Journal--becomes the only woman editor of a national think magazine. At 29, the announcement notes, she is about the same age as William F. Buckley when he started National Review, Michael Kinsley when he started at Harper’s magazine and Norman Podhoretz when he started at Commentary.

The announcement also assures readers that Postrel shares Reason’s views.

Those views are reflected in the July issue.

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Bush, she argues, wimped out on cutting capital gains taxes; he wimped out on granting tuition tax credits; he even wimped out on the minimum wage, dickering with Congress about the size of proposed increases and “training wages,” rather than opposing the minimum wage altogether, as Reason would have prefered.

A leader, Postrel writes, must concentrate his efforts on a core of issues he deems essential. But Bush has no issues, she argues. “His agenda is being set by everyone but George Bush.”


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