By Diana Chang
I love dogs. I’ve always loved dogs. I had two growing up, a Maltese named Joy and a Labrador retriever named Jackie. If I wasn’t living in a typical, tight-fitting apartment in New York, I’m pretty sure I would be a dog lady and own at least two today. But as it stands, I have only one, Mwaji.
Having said that, I was never one of those pet owners who took the extra step to look into what my dog was eating. My dog, who is practically my baby and is treated as if I birthed her myself, always ate whatever brand I saw first at the store that had the word “healthy” or “natural” on the packaging. So when I was asked if I would ever consider eating the same food as Mwaji, I said a very hesitant “Yes?” because I figured this might be a great opportunity to find out what exactly should be in my dog’s diet.
After some research (aka searching on Google and asking some dog-owning friends), I discovered that there is a surprisingly large number of people who cook for their own fur babies. The recipes used the same stuff I usually put in my own dinner (except onions and garlic because those are poisonous to dogs — who knew?!). So with that, I embraced the challenge.
For the main meals, I cooked the same thing to serve my pup for both breakfast and dinner, since my dog eats the same thing twice a day. Feeding time for her is at 8 a.m., before I head off to work, and then again at 7 p.m., when I return.
I cooked up some ground beef, chopped-up beef liver, carrots, peas and sweet potato, and then portioned it for her and for myself. Just as with humans, a dog’s activity level helps determine how large or small its meal portions should be; more active dogs need more food. Like her human owner, Mwaji is a pretty inactive dog, who prefers running in circles on the rug at home rather than running outside in the park. Thus, my portions for her were fairly small.
The result: Not going to lie, the food tasted awful. There was no flavor, and the combination of the ground beef with the beef liver gave it a mushy yet somewhat stringy texture. I knew that was going to happen because the stringy texture is supposed to help clean your dog’s teeth. However, as a human who has other ways of doing that, I wasn’t quite mentally prepared for it. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to dinner, but Mwaji loved it. She literally licked her bowl clean.
The surprising discovery for me was that despite this first effort being the worst meal I’ve ever had, it filled me up completely. I wasn’t hungry for lunch or a snack, which is what usually happens at around 2 p.m. However, I do usually give Mwaji a snack or two during the day.
My friend Vivian, who also works at Food Network, had baked up some yummy dog treats for all of her canine pals, so I had a couple of those in the fridge. She had given me the recipe, so even though I didn’t make them myself, they were homemade and I knew exactly what was in them — peanut butter, bananas, whole-wheat flour, flax seeds and coconut oil. All Mwaji cared about was the peanut butter, though. That was all she needed to know. One whiff of the snack and she chowed down on it. From a human’s perspective, since peanut butter is naturally savory and bananas have some sweetness to them, it wasn’t as bland as I expected it to be. It was like eating a peanut butter cookie with no sugar in it.
When 7 p.m. rolled by and I was faced with eating the beef concoction once again, I was so hesitant.
I tried, you guys, I really did! I just couldn’t get more than a couple bites down before I gave up and forfeited the rest to Mwaji. The vet did say it wouldn’t hurt for Mwaji to gain a few pounds, so in the end, it was a good thing. Besides, the challenge was for me to eat the same food as my dog, not the same portion. So, technically, I stuck to the challenge rules for the full 24 hours.
Of course, that meant I spent the rest of the night dreaming about the glorious breakfast I would be indulging in come morning.
I love dogs, but I can’t eat like them. Nutrition-wise, I feel like I would fare a lot better if I did stick to the dog diet. I mean, it would mean cleaner eating and significantly less salt than I usually ingest. However, I just can’t get over the bland taste and the mushy texture of dog food to actually make this something I could eat even on occasion.