Food Choices

My friend nan referred me to Mary Roach’s book, Gulp, when I wrote about how my urine tastes, and I’m in her debt. After working down through my book piles, I started reading it on Saturday. It’s one of those books that forces me to set it down to think and conduct research. I’m still reading Gulp, but it’s a fascinating read. Ostensibly about the alimentary canal, it includes much about animals and humans’ eating habits, and some of the psychology behind our food choices.

One of the early facts that she stated is that most people only eat about forty flavors. When I shared that with my wife, she asked, “Is cheese one flavor?”

Good question, right? Is an IPA the same as a porter, stout, and lager? Why, no. I drink each for the different flavors they share with me. My choices also depend on what I’m doing and eating. So, do I put down beer as one flavor choice, delineate between the different beverages, or go more deeply into what makes it all up?

These are important distinctions because my wife and I immediately set out attempting to catalog our flavors. We quickly became trapped in a ball of mud about what parts of what flavors we like. We like dark chocolate but I don’t like it overly bitter, like past seventy-two percent. She likes it a little sweeter. Is dark chocolate a flavor, or is it chocolate with sugar, with whatever else is in there?

Those of you who eat gluten-free foods probably understand what I mean, along with the folks that eat sugar-free and fat-free offerings. They taste different. They’re a different experience in my mouth and on my tongue. Some of that may be psychological. In taste tests done with white and red wine, being able to see the color makes a difference in how the flavor is interpreted and described. Likewise, tests have shown that frequently, most of the differences observed between ten dollar bottle of wine and more expensive ones are often about perceptions of quality and expense; the more that something costs, the better it’s supposed to be, right?

It’s a knotty question. The whole thing about pet food was pretty mind-blowing. According to Mary’s research and writing, most cat food tastes about the same to the animals, regardless of what the flavor is supposed to be. To which I respond, say whaaat? My cats seem to show definite preferences, preferring to eat fishy stuff — which smells fishy to me — over the chicken, and chicken over beef. None of them are impressed with “Supper Super”. Gulp claims that these preferences are mostly about my perceptions, and not the animals.

It could be that I’m reading the whole thing wrong, or mis-interpreting the data. It does explain the waffle and fried chicken cat treats that have arrived. It’s not that the animals like waffles and chicken, but we, their owners, think that they’ll enjoy them.

The book fascinates me, too, because of the connections between tasting food and smell, and our brains’ acceptance about what is not good for us. I’m often smelling things and trying to analyze what I’m smelling, a process that I call, “What the hell is that smell?” My wife does the same. This leads to a game at our household that goes like this:

Her: “Do you smell that?”

Me: “You need to tell me what you mean. I smell many things.”

“That smell.”


“It smells like cat piss.”

“No, I don’t smell that.”

Sniffing the air, furniture, and carpet, we start looking around the area to see if it looks like a cat has pissed where they shouldn’t.

Me: “Maybe it’s the litter box.”

“It smells too strong. It smells like it’s right beside me.”

“Maybe a cat peed on your clothes. Are they wet?”

“I think I’m going to go change.”

Me: “I don’t smell cat piss, but I do smell someone’s marijuana crop. Or maybe it’s a skunk. Do you smell a skunk?”

The game goes on forever, it seems like.

I’ll keep reading Gulp. If more is explained, than I’ll come back and read another post.

That’s just the way it goes.




The Cat Food

He was in Walmart, a store that he detests and avoids, but here he was, because he was being supportive. While there, WTH, the thinking goes, look at the cat food offerings and prices to update his mental database of such things. This is mostly because the little cat is ill. Always a picky eater, his disease has exacerbated this, so cans are opened for the little feline to pick his way through. Some are more successful than others, but his usual favorites have been soundly rejected. New flavors are required.

So he’s in the aisle, examining prices and offerings beside a couple who are about fifteen years older than him (he thinks), making them in their late seventies. The woman says, “Chicken and waffle cat food.”

Before thinking can be processed, his mouth is engaged. “No way. Really? You have to be making that up.”

She points out the package and he examines it. The three agree, it’s an absurd idea. None of them are buying it,

They talk, of course, about their cats’ eating habits, and how all are picky eaters. The man relates a tale about one cat.

The man loves the shrimp he buys at Costco. So does the cat, who gets aggressive about it, trying to steal it out of his hand and off his plate when he’s eating. He gives the cat some, of course, because he’s a human, and the cat is in charge. Yes, clearly. We all know this.

But, here is the punch line. The cat won’t touch any cat food with shrimp in it.

“Figures,” the man says, walking away. “Cats, right?”

A Cat Tale

“Mew,” he said in his soft, sweet, voice. “Mew.” He rubbed his furry body against my calf and looked up with dark, imploring eyes. “Mew.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll open another can for you. Please eat it this time.”

I opened the can and spooned contents into a bowl. As I did, the cat celebrated with low purring and sharper, louder mews. I put the bowl down on the floor. “Here you go,” I said.

The cat stepped up to the bowl, but stopped several inches short of it. Leaning forward, he sniffed, and then he looked up at me with hurt sadness.

Turning away from me and the bowl of food, he made three strokes with one front paw, miming covering the food like he was burying his scat. As he did, he gave me a side-glance that whispered, “You are so disappointing.”

Then, bushy tail high and waving like a flag in a light breeze, he trotted away.

Dreams of Change

Last night’s dreams were all about change. Of what I remember, one was a vignette where I made coin change for people, including my wife and other family members. Another sequence featured me searching for and trying to change my clothes, which originally were white and light gray, and then trying to change my shoes. That moved into me trying to change the cat kibble, and being totally confused about what I was doing and why I was doing it. An additional series had me helping others change things. In one, I helped my father and friends trying to change a tire.

They’re laughable in the morning light. I realized that each scene and story shared elements.

  1. I was confused about what I was doing and why I was doing it.
  2. In the end, nothing that I set about changing required changed.

It was amazing. I’d make change for peoples’ dollars, and then they’d discover that they had the right change and didn’t need anything. They’d thank me and move on, leaving me standing there with change. The tire that we were trying to change was okay, just a little low on air, giving us a laugh. My clothes were the best choice, so I ended up not changing them, and the people with the other clothes suggestion left, and the cat kibble bowls were full, and the cats were eating them, so, confused, I realized, nothing was required of me.

Hmm, I wonder what message I’m trying to convey to myself with this night of cryptic dreams?

The Kibble Beast

Poor Tucker. He loves kibble.

Kibble despises him.

Kibble is not a creature, but the hard cat food. Sadly, Tucker, a large black and white cat with an injured eye (who may have some Maine Coon in him) suffers from an auto-immune condition, gingivitis stomatitis. He came to us in this condition, someone’s pet lost on the streets, looking for food, shelter and affection. We stopped up because we’re suckers like that. He was not in good shape and it took almost a year for us to discover the terrible conditions of his gums and teeth. Bleeding, infections, bad breath, ulcers, inflammation, pain and sensitivity, he had it all.

We started him on medications and steroids to contain the problem. Our vet recommended we pull all his teeth. No, no, no, no, no, we replied, no. Instead, we sought methods for containing and reducing the problem. Through reading and testing, we found he can’t eat kibble, period. So all kibble was taken from him. He eats wet food only but not just any. I’ve found that those wet foods with carrageenan causes swelling, ulcers and inflammation in him so they’ve been taken out of his diet. This finding of mine is contrary to the pet food industry’s findings, that carrageenan doesn’t contribute to these issues, but since restricting him from them, he’s doing much better, so I’ll accept my findings over their findings. Then, after reading of others’ success with L-lysine, I initiated a daily practice of dosing him with L-lysine. Buying it in capsule form, I dilute it a little water and squirt 100 CCs into his mouth before his morning and evening meals.

These practices have worked well with him, and he’s not needed any shots in four months. A year ago, he was going every 30 t0 45 days.

Sadly, though, Tucker is a huge kibble fan. We also feed it to our other cats (we have one, but ‘take care of’ two others). So Tucker remains on a perpetual quest to get to the kibble and gobble it up. He’s also a fighter. Although amazingly sweet and docile with humans, when it comes to other cats, he wants to fight, not chase or hiss or yowl, but launch himself fangs and claws out and battle! So we segregate the four cats. The matter is more complicated as Boo Radley, the big black tailless stray, taken in to protect him from the frigid winter but now probably also our pet, fights with Meep, the ginger cat that isn’t allowed in his house. (We bring him in to feed and offer shelter from foul and cold weather.) Only Quinn, our black paw buddy, gets along with the others. It’s trying, to express the most minimal impact, to deal with the fights when Meep, Tucker or Boo encounter one another and unsheath their claws.

It all works in a way, but we need to find a way to end the fights. At least we’ve mitigated many of Tucker’s problems. Maybe someday we’ll find kibble that doesn’t cause him issues. Then he’ll be one purring kitty.

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