TLT Guest Blogger Brianne DeRosa: “Kid Food or Dog Food: The ‘Beneful’ Test”

In keeping with my goal of bringing new voices to TLT this summer, today I’m pleased to share a guest blog post from Brianne DeRosa, blogger at Red, Round or Green.   The subtitle of RRG is “just trying to get everyone fed,” and Brianne’s blog documents her efforts to do just that “with as much grace, humor, taste, style, and locally/responsibly produced food as I can reasonably achieve.”  Today she looks at gourmet dog food and the food typically served to American kids and asks the provocative question, “Who do we care about more?  Our kids…or our pets?”


Kid Food or Dog Food: The “Beneful Test”

by Brianne DeRosa

We were at a playdate with friends when their 14-month-old daughter toddled into the room with a Milk Bone for the dog.  He eagerly snapped it from her chubby fingers and crunched happily, large crumbs dropping to the carpet.  I knew exactly what was going to happen next.

The baby picked up one of the Milk Bone chunks, squealed, and stuck it in her mouth.  Her father looked horrified.

“If it helps at all,” I said, “I don’t think it’ll hurt her any.  My mom remembers that her brothers used to eat the dog’s Milk Bones too, when they were little.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, relaxing back into the sofa as the little girl wobbled away with her prize, “We’ve actually asked the doctor that.  We even knew a kid who ate kibble for, like, a week straight.  I mean, it’s gross, but it’s really just made of exactly the same stuff we eat anyway.  Right?”

Gulp.  Actually…right.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I know I can’t be the only one who’s seen them – the commercials where people are opening their mammoth stainless-steel refrigerators, taking out an attractive package, and serving up their pet’s totally-perishable-and-completely-gourmet-looking dinner.  These are the commercials that make Chef Gordon Ramsay’s constant admonishment to his trainees, “It looks like a dog’s dinner!” sort of a moot point.  Heck, if half of the kids in this country ate dinners that looked as good as those high-end pet food glamor shots, we’d probably be a lot better off than we are right now.

Leading me to the question: Who do we care about more?  Our kids…or our pets?

Let me hasten to say that I LOVE animals.  I’m still capable of going all misty over photos of my beloved childhood dog, who has been gone now for well over a decade.  I believe animals do become like family…but I draw the line at treating them better than we treat our children.

In just four minutes on Google, I found a pretty comprehensive list of “quality” dog foods that are, for the most part, readily available in supermarkets and run-of-the-mill pet supply stores.   In the top 10 alone, almost all were proudly advertising themselves as gluten-free, soy-free, or even entirely grain-free.  Each promised a rich mixture of fruits and vegetables, touting the “antioxidant” component and the extra fiber.  Heck, there are even certified organic foods out there, foods that contain “human-grade” meat (!), and foods that are supplemented with flax, fish oil, and other healthy fats for the “Omega-3 content.”  And if that’s not enough proof that the stuff will be good for your dog, you can go ahead and splurge on the entirely RAW-FOOD OPTION.  That’s right.  Even dogs are going raw.

I’m not going to say I think dogs don’t deserve high-quality food, or even that they don’t deserve organic grain-free food with blueberries and pumpkin and flax oil.  In fact, since dogs are frequently nicer than most people I know, I’m thrilled that we have the means to provide them with such health-supportive food, much of which is even apparently free of “artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.”  It seems natural to me that, since we’ve nailed down the secret to providing quality meats, organic vegetables, healthy fats,  nutritious grain options, and foods entirely free of preservatives and artificial additives to our children, we ought to absolutely begin passing those benefits along to our pets!

Wait, I’m sorry…we…huh.  We didn’t figure out how to feed kids this well yet?

Then, pardon me, but what the expletive-deleted are we DOING?

I once had a job where I created service-learning curriculum for kids as part of my regular duties.  Whenever I would bring an idea to my boss that involved service to animal shelters or endangered species programs, she’d veto it.  Finally, one day, she looked me in the eye and said: “Every kid loves the animals.  But I want you to teach them to love the people that much FIRST.”

I’m not sure we’re doing such a good job, collectively, of loving the people first.  There’s something very wrong to me about giving dogs “human-quality” meat when rising food prices across the country will increasingly mean that many HUMANS won’t be eating human-quality meat (whatever the heck that even means).  There’s a part of me that’s simply amazed at the use of cranberries, green beans, broccoli, and carrots in our pet food, while cafeteria pizza is allowed to constitute a daily “vegetable” serving for children.  And above all, I cannot for the life of me figure out why our dogs can have food without added soy products, preservatives, and artificial food coloring, but I can’t take my youngest child to our trendy neighborhood cupcake shop because there’s not a flavor there without food dyes (never mind what’s on offer at the groceries and convenience stores along the same street).

Incidentally, that same cupcake shop shares space with a gourmet pet bakery.  Which sells 100% natural dog treats without artificial dyes.

I guess what I’m saying is…our priorities, friends, may be just a touch out of whack.  And I’m sure the right answer isn’t to take the good stuff away from the dogs.  What I think I’d rather see is more people running their choices for their kids through the filter of these pet-food commercials.  We can call it the “Beneful Test.”  That steady diet of Cheetos and Lunchables?  I’m pretty sure it won’t pass the Beneful test.  Sports drinks and “fruit snacks?”  There’s no way a responsible vet would let you feed those to Fido.  Cafeteria menus packed with refined starches, French fries, and mechanically separated meats?  There’s nothing on that list that even barely resembles the grain-free, Omega-3-rich, “human-quality meat” benchmark pet owners are now using as the measurement of their dog’s nutrition.

In my ideal world, the Beneful test would be the first line of defense against the overwhelming stream of junk that passes for food in our children’s diets.  I used to think it was as easy as saying, “If you wouldn’t feed it to yourself, don’t feed it to your kids.”  But clearly, that’s not good enough – not with a whole nation hooked on fast food, freezer food, and faux food.  So instead, maybe it’s time to admit that we are unconsciously placing more value on our animals than we are on ourselves, and just leave it at this: If it’s not good enough for your dog, it’s not good enough for your kid.  Or for you.

God help me, I actually just wrote that.  And I meant every word.

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  1. Jess Fuller says

    Brilliant. Sharing this as widely as possible. While we don’t have the same cafeteria style lunches here in Australia, we still have the EXACT same problems with regards to what parents, schools, ALL responsible adults are feeding our children.

  2. Monika says

    You have a good point there! My cat eats healthier than my stepson. We buy the cat usually grain free, free-range chicken/venison with a healthy dose of vegetables…
    But the cat does not beg for junk food, it relishes the real food, which in turn, one could say(!) makes it smarter than the child…

  3. says

    Hilarious, and so sad! Although even more sad, I think that if there were a single packaged food for kids that was healthy, could be served for every meal, and kids would be as excited as a puppy to eat, many parents would buy it in a second! But when it comes to kids, it’s crappy packaged artificial foods that are easy and make them happy…sigh…

  4. says

    And just think, during the ’90s Newt Gingrich and the GOP-majority Congress were accused of “conspiring to make your (elderly) parents EAT DOG FOOD”! As if that were somehow worse than eating the processed cr*p that we feed our kids (and ourselves)!


  5. Emma says

    Largely agreed, but I’ve always objected to people’s assertion that pets are “LIKE family.” My dogs are family, plain and simple. And since there was never any melamine in anything I served to the human members of my family, I’m all over the high-quality pet food options.

    So I think of it this way: the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in 1842; the (British) National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, in 1889. Sometimes we start with the critters and then move on to the young-uns.

  6. Steve says

    While I am not an expert on the pet food industry, I am knowledgeable enough about agricultural issues to know that many pet food companies use slaughter house offal as an inexpensive ingredient in their formulations. I might be wrong, but I doubt that many of them would purchase expensive ground chuck or round to make pet food if it could be used for human consumption. Pet food companies have researched the dietary requirements of dogs and cats and produce a completely balanced, ready to eat food. I suppose it could be done for humans as well, but that would take the joy and pleasure out of eating. So yes, in the end, pets do eat a more regulated, balanced diet than humans, but I would argue that humans enjoy the eating experience more.

    • says

      Steve, There is offal, and there is low-quality parts of meats, both of which are likely used in pet food. While you are likely correct that humans don’t always eat offal, we do eat the low quality bits of meat leftover after the slaughtering process in the product commonly known as “pink slime.” Until recently, we just didn’t know it (and now, thanks to this website, we do!).

      However, pet food manufacturers have jumped on the “all natural” and “no artificial colorings or flavorings” bandwagon much sooner than companies that make brightly colored foods and drinks for people. That’s sort of mystifying.


  7. Kate says

    I’m a little confused by the Beneful reference? Are we endorsing Beneful?

    The dry kind has artificial food colors and sugar…stopped reading after that. I’m not sure about the “moist” kind though. We’ve bought the moist kind which comes in in not so environmentally friendly containers for one serving of dog food.

    I’m okay with my pet getting artificial colors…I’d never really given it much thought before reading today’s post though. We’ve tried to switch to slightly cheaper brands, and he won’t eat them.

  8. mommm!!! says

    I’m a little miffed on this post since so much pet food has come up recently as being poisoned or contaminated. Hmm.

  9. Emily says

    But isn’t high-end pet food doing the same thing we do to our kids, feeding them foods they’re not designed to eat? Dogs and cats aren’t meant to eat vegetables, any more than our children should be consuming pink slime, right?

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