Here’s my simple answer to the controversial question of "people food": Personally, this veterinarian hates the issue because of the words involved. “People food” is a loaded term––one full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Nothing, that is, beyond a Madison Avenue-originated, hard-blowing wind kicked up to keep most of us from feeding our pets anything that doesn’t come in a bag or can. 

By now, most of us fully understand that the vast majority of so called, “people foods” mirror the very same ingredients those bags and cans do. A meat source, a tuber, a grain, a fruit, is neither designed  nor dedicated for human consumption any more than the oceans are ours or the Earth belongs exclusively to us.

It’s true that machine extruded and stewed pet foods revolutionized the ability of humans to more safely and conveniently live with their dogs and cats. To the extent that we understand pet nutrition, manufactured pet diets are nutritionally balanced to meet their ideal requirements. Moreover, they leave out the foodstuffs we’ve learned can do them harm (alliums, grapes, macadamia nuts, etc.). 

Problem is, we’ve grown so accustomed to the one-bag-for-life mantra that the divide between “pet food” and “people food” has become a wall across which veterinarians, pet food manufacturers, raw foodists and average pet owners can no longer communicate freely. 

Case(s) in point:

  • My clients, who fear “people food” for pets such that they’d prefer to plump up their pets with Pupperonis than follow my recommendations for simple fruit and vegetable substitutions.
  • Many veterinarians, who fear the legal and safety aspects of recommending non-commercial diets and prefer to stick to foods that are balanced on the basis of good nutrients, not good ingredients.
  • Raw foodists, who wax evangelical on the merits of their choice of pet diets (usually justifiably), but who also may refute non-dietary veterinary recommendations in response to the pushback of the medical establishment against their “people food” choices. 
  • The pet food recall, after which a sizable percentage of American pet owners abandoned pet foods only to raise the hackles of veterinarians who bristled at the inappropriate chicken and rice diets their patients were living on. 

What I’m arguing here, in case I’ve lost you, is that the concept of feeding pets “people food” is ultimately not as black and white as some would have you believe. People food IS pet food...and vice versa. 

There should be no accusations leveled against pet owners who choose to feed a wholly or partially non-commercial diet to their pets. Pet owners should feel no guilt over this choice. And yet, I hear frequent expressions of both from my pet owners and the veterinary establishment.

As long as pet owners have their pet’s well-being in mind, research their choices, take precautions against gastrointestinal side-effects and are mindful of the need to provide a nutritionally complete diet, where’s the harm? After all, we're not talking about french fries and TV dinners, we're talking healthy ingredients.

That’s why I would be elated to hear the term “people food” leave our vocabulary once and for all. Doing so would serve pet health best, if not because pets might be exposed to a wide variety of foods, then because it would help break down a needless wall of acrimony between pet lovers and pet health care providers.