Thursday, October 8, 2009

one more for chef michael

At the risk of going all Andy Rooney - wait, I guess it isn't, since I'm not railing against everything that's changed in the world since 1952 - I don't get why there's this explosion of "gourmet" or "chef-created" pet foods.

While we can't be sure just how canines and felines perceive taste, my understanding was that what their taste buds register is more than likely not even close to how humans perceive flavors and seasonings. Cats, from what I've read, are strictly a four-taste show: sour, salty, bitter, and sweet. I've had a couple of cats who prefer beef to fish, but that's about as far as it went. Dogs have more taste buds than cats, and like with people, the appealingness of the food gets intertwined with its scent, but dogs in general seem far less discriminating than cats about what they put in their bellies.

So why, then, do we have "Tuscan"-style pet entrees and chefs putting their name on pet food? It seems like wasted effort as far as the cat or dog's appreciation of the greens, seasonings, and textures; all I can figure is that it's supposed to make their owners feel better about themselves and up the manufacturers' profit per pound.

The most disturbing thing I've seen in this regard isn't Purina's Chef Michael line, as depicted above, but the new-ish Fancy Feast line of "cat appetizers." First, there's the notion of a cat meal having courses, which seems like anthropomorphizing of the first rank.

But worse, it's pitched as "an entirely new way to celebrate the moment."

What? I'm not sure if the target audience here is the stereotypical "crazy cat lady" or practitioners of bestiality, but this seems wrong on so many levels. You shouldn't be having "moments" with your cat! Or at least not the kind of moments you celebrate over a meal with courses and a glass of wine.

All this romancing-the-pet ickiness reminds me of a picture my former employer used in an award-winning advertising campaign. The "About Life, About You" series of commercials and print ads for our bank featured black and white shots of people insipidly doing the insipid things that were supposedly important to them, like fishing with the grandson or planting tomatoes outside Del Boca Vista II or setting up a nursery for the new arrival. By implication, our bank was helping them do these insipid things.

But anyway, the shot I'm remembering featured an attractive young lady of Asian descent. She was wearing a semi-formal dress as though headed out for a date, but she was sitting at what appeared to be a table in her residence eating what appeared to be a nice dinner. Across the table, sitting in a chair, was a dog, who also appeared to have a place setting in front of him/her.

Every time I saw this picture, be it at an ATM or the wall of a branch or in a statement flyer, I wasn't thinking how our financial institution was enabling young, attractive Asian women to live out their dreams. All I could think was She's on a date with her dog.

This woman would definitely be working the Fancy Feast appetizer, that's for sure.


Anonymous said...

First - kudos for the title... (Although I'm not getting if the chef part is a specific reference...).

I suppose the whole gourmet pet food thing is all about people who don't have enough opportunities with their own lifestyle appurtenances to wipe their obsession with status in others' faces. And, of course, to convey their utter gullibility to marketing hype: I *still* don't know what, if anything, "Tuscan" designates in terms of food (I mean, "florentine" means something, "alfredo" means something...Wisconsin Tourism Federation does "Tuscan" mean? Guess Mandy might know...if it indeed means anything other than "we think for some reason consumers are fascinated by the purported cuisine of the people of Tuscany.")

Miles said...

Jeff: The "Chef" comes from Chef Michael's dog foods for Purina, as depicted in the pic. They were my inspiration for the piece - I'd pass by them at work and "One More for St. Michael" would automatically start playing in my head.

As for your question about "Tuscan," I think Mandy answered it in a Facebook thread a few months ago, and the answer was pretty much what you just said, rather than it connoting an authentic and specific variant of Italian cuisine.

annab said...

Sadly, I once set a place for my cat at the table, in one of my worst post-divorce moments ever.

He ended up jumping ON the table (a no-no,) and eating the plant I had there instead.

I do throw him a few scraps on the floor if I'm eating broiled fish, but otherwise. . .

Miles said...

Anna: Nothing wrong with the occasional table scrap, or in valuing your animal companion. And at least your "my dinner with my cat" anecdote has a funny punchline!

My ex and I couldn't have houseplants because of Aubrey the cat, who destroyed all other living things in the house except his brother (and later, his adopted sister). To Aubrey, any plant was competition, and he wouldn't eat the plants; he'd knock them over, yank them out of their pots, grab 'em with his front paws, and shred them with his back claws. Aubrey was a truly unique critter.