What about the dog?

You are changing your diet, but what about your best friend. Lola, Max, Jasper, Lexi, no not your porn star name, your pet!

Pet food is a perfect example of our gross manipulation by the food industry. Yes it is convenient, yes it can be cheap, but….there are a lot of buts.

The focus is on dog food as that is where I have done the majority of my research but it can be applied to any pet food – research and question your choices. Also with my four dogs in their sixth year of eating my homemade food, it is the area I am most comfortable in. I will write a separate post about homemade dog food.

Where do you look for real advice? It is a hard one to research. The food industry spends millions on marketing, government legislation is wordy and not written in plain english, so you have to read between the lines and use your common sense. We all know that poor quality ingredients go into human food what do you think goes into pet food that is made from the left overs of that process?

Straight from the Purina website https://www.purina.co.uk/meet-purina/what-goes-into-purina-petfood ‘Strict legislation assures the quality of the protein and means that no ingredients such as spinal cord, euthanized pets or sick animals go into our pet foods.’ To be fair to the folk at Purina this is a marketing cockup on their part. In reality this is not allowed in the EU, I assume it is lifted from their .com website. People in the USA do need to worry about dead pets ending up in their dog food, for example the city of Los Angeles alone sends about 200 tons of dead pets to a rendering plant each month which ends up in dog food. We have better protection under EU policy, but be under no illusion, dog food is still well and truly in the red zone.

One could argue that pet food is ethical on the basis that it is generally made of a by-products, so it is good from a waste perspective, but that is where it ends. Pet food is on the ethical debate list for many reasons:

  • We are brainwashed into believing it is the only and best thing we should feed our pets
  • The cost of the product versus the ingredients is miles away from an acceptable ratio
  • The production methods and the permitted ingredients are proven to be putting our dogs health at both long and short term risks
  • Ask your dog – it tastes bad! What comes out of the factory as grey mush is recoloured and reformed to look like food, for your benefit
  • The low quality dog food debate has led to an explosion in high end dog foods and whilst some of them are better for your dog, the cost is often prohibitive. Plus this opens the door wider for consumer manipulation, leaving you in a spin in the supermarket aisle.
  • My personal favourite is the special diets, (unless your dog REALLY needs it), you maybe paying over the top for now reason – vet diets, the science diets, senior, food for dogs with long hair, the list goes on. Often the reason they make all of these is again consumer manipulation and often to fix the problems the other food has caused. Two wrongs don’t make a right, they just cost more!

Your dog has 1000’s of year of evolution revolving around sense of smell, they know it is grey mush. The majority of the cost you are paying is for the packaging and how it looks. For your benefit, not the dogs. I hear of so many instances of dogs picking at their food, eating slowly. Does your dog ever give you that ‘you can’t be serious’ look? Well they are trying to tell you something – listen! Dogs are designed to eat on the run, to get what they can when they can, there is nothing in a dogs DNA to make them eat slowly or to leave food (unless they are very old or unwell).

Modern dog food was invented by James Spratt, who launched the first complete dog food – a biscuit made of wheat meal, vegetables and animal blood – in England in 1860. Mill owners saw its potential as a way of selling their unwanted by-products (basically floor sweepings) and low-cost meat off-cuts at a much higher price than they’d otherwise achieve.

Over the years with better meat recovery systems what is left for pet food, is actually waste, it is food that is not suitable for human consumption. For anyone that has ever seen the Jamie Oliver series about school dinners and the mechanical recovery of chicken from a carcass to make chicken nuggets, you’ll know what I mean! There is nothing much left. Now don’t get me wrong, grinding up bones to make dog food isn’t such a bad idea and dogs can eat that, that is not the issue here, but they don’t grind up fresh bones and serve them to your dogs. The left overs next go to a meat rendering plant see http://www.midukrecycling.co.uk/compliance-legislation/animal-by-products.aspx, you’ll notice their catchy slogan, ‘converting waste’ again it is all a good idea, but if you are under any illusion that your pet is eating good quality food think again. The real issue is that you are being sold on a picture of fresh chicken and a dog with a glossy coat jumping in the air for a frisbee.

OK so it tastes bad, it is from waste product, but what about the health aspects, I mentioned earlier. Regarding general health the same applies to your dog ‘they are what they eat’. Nutrition and a good diet supports good health and it starts with the ingredients we use. But more troubling is specific health issues. This is an extract from the Food standard agency website “For pets, the main part of the risk assessment when setting the maximum permitted levels for undesirable substances will generally be the extent to which the animal can tolerate them” https://www.food.gov.uk/business-industry/farmingfood/animalfeed/animalfeedlegislation/pet-food In other words, it is legal to use ‘undesirable substances’ in dog food if they don’t do the animal immediate harm. A quote from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/chemicals-in-pet-food-can-lead-to-bad-behaviour-says-top-vet-913907.html “Over the 12 years I’ve been a practising vet, I have seen a substantial rise in cases of problems caused by poor diet, including allergies and intolerances, and behavioural issues linked to artificial additives in food.”

This post is not about condemning dog food. It is about being informed and making better food choices. There is a great variance in the quality and cost of dog food as well as the ethical aspects.

Labelling requirements for pet food is very relaxed. It is way more relaxed than labelling for human food and even for farmed livestock feed. This gives the manufactures a lot of flexibility and helps to keep you in the dark. Looks for labels that list ingredient in specific quantities and whole foods rather than a derivatives of.

See these examples of ingredients:

GOOD – Lily’s KitchenThree bird feast – 60% Freshly Prepared: Turkey (40%), Goose (10%), Duck (10%), Parsnips (4%), Organic Carrot (3%), Cranberries (3%), Broccoli, Organic Apple, Minerals & Herbs.

BAD – PedigreeSmall dog with chicken – Cereals, Meat and Animal Derivatives (including 4% Chicken in the Brown Kibbles), Oils and Fats (including 0.5% Sunflower Oil), Derivatives of Vegetable Origin (including 2% Dried Beet Pulp), Minerals (1.8%, including 0.7% Sodium Tripolyphosphate, an active ingredient on the Brown Kibbles), Vegetables (4% Carrots in the Orange Kibbles, 4% Peas in the Green Kibbles), Vegetable Protein Extracts, Antioxidants, Colourants

GOOD – NaturoChicken and lamb – Chicken 30%, Lamb 30%, Brown Rice 20%, Carrots 5%, Peas 5%, Potatoes 5%, Minerals, Sunflower Oil, Salmon Oil, Dried Tomato, Dried Kelp, Dried Basil

HONEST but LAZY! – ButchersTripe in jelly – Meat & Animal Derivatives (53%, of which Tripe 35%, Fresh 49%), Minerals, Natural array of Ingredients min. 99%

WHAT? – Royal CaninMedium adult dry food – (At around £8 per kg, this ingredients list depicts everything that is wrong with the food industry, IMHO) Maize flour, dehydrated poultry protein, rice, maize, animal fats,hydrolysed animal proteins, wheat, dehydrated pork protein*, chicory pulp, soya oil, minerals, fish oil, flax seeds (0.5%), fructo-oligo-saccharides, borage oil (0.1%),marigold extract (source of lutein), green tea and grape extracts (source of polyphenols),hydrolysed crustaceans (source of glucosamine), hydrolysed cartilage (source of chondroitin)….etc

I have reviewed over 40 different dog food products and my conclusion is. If you don’t really mind what your dog eats or you are on a tight budget, then go for the cheapest food, e.g. ‘Tesco own’ as I have found very little quality difference at the lower to mid end so you are just paying for marketing. There are a few mid range products that contain fresh meat worth looking at, then there a select few brands we would consider to be ethical (sourcing free range or organic ingredients). I can’t find a really cheap ethical dog food but I have found mid range through to over the top price versions. Price alone dictates the quality of products. Look for an independent UK brand, avoid big brand food manufactures and companies that have pages of information about nutrition but don’t list their ingredients, always read the ingredients labels and ultimately use common sense.

Ethical omnivores pick:

  • Homemade – 1st place (see next post)
  • Natural dog food company (full range, ethically sourced meat and fish) @ £3.67 per kg it gets 2nd place
  • Simpsons premium (organic products)
  • Lily’s Kitchen (organic products)
  • Honey Raw dog food (full range – it is all free range or organic)
  • Forthglade (beef and lamb products)
  • Other brands and products containing fresh lamb (on the basis lamb is free range)

A rough view on some well known brands, based on cost and quality of ingredients:

  • Cheap but not so cheerful – Chappie, Bakers (Purina) Winalot (Purina) Harringtons, Wagg, Tesco own (cheaper), Winalot, Cesar (Mars)
  • Worth a look – Naturo, Forthglade, Lily’s kitchen, Step up to naturals, Butchers choice, James Wellbeloved, Wainwrights, Edgardcooper, Natures harvest.
  • Not sure – price v ingredients – Nature’s table (Mars), Vet’s kitchen, Iams, Hilife, Freshpet, Applaws, Arden grange, Burns, Hills, Royal Canin, Taste of the wild

Final thoughts – Dog treats cost more per kg than the best quality human foods, go for carrot sticks and raw beef marrow bones from the butcher.

If you dog is overweight, avoid jumping to diet dog food. Try dog food that contains less junk food (less grain and other bulking agents), feed your dog more pure meat, veg, rice etc. and ideally do a bit more exercise – #goodadviceforusall

Woof woof!

The Ethical omnivore and my doggy friends.








Better than dairy? – try simple cashew nut cream

Is there a good alternative to dairy cream? Simple answer is yes. As part of my research into making plant based, veggie or vegan versions our favourite dishes I wanted to find an alternative to cream and sour cream. I hit the jackpot and found cashew nut cream and I have never looked back. We use it in every instance we would have used dairy cream, in savoury and sweet dishes. It is delicious, super simple and healthier than dairy cream. It is also handy for lactose intolerant folk!

  • Double cream contains: 50% fat, 31% saturated and 1.5% protein.
  • Cashew cream contains: 33% fat, 6% saturated and 15% protein (based on equilivant thickness to double cream)

This is where I believe being open minded and looking at other approaches to food really gives us the best of both worlds. You don’t have to be a vegan to make use of vegan recipes. In fact why consider it vegan at all, it is simply a nut cream and can be part of any diet.

How to make it – Using plain, wholefood cashew nuts, not the salted or roasted version. I buy Tesco or Waitrose organic cashew nuts https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/266565966 but non organic works just as well https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/271666995 you can also use cashew pieces which are sometimes cheaper.

  1. The quantity of nuts depends how much cream you want to make. 50 grams of nuts makes around 75 grams of cream.
  2. Soak the nuts in cold water for around 2 hrs, (you can leave them for longer). Cover them in water plus some to allow for swelling. They are ready when they have swelled up. If you are in a hurry you can use very hot water and soak for around 30 mins.
  3. Once soaked drain the water and rinse.
  4. Add enough water to just cover the nuts. You can adjust the amount of water depending on the desired thickness of the cream. Remember you can add but you can’t take away.
  5. Add to a blender, the better the blades and power the smoother the cream. I use a Nutraninja  which is the best kitchen gadget we own.
  6. Blend until it is smooth and creamy. 1-2mins. It should not have any bits however small, if it does just keep blending. If it doesn’t go smooth it is because you didn’t soak the nuts for long enough, you added too much water initially or your processor blades are not sharp enough.
  7. Use straight away or store is an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. If you find it has thickened in the fridge just stir in more water before serving.

We use it in Mexican dishes, to thicken soup, to make a lovely cream curry, instead of yogurt or cream in desserts. I use it just as it comes but you can add flavours if you want to go wild:

Optional savory flavorings:
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • Dash paprika
  • Dash onion powder
Optional sweet flavorings:
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons minced, fresh ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom

Needing to gain weight is not a problem that most of us have but if that is the case, especially for someone convalescing, it is packed with calories, good fats and protein and can be easily added to smoothies and soaps to increase the calorie count.

You can use raw, shelled sunflower seeds in place of the cashews for a nut-free version. Pine nuts, macadamia nuts, and almonds will all work with the same amount of soaking time.





Love veg

It is official, vegetables are amazing! We used to eat peas or broccoli with dinner, the odd carrot, a salad on a hot day. I would add veg as a side dish as an obligation to my ‘5 a day’ and had very little regard for vegetables in their own right.

Now I find veg exciting and I am proud to make them the main event. Swiss chard, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, artichokes, spring greens, beetroot, spinach, pak choi, courgette, leeks, brussels sprouts, fennel, rhubarb, chives flowers, the list go on and on.

Buy fresh and buy ‘real’ varieties, try things you’ve never tried before. We started growing our own veg and as ‘really’ lazy gardeners we found it very easy, you can grow veg in containers or in beds, throw some seeds in or buy some 50p plants from the market and see what takes. The photo below is veg I picked from the garden tonight, picked, chopped, oven roasted for 6 mins, delicious.

How you cook veg is important. I hardly ever use water and my favourite is roasting or dry frying. Try roasting curly kale, it is amazing. Take a bag of chopped curly kale, put in a roasting tray in an oven on about 180C, after 6-8 mins check and toss, it is done when the edges as crispy. Roast a tray of green veg, broccoli, sprouts, leeks, kale, stir spinach in at the end, you will be amazed by the flavours. The great thing is about veg is that you can’t under cook it, the majority of veg can be eaten raw so you are free to play. Pick, chop, cook, serve.


The EOr



Good steak should never be chewy!!

One of the best dishes going is Steak and chips. It is a treat we eat very occasionally, one of my favourites and something I am very passionate about. It breaks my heart to see people sawing away at meat, chewing to the point they wear their teeth down. Hearing comments about steak being tough or tasteless. It should never be that way. Sadly we buy steak (from the supermarket?) over and over again and put up with this. People don’t realise what we are missing out on. As part of my quest to only eat the best quality meats I decided to try to find out why good steak was so hard to find.

So what’s the difference? Well as far as I have gleaned there are two main issues;

  1. Not all beef is from cattle breed to produce quality meat. A lot of beef is a byproduct of the dairy industry (either young male dairy calves or culled ex service dairy cows), breeds that have been developed for high milk yields but not for their meat quality.
  2. As with a lot of modern farming the faster and bigger they can grow it the cheaper they can make it whilst keeping the profit. Farmers are under pressure to fatten cattle and get them to slaughter as quickly as possible. Meaning the cattle are taken off pasture, keep in barns, feed grain and slaughter before the meat is mature. As young as 9 mths but typically 12 mths (http://www.fwi.co.uk/livestock/slaughtering-beef-animals-at-12-months-is-most-profitable.htm)

The best meat comes from cattle that is a specific meat breed e.g. Angus, English Longhorn, Dexter, Sussex Red, has been naturally raised and slow grown. Pasture feed, ideally organic and allowed to mature at a natural rate. I understand this to be around 2+ years but I’ve eaten 8 yrs old beef and it was truly amazing.

The next element that is essential is how long the meat is hung for. Even good meat that is not well hung can loose quality. But hanging meat costs money, the meat loses weight as it drys, extra storage costs and time passes. It is ironic that the industry boasts ’21 days hung’ as a selling feature, when that is the industry standard and in my view inadequate. Look for 30+ days hung, you will notice the difference.

And finally the cooking. Cook an average piece of meat correctly and it might pass as a meal, cook a great piece of steak correctly and you make an exceptional meal. How to cook great steak – First I ensure the meat is at room temperature (take it out of the fridge hours in advance – make sure the dog can’t reach it!), then oil the meat and season with salt. Great the pan really hot, I used a cast iron skillet, then add the steak, (don’t over fill the pan otherwise you will loose temperature, get moisture and there is a risk of stewing the meat.) Let the meat do it’s thing and get well browned (known as sealing) before you turn it over. There is a great tick I use to determine how well cooked the meat is without cutting into it, especially important for thick steaks. On the same hand touch a finger to your thumb (just so the tips touch) don’t squeeze, just connect. The fat part of your thumb (even thin people have them) is the same consistency as the different types of cooked steak. First finger = rare, second = mid rare, third = medium, and forth = well. Gently press your thumb and then press the meat (with a knife or fork) you’ll see what I mean. I always cook meat a like less than I want it then take it off the heat and let if rest in the pan e.g. 10 mins. It will carry on cooking which is why I undercook it slightly. I slice the meat and serve in the middle to people to pick/fight over – crispy fries, creamed spinach, mushrooms, onions, salad (if you want green), horseradish or creamy Bernaise – Yummy!

So I know you are all desperate to talk about cost. It sounds so expensive, how can organic meat raised for 2+yrs, hung for 5 weeks be affordable. Why here’s is the great news, because it is a great steak you don’t need sirloin or fillet, you can go for rump, skirt, feather steak it is all good. Also there is no waste as there is not gristle to cut off. We go for rump every time as it is better than any shop bought fillet, sirloin, ribeye I have tested. We buy directly from the farmer which also means we get maximum value. Also with reduced meat consumption the concept is you buy less but better quality meat. See https://www.longhornbeef.co.uk/our-beef as an example, the meat is the same price as supermarket finest meat, but this really is the finest!


Knock out roast dinner alternative

I made this as a Christmas dinner alternative to the amazing free range goose we had from http://www.goodmansgeese.co.uk

It was truly knockout. Great hot and great cold the next day. I served with roasties, braised red cabbage, roasted brussel sprouts and fig and plum sauce. Really easy to make. I used Jus-rol shortcrust pastry (which out of interest is suitable for vegans)

https://www.bosh.tv/recipes/portobello-mushroom-wellington the website is also very cool as it shows a video for each step which I found really helpful.

I would eat this any time of the year, it was a smash success!!!