TL;DR: Scroll to the bottom for pictures of my cat.
It's often said in jest that our much-loved canine companions and feline friends feast on schmancier, refined cuisines than their bipedal counterparts. As I look at the descriptions of the gourmet selection boxes my Mum has recently started buying for the cat in his “senior years”, I can see why. I don't remember the last time I ate something in a 'cascading gravy' or with a 'melting heart'.
But, despite the fact that Doodles’ dinner actually contains whole shrimp and probably contains more nutrients than Maccy D’s chicken nuggets…I don’t think most of us actually fancy tucking in to those jellied chunks instead of our plate of Spaghetti Bolognese.
It's embarrassing to admit that in times gone by, the woman upstairs has had such a grip on me that I’ve felt so hungry and desperate, that the smell of the cat’s kibble has actually made my mouth water. Gruesome.
But that’s not why I’m still here claiming that the cat eats better than I do. This is no perfect or necessarily fair comparison, but I have recently observed some interesting things about my cat’s relationship with food and exercise that, I believe, puts him above me in this department.
Let me elaborate.
He has no idea what a calorie is, let alone how many there are in each dry nugget of Purina One Complete. Therefore, there is no way that any thoughts about numbers and quantities are plaguing his mind.
He knows what’s good for him; and he knows what he likes. Even if he is a little fussy and spoiled at times. He doesn’t force himself to eat a plate of vegetables in an attempt to fill himself up, when what he really needs is a rich source of protein. He is a carnivore, after all.
He gets excited about food! He is never so much my best friend as when I’m opening a pouch of Sheba. Food is meant to be enjoyed.
But, he doesn’t lose control, or avoid eating for fear of losing control. I’ve watched him leave some of his favourite kibble in the bowl and come back to it later. Because, even though it tastes good, he trusts his body and knows when he’s had sufficient. If he's unwell, he is naturally put off even the best food. Yes, he probably would normally choose to eat quite a few more Dreamies than we do give him, and yes, food can be used as a reward in animal behaviour. But he is also content with what he's given, and will happily wander off after he's had his portion. He is not a dog, but he also does love being rewarded with attention, particularly in the form of a firm pat on his rump, or a good brushing. It's not all about food.
He doesn't overthink. He just eats when he needs to, and he knows when this is. He doesn't wait for his body to be physically weak before allowing himself something, or calculate how much he's allowed based on what he's had earlier that day. It’s a rational existence.
The only 'bad' food for him is that which he doesn't like the taste of. He's not been conditioned by diet culture.
He doesn't feel guilty about food. Probably more due to the fact that he doesn't have the neurological frameworks required for this advanced level of emotional processing. But still, he certainly doesn't experience false guilt. Oh, to be unbroken by diet culture.
He is active, fit and doesn't force himself to reach an ambiguous step count before he can have Dreamies. He shoots off down the garden at full speed and back into the house again; not to punish himself for what he's eaten, but just because he has a funny five minutes every so often. He eats well to sustain his activity of...well, mainly patrolling his territory, asking for attention, and a lot of sleeping.
Speaking of sleeping, he allows himself to rest. He certainly isn't reluctant to take a nap, and I'm pretty sure he isn't lying across my duvet feeling bad for not being more productive, or planning on eating a smaller meal later on because he's not done enough to earn a bigger one.
He is healthy*. So, he must be doing something right.
I envy the simplicity of it. When, how, why did what I put in my mouth become so complicated, confusing, so all-encompassing, so emotional.
Doodles (probably) dreams night (and day) of chasing birds, hunting and eating...I wake up in a panic and cold sweats having dreamed that I ate a cheese sandwich.
Yet, as much as I envy the simplicity of the carnal relationship with food...there are so many more vivid dimensions to our gastronomic human experience that he can know nothing of.
How the smell of rice freshly cooked from a rice cooker takes me back to many joyful meals eaten with loved ones in the Philippines. How decorating cookies with the children in Sunday school helps to establish relationships of trust between you and them. How much fun and laughter sharing a Colin the Caterpillar cake is at a birthday party, however old we are. How relaxing it is to go to Europe and sit in the sunshine enjoying a fresh patisserie. How cooking up a big spread of courses and dishes for a table full of guests used to be such a blessing to both them and me. These are things that are far too complex for the feline brain to comprehend.
Food may be so much more complicated for me than it should be right now. But there is a level of complicated that makes our human experience of food so enriching, so pastoral, so unifying… that I wouldn't change it for the world. Despite the tyranny of diet culture which pervades all of our lives to some extent, extinguishing the complex would also extinguish the joy.
One day, I hope that food will not be so badly complicated for me. But, I hope for it to remain complicated enough to once again relish in the shared merriment of staff Christmas parties, summer BBQs, baking bonanzas, and
* Gah, the word ‘healthy’ is such a minefield. It's used incorrectly and/or arbitrarily on so many occasions that I think we often don’t really know what we even mean by it. Gosh, I could talk about this topic for hours. The World Health Organisation describes health as 'a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity'. I'm not sure whether that helps us or makes the concept all the more complicated. But, for our present purposes, let's just equate this with meaning that Doodles the cat is thriving as an embodied friendly feline, with an alpha male complex and a slightly highly-strung attitude (which I blame my mother for). He is not significantly limited by any physical, psychological or social ails inside or out of his control. I guess he's just #livinghisbestlife. Maybe. Idk. This is a topic for another rainy day.
"The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their conflagration which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results."
- Carl Jung