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Dinner Gone to the Dogs
Cooking healthy and delicious food for you and your pet
by Linda West Eckhardt

Until World War II, there was no such thing as commercial dog food. Now, food editor and author, Linda Eckhardt, previews her newest book, which details how to cook for yourself and your four-legged friend. In The Dog Ate It: Cooking for Yourself and Your Four-legged Friends (Gotham/Penguin, October 2006), you’ll find about 100 recipes along with party suggestions, lists of acceptable commercial products, and tips galore on how to feed your favorite dog.

I’ve had a lot of different dinner companions: Everything from husbands and boyfriends, to children and grandchildren, to friends and neighbors. I’ve suffered through business lunches, rubber chicken hotel banquets, meals on airplanes where I sat beside a total stranger who might or might not have much going in the way of table manners. But to my way of thinking, one of the most satisfying companions at table is a dog.

Oh, I don’t mean a dog that sits in a chair and snakes that long, quivering pink tongue over my fine china plates. I don’t mean a dog that lifts himself up, paws on the counter to survey what’s available for stealing. But rather a dog that will wolf down his serving of the dinner I’ve cooked from his own doggie dinner plate. They really do that. Wolf down their dinner. It’s not just a figure of speech. Provided they like your cooking. Which is no foregone conclusion, let me tell you. Dogs have standards.

Yes, I cook for my dog every-day. Or at least feed him human grade food everyday. I mean let’s face it. I do go out with friends. I do have people over for dinner. I am not some poor, lonely, old woman with 17 cats and a dozen dogs. No. I have one civilized dog named Tex who I got at the Jersey Animal Coalition, and three cats who haughtily come and go as they please.

Why do I cook for my dog? That’s a complicated question. The short answer is that it’s better for his health. A more thoughtful response would have to include how satisfying it is to me to see his tail wagging as he slurps up his dinner from his stainless steel doggie dish in the kitchen. I mean, I’ve been cooking for family for nearly 50 years, and there’s no reason to stop now, just because they’re all grown and gone. Tex is my dog-family member and daily-dining partner. He’s the one I can count for the look of adoration and gratitude, who practically smiles a “thanks” for what I’ve just put before him.

But back to the health question. Commercial dog food didn’t even exist before World War II. Before that, dogs ate whatever the family had left over. But during the Go-Go ‘50s, when people began to enjoy the pleasures of TV dinners, – on “TV trays” –watching The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question, they discovered that Purina, et al., would also prepare the dog’s dinner. It was so modern!

We all know the results of years of prepared foods for man and beast. Okay. You knew this was coming. Obesity. Ill health. Skin rashes. Cushing’s disease. Diabetes. In short, dogs suffer from the same ills as the ill-fed human population. Modern dogs’ health stats aren’t any better than their two-legged companions.

What to do? Start cooking. Feed dogs the same way you feed yourself. Low on the food chain and with as many unprocessed foods as possible. An equal mix of high quality protein, vegetables and grains is best. Get more exercise. It wouldn’t hurt you to take a turn around the dog park a time or two either. You’ll both be healthier.

It’s not hard. Dogs can eat most anything you can, with a few notable exceptions. See the sidebar for dog no-no’s. You like meatballs and pasta? So does Rover. You like chicken soup? Ditto. You like a nice omelet? So does your dog.

Maplewood author Linda Eckhardt, James Beard and Julia Child award winning cookbook author of 17 books, is hard at work on her next one, Mystery Meat.

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