Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Would You Rather... Eat Cat Food or a Twinkie?

This sounds like a joke.

Or an episode of Jackass.

Or something you read on the front page of the Enquirer, “Crazy woman eats nothing but cat food for 30 years…

Or a Truth or Dare:
1. Truth: What are the ingredients of a Twinkie?
2. Dare: Try some cat food!

But how bad is cat food, really?

Most obviously, there is a social stigma to eating pet food. Even if your kid eats a clean piece of dog food that just fell out of the bag, man you go bonkers, right? “Aaah, that’s grO-Oss, put that down!!!!”

But if you go to the pet food aisle of the grocery store, it’s almost appealing. There are literally raw diet options for your pets, probiotics, vitamins, and diet supplements. There are all-natural, vegetarian, and organic options. There is a fridge for ‘fresh options,’ and a variety of treats that come in all shapes and colors.

Well, I randomly went with the Friskies brand. And just for that brand there are plenty of options. You got your basic giant bags of dry food, but they’re called “Seafood Sensations.” Wet cat food options include “Seared Filets with Beef and Chicken.” If your cat has been on his best behavior you can buy him “Party Mix Wild West Crunch” treats.

So I decided to pick a cat treat that sounded the least-appealing to me. The best I could find was a nice little snack called “Crunchy Hairball Remedy.” Sounds delish!

Here is the list of ingredients:
Ground wheat, ground yellow corn, brewers rice, petrolatum, poultry by-product meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), animal liver flavor, wheat gluten, tuna, tuna meal, natural and artificial flavors, salt, added color (Yellow 5 and other color), calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, choline chloride. A-6220.

So, without analyzing each ingredient, here some basic interesting facts.
1. Petrolatum is the active ingredient to get rid of those naughty lil’ hairballs.
2. Not sure what the terms “poultry by-product,” “flavor,” and “natural and artificial flavors” all actually imply but it can’t be too good.
3. The colorants are also very vague. Yellow 5 is pretty nasty, can be carcinogenic when combined with other ingredients and can cause hyperactivity in children (how about cats?). And I can’t figure out what A-6220 refers to…
4. However, potassium chloride is just a salt substitute and is considered safe. Calcium carbonate is a calcium supplement, and choline chloride is an additive often found in poultry food. Some people take as a supplement to improve liver health and helps cell growth.

Not loving these ingredients necessarily, but I guess these are ok. Most of the ingredients, tuna, rice, wheat, liver, salt are actually recognizable foods.

I did pick one of the worst-sounding ones, so now I’ll try one of the better sounding brand of cat food. I found another dry cat food called “California Natural” and chose the “Herring and Sweet Potato” option.

Here are the ingredients:
Herring, barley, oatmeal, herring meal, chicken fat, natural flavors, sweet potatoes, sunflower oil, herring oil, vitamins, DL Methionine, Minerals, Taurine, and rosemary extract.

I actually recognize almost everything here. The only odd ones are DL Methionine, which helps reduce the Ph in pet urine, most often due to their eating grass. The other unknown ingredient to me is Taurine, which is an amino acid that is crucial for cat- neurological and cardiovascular health, especially vision. It’s supposedly found in many energy drinks too.

The best pet food seems to be Newman’s organic cat food. Man, range-free beef, no animal by-products, all organic vegetables. Pretty neat. Here is a link to what is, and more importantly what is not, in their pet food:


Now, going back to my original question. Cat food or Twinkie?
Pretty much everyone would agree that Twinkies are not the best for you, but most people would eat that rather than Kitty’s dinner.

Do I get a unanimous YES here people?
Well let’s compare, shall we?

"Inventive and Unexpected"...indeed!

Now here is the list of ingredients for our Twinkies. I should preface this by saying that the ingredients are not available on the Hostess website and it took me quite a while to find that list online!

However, you will be happy to know that although Hostess doesn’t tell you what Twinkies are made of, they have a list of recipes for you to try, my favorite being Hostess Twinkies Sushi.(http://www.hostesscakes.com/recipes/show/11/) 
YU-MMY… But I digress. 

Enriched Wheat Flour (enriched with ferrous sulfate (iron), B vitamins (niacin, thiamine mononitrate [B1], riboflavin [B2] and folic acid)), Sugar, Corn syrup, Water, High fructose corn syrup, Vegetable and/or animal shortening (containing one or more of partially hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed or canola oil, and beef fat), Dextrose, Whole eggs, 2% or less of: Modified corn starch, Cellulose gum, Whey, Leavenings (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate), Salt, Cornstarch, Corn flour, Corn syrup solids, Mono and diglycerides, Soy lecithin, Polysorbate 60, Dextrin, Calcium caseinate, Sodium stearol lactylate, Wheat gluten, Calcium sulfate, Natural and artificial flavors, Caramel color, Sorbic acid (to retain freshness), Artificial color (yellow 5, red 40)

So I don’t know enough to even begin to analyze all this. Here are just a few quick interesting things that I noticed. I recognize wheat, sugar, salt, and eggs. And let’s not forget, beef fat!
The rest is all chemical stuff I have to investigate:
1. Here is that Yellow 5 again. Although widely used, causes allergies, hypertension, and can be linked to cancer.
2. Again with the natural and artificial flavors. That could mean anything.
3. Then there is Caramel coloring, which is possibly carcinogenic
4. Now look at that long list of corn byproducts (can anyone say GMO?). You have cornstarch and modified cornstarch (what is the difference anyway?), corn flour, dextrin (usually made from corn), corn syrup solids, and BOTH corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup.
5. How many ways can you say sugar? Well ok sugar, but also corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, corn syrup solids, and caramel color.
6. And on a final note, I am not sure why they need to tell us that there is only 2% or less of some of the ingredients. Are they just following some weird food regulation rule? If it were only one drop of arsenic, I’d think it would be worth mentioning. As if, “well yes there are a couple of weird things in here, but hey it’s only 2% or less, so it can’t be that bad.”

There’s actually a book called Twinkie Deconstructed that already did the work for us. It goes through the list and explains the origins, manufacturing process, health implications, etc. of all 37 ingredients! That you could write a whole book about this is already a pretty tell-tale sign:


This is a short excerpt from the author, Steve Ettlinger’s, Twinkie book:

Eat enough of ‘em, and you’ll be able to suss out the bouquet of fresh, Delaware polysorbate 60, and good Georgian cellulose gum; a hint of prime Oklahoman calcium sulfate, or that fine, Midwestern soybean shortening, if not the finest high fructose corn syrup Nebraska has to offer.”

I’m still going to avoid eating cat food when possible. But if I am stranded on a deserted island and I have to pick between Twinkies and Cat Food, I think I'm gonna go with “Indoor Adventures Crunchy Chicken Flavor Cat Treats.”

Bon Appetit!

Thanks Coralee for this blog post idea!!!


  1. Haha! (About the arsenic, I mean.) (Not that arsenic is usually funny.)

  2. You have proved that we should be reading labels and not falling into the mass marketing trap. Good job. Kitty, kitty! Watch out - your 'nummy' is looking pretty good!