Tuesday, February 26, 2008


When we acquire a pet, we often find ourselves reading a
pamphlet explaining the care and feeding of same. Published by
companies that produce pet food, these works emphasize that you
must never feed people food to your animal. The chow offered in
pet stores is scientifically formulated to provide optimal
nutrition and fiber; tidbits from the garden or the table can
only injure your dog or cat or rabbit or parakeet. (This isn't
necessarily the same information you get from the vet, but that's
another story.)

Taking the pamphlets at face value, one wonders: If people
food isn't good for animals, how good is it for people? If we
can provide our feathered and furry and finny friends with one
food that delivers ideal nutrition, uniform in quality and
available in convenient packages in pet stores and supermarkets,
why can't we do the same for ourselves? Think of the fat, salt,
sugar, carbohydrates, and other detrimental substances that could
be reduced or eliminated from the human diet by the development
and consumption of chow for humans. Imagine the work and
decision-making, not to say agonizing, that would be saved if we
didn't have to figure out, every day, what to buy or make for
dinner that we could stand to eat and that wouldn't poison us.

Some day we will find, from Foodmaster and Market Basket to
Whole Foods, bagged or boxed or in large columns in the bulk
bins, People Chow. The first aisle as we come in will display a
dizzying variety of flavor packets, all ecstatically tasty and
guaranteed to contain no harmful additives like salt or butter.
The tiresome and bewildering array of fruits and vegetables, meat
and dairy products, grains, and Other that now assaults us on
entering a supermarket will vanish into historical obscurity
(except that the availability of Other will continue to be
limited only by the imagination of marketing departments).

The Chow will come in a variety of formulas tailored to
particular diets -- Cholesterol Lowering Chow, Celiac Chow,
Diabetic Chow, Weight Watchers Chow -- and in Standard, Vegetar-
ian and Vegan forms. There will be Kosher Chow, Halal Chow, and
Chow made in accordance with the teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism,
and any other religion, diet, or system that comes to the
attention of the food industry. People who enjoy food prepara-
tion could bake their Chow (in loaves, or rolled flat and cut
into intriguing shapes); boil or stew or steam it to produce a
smooth or chunky texture; or shape it into patties and char it on
the grill.

All Chow will be produced by unimpeachably hygienic and
sustainable methods. Organic will continue to be optional,
possibly supplemented by another category having to do with
humane treatment of any animals involved. Sustainable will not
be optional (it isn't now, but that also is another story).

Dinner guests would then explain to their host: "We eat
Cholesterol Lowering Chow; we like Flavoring Packets #346AA,
#16 Mild, and #999 Sweet/Sour." We would be invited to explore
the competing brands of chow and flavors screaming from the
shelves about their superior texture, exciting patented flavor,
responsible methods of production (the higher-priced brands, for
example, might make a selling point of treating their employees
better, whether they actually do or not), and anything else the
advertising industry can think of to differentiate products that
are in fact identical or nearly so.

But we would know, when it's time to produce dinner, that
the differences needn't concern us very much. In the dawning
golden age of People Chow, Fido will have his dinner and we will
have ours and no one will ever again have to think about food for
more than five minutes at a time.