I first came across ‘paying the price of admission’ on a Dan Savage talk. He used it in the context of relationships, but just about anything you want or value in your life comes with a certain price. The trick is figuring out what it is, and if it’s worth it. For example, the price of admission for being married is no longer waking up to a perfectly still and empty house in which I am the only human, something I loved doing. The price of admission for being vegetarian is primarily social (if you’ve never been the only vegetarian at a meat-filled family holiday dinner, I don’t recommend it).
And it seems to me that the price of admission for having a cat as a companion is feeding it meat — or letting it go out and decimate the songbird population. As convinced that I am that eating animals is morally incorrect for me since my body does fine without them, Brie is an obligate carnivore, so she needs (and gets) meat. And lots of it, because she gets expensive grain-free kitty food that is almost entirely animal protein.
Is the price tag worth it? I say yes. Having a cat friend in my life is one of the most important factors in my happiness and wellness. I’m willing to support the meat industry in this limited way for the sake of her health and dietary requirements. But if you’re not, I think you’re choosing not to pay the price of admission for having an obligate carnivore pet. Rabbits, by the way, make lovely companion animals for vegetarians.
The debates that rage about whether it’s healthful to feed a cat a vegetarian diet tend to center around two perspectives: 1) that it’s thoroughly unnatural and even abusive, 2) that someone knows someone whose aunt’s cousin’s sister has had a healthy and long-lived vegetarian cat. I’m inclined to agree with the first, as do the vast majority of feline veterinarians who know more about feline nutrition than one can glean from the internet, as does everything about the anatomy of the cat (short small intestine, forward facing eyes, tearing teeth, difficulty digesting plant matter). To change an animal’s diet on anecdotal evidence to something so foreign to its anatomy, evolutionary history, and preferences — and this includes crappy, cheap grain-based cat food as well as vegan cat food — is to experiment on your cat. Unfortunately, most dietary deficiencies are invisible until they have already produced considerable, sometimes irreversible, damage.
As I’ve noted, I think the price of admission for having a cat is feeding it meat, full stop. But that’s also because I’m skeptical that synthesized essential vitamins and nutrients are as beneficial or bioavailable as those in whole foods. For all our lab wizardry, we can’t make baby formula that’s more beneficial than breast milk, and we haven’t even established that taking a daily multivitamin makes a positive difference in our health. I don’t trust food scientists. I trust real food.
I think it’s fine to be concerned about the ethics of the meat your cat eats, and have been starting to think about making Brie’s food out of local grass-fed chicken and beef and maybe (gulp) even try raw. It’s hard for me to think about as a vegetarian who hates the smell, feel, and look of raw meat, but perhaps that, too, will become a part of the price I’m willing to pay for Brie. But my bottom line is this: my moral reservations about meat come after Brie’s physical need for meat, and her health matters more to me than the animals who died to feed her. And maybe being selfish about prioritizing her needs is the real price of admission for having her in my life.