For the Love of Food
It’s fun to watch people’s expressions when they ask me what I do, and I say I own a dog food company. No one expects it, and the truth is, when I got my culinary degree and embarked on my career as a chef, neither did I.
While I have always been drawn to food and nutrition, it took me some time to heed the call. I spent my 20’s building an impressive editorial and linguistic resume, just to scrap it all in my 30’s and follow my heart (and gut). I quit my PhD fellowship program in psycholinguistics at the University of Chicago and enrolled in the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, so I could unabashedly live my dream as a health-supportive chef.
After completing my culinary program, I externed at Gramercy Tavern, a NYC institution that specializes in creating beautiful, deceptively simple food made with fresh, local, seasonal ingredients (an ethos that existed there long before the ubiquitous trend that has now thankfully become more the norm). I then began a promising career as a health-supportive personal chef and caterer, spent a summer helping Camp Ballibay in PA shift its food program from packaged, frozen, processed crap to healthy, fresh, from-scratch meals, and became a Holistic Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. All the while, I was busily sketching out restaurant concepts ranging from inventive salads to vegetable-driven small plates to nourishing meals for people with compromised immune systems to a well-curated café. Not one of my fantasies included making food for dogs, and yet here I am, now in my 40’s… and the craziest part is, I’m AM living my dream.
I have now spent a decade passionately working with food—as a (well-paid) personal chef, as a (lowly-paid) camp cook and restaurant chef, and as a (unpaid) dog food manufacturer—and have found that as long as one subscribes to the idea that real food is made from high-quality, whole-food ingredients that are accountably sourced and prepared (as I strongly do), there is no difference between “human food” and “dog food.” Food is food, and while the end user’s palate sophistication and nutritional requirements may vary, the gusto with which one creates—and devours—a well-conceived meal does not. Nor do the health benefits. I have also discovered that everything I do in the process of making dog food correlates 100% with my desire to be part of fixing our broken food system. There is nothing I would do differently if I chose instead to make a human food product. I would seek out the same quality vendors for purchasing the ingredients, I would contract with the same professional USDA/FDA-inspected, HACCP-compliant kitchens to make the food, I would eschew BPA and other estrogen inhibitors in the packaging, I would continually strive toward better sustainability practices, and I would put the same amount of love, passion, and respect into making what to me is beautiful food.
Dog food presents a uniquely awesome challenge for a chef (especially a nerdy one like me). I can’t think of another type of food with as robust an ingredient list to source. As someone who is intensely curious and loves to learn, it’s the ideal product to make. Evermore incorporates such a wonderful array of ingredients that don’t generally go into a single human food recipe—antibiotic, hormone-free meats and eggs from humanely raised animals, organic and sustainably grown produce, grains, botanicals, oils, and food-grade supplements. That means I get to explore and develop relationships with vendors across many sub-industries within the larger food industry, I stay current on the politics and challenges facing each sub-industry, and I am exposed to a wider range of food production options than most packaged products.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of all is hearing from our customers, who take the time to write heartfelt e-mails or call the company to thank us for providing food that has literally transformed their dogs into healthier, happier members of their families. In fact, as I finish writing this, Connor, my vibrant 11-year-old dream dog—who has been at my side throughout my entire food journey—looks up at me expectantly. It’s dinner time.