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The 'Sam' in Samplings

Samara Ballen is a writer, tech enthusiast, animal welfare advocate, environmentalist, and LGBT+ ally from Brooklyn, NY. Beyond  her true passions, she loves fashion and beauty, science, world travel, and hanging out with her rescue pit bull, Allie. Also other cool stuff.

Friendly and open-minded, but vocal and unapologetic, and a totally serious human, Samara started Samplings to provide a window into the lives, challenges, and realities of trans and gender-nonconforming people by publishing honest and engaging original content. 

She also hates writing about herself, which might have been evidenced by the sheer sterility of this bio, had it not obviously been authored by a completely separate and highly regarded individual of notable literary accomplishments, as proven by their exclusive use of the third-person.

Share your thoughts openly in the comments or on social media, as long as love and compassion guide your words. Read and share freely.

Stop Feeding Your Dog Dog Food

Stop Feeding Your Dog Dog Food

I love dogs. My dog in particular. Allie. Dis her:

Look at dat wittle scrunchy pibble face! Ugh.

Look at dat wittle scrunchy pibble face! Ugh.

Sorry, where were we? Right, food.

Amongst all her other perfect qualities, Allie's always had a super sensitive tummy. Stack that on top of being a picky eater (we're talking actual cat habits), and I reached a point about a year in with her where I was changing her food about once every four months. With painstaking research preceding each switch it was a real chore, and even when it was done, there was always a chance her tummy wouldn't take well to some mystery ingredient, leading to a wonderful half-week of diarrhea. Awesome.

I  went through the process of changing the Alliegator's food close to a dozen times before I decided to take control over what was going into my baby's body. It was the best decision I could have made, and if I knew then what I know now about the benefits, I would have done it for her even without the tummy issues, and much earlier on. 

Putting the positives on paws (see what I did there) for a second, I'll briefly mention the scary realities of pre-packed pet food. The human food industry is horribly regulated. The FDA is at best incapable of enforcing its politically watered-down regulations. Food behemoths like Monsanto (a cartoonishly evil company that controls at least some aspect of almost everything you put in your mouth with the intention of digesting) are profit-driven machines that couldn't care less about your health and longevity. Even if you're buying organic, which I still highly recommend, the only way to be sure of what you're putting in your body is to grow, care for, and harvest/kill it yourself. 

Now imagine stepping that back a full level, to a category that's way less important to the powers that be than human food. Remember that every company in our capitalistic society is motivated by making as much money as possible. If they're publicly traded (or owned by a public company), they have a legal responsibility to maximize profits. It's very rare to find one that will put benevolence and honesty above that. Even if you do, genuine mistakes and quality issues are rampant in long supply chains that span from from ingredient source(s) and factories to packaging companies and store shelves.

At the time of this article's writing, reports were flooding out about traces of animal euthanasia drugs being found in common pet foods. How does that happen? Ever see an animal cemetery? Go ahead, connect those dots. 

Alright, the Band-Aid's off. It's over. Now you know. I didn't put these pieces together until after I was already making Allie's food myself, and by then, the benefits were so numerous there was no way I would've gone back to store-bought anyway. Here's what happened with Allie on homemade, human-grade, organic food, in a nutshell:

  • Her coat got much softer and surprisingly, shiny
  • Her energy levels shot up. She's about to turn 5 and still acts like a puppy
  • Her tummy issues resolved almost completely
  • Her blood levels are excellent (I specifically asked for a thorough lab and my trusted vet told me to "keep doing what you're doing.")
  • She started liking her food, and it's kept her interest for almost 2 years

I evolve the recipe in some small way with every batch (below is version 19), either to adjust proportions, add something nutritional, or to change up the flavor a bit for her. I've been told by people who have put their dogs on it that I should produce and sell this stuff, but because I love you all so much, I'll just give you the recipe:

Ingredients (all organic)

  1. 50+lbs packaged boneless chicken thighs (boiled) 
  2. 7 cups dry brown rice boiled in 16 cups water
  3. 2 cups dry quinoa, with 2 additional cups of water boiled together with rice
  4. 36, extra large, pasture-raised eggs (scrambled)
  5. 8 cups (32oz) chopped spinach (pan-cooked, then puréed)
  6. 3 cups (15oz) chopped celery (raw or pan-cooked w/ spinach) 
  7. 64oz blueberries (raw, puréed) 
  8. 32oz cut string beans (raw, puréed)
  9. 20oz sliced carrots (raw, puréed)
  10. 47oz canned/puréed pumpkin (raw)
  11. 2 cans (35oz) sweet potato purée (raw)
  12. 1 carton chicken stock
  13. 1.5 cups Animal Essentials Natural Seaweed Calcium {link} supplement

*Divide for smaller (and more manageable) batches

Equipment

  1. 30-quart mixing bowl^
  2. Two (2) 20-quart stock pots^ (for chicken)
  3. 10-15 quart stock pot (for rice and quinoa)
  4. Large frying pan, skillet or wok
  5. Cutting board
  6. 2-3 large colanders
  7. Tongs (for handling hot chicken)
  8. Soft spatula
  9. Mixing spoon
  10. Kitchen knife (to check chicken)
  11. Two (2) measuring cups (you can get away with one)
  12. Cooking scissors
  13. Can opener
  14. Food processor

^Industrial-sized equipment (available on Amazon). If you shrink your batches enough you can get away with smaller household bowls and pots. 

Steps

  1. Set up your workspace. Everything gets really easy when your kitchen is prepared for the process.
  2. Start the chicken boiling. It's a lot, so set it and forget it for awhile.
  3. Start the rice/quinoa.
  4. Scramble the eggs.
  5. Dump the eggs in your mixing bowl.
  6. Cook the spinach (and celery if desired) in the skillet/pan/wok you just poured the eggs out of.
  7. Add the rice/quinoa when ready.
  8. Purée spinach in processor and add.
  9. If going with raw celery, chop in processor and add.
  10. Purée string beans and carrots, add.
  11. Pour in pumpkin and sweet potato.
  12. Pre-mix. Just get everything nice and homogenous. This is a really helpful step that will make it easier to tell when you're done later.
  13. Drain the chicken and leave it in the colanders. **If the pots are extremely full, bail some water out before attempting to carry them to the sink (thanks Mom).
  14. Using tongs and scissors, cut 40-50% of chicken into ~2-inch chunks and add.
  15. Grind up remaining chicken using processor.
  16. Purée blueberries, add.
  17. Measure out calcium supplement, sprinkle evenly.
  18. Pour chicken stock over mixture.
  19. Mix thoroughly. If done properly food should smell a bit like Thanksgiving for some reason.
  20. Distribute into storage containers.
  21. Let dog lick bowl. I'm serious. If you skip this step you won't be allowed to use my recipe anymore.

Helpful Notes

  • Allie (47 pounds of pittie sweetness) eats roughly one pound per meal, and a batch of this size typically gets us through 5-6 weeks. 
  • This amount takes me about 4 hours to cook, mix and package. That's roughly 2.5 hours a month to give your fur baby their best life.
    • You may even be able to get this down to 3 hours depending on the size of the batch, your stove, your food processor, and your attention span.
  • Buy frozen or canned for simplicity.
  • Order doesn't really matter here. Everything's being mixed. So if you have 4 or more burners, throw it all on, watch carefully, and add it when it's ready.
  • I purée all the fruits and veggies because Allie is aggravatingly picky and won't eat them otherwise. If your dog is you know, normal, keep it all in chunks if you'd like. 
  • No joke, for a batch anywhere close to this size, I just use my naked hands to mix it all. It's by far the most thorough and physically forgiving method. Literally up to my elbows in dog food.
  • Remember that at the end of the day, this is for your dog. Don't worry if the chicken is overcooked (or even undercooked; they can handle raw!), your ingredient ratio is different, or if you mess something up. 
  • You can do this! I'm not a chef or close. It took some trial and error, but I do this in my sleep/on 4 glasses of wine I think.

Money-wise, despite all the benefits and the obvious increase in quality, when I buckle to convenience and buy everything at Whole Foods, I spend roughly the same as when I was purchasing high-end pre-packaged stuff. When I take a trip to Costco and buy everything in bulk (highly recommended), I'm actually saving money by doing this for her.

Enjoy, good luck, and if you try this with your dog, let me know how it goes in the comments!

Wait have I shown you my dog, Allie?

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