Old Cat, New Tricks

Teaching an old cat new tricks is not an easy task and Caesar is a pretty old cat. He turned 15 in September, which according to the calculations below makes him about 76 in human years, well into his “grumpy old man” phase.

In October, Caesar started throwing up more than normal, sometimes as often as twice a day. We thought it might have been the stress of being boarded at the pet retreat while we were on vacation but soon realized something else was wrong. Caesar was losing weight. He had gone from 22 pounds at his check-up in 2016 to just over 15 pounds in 2017.  It seemed obvious that he wasn’t getting the nutrients that he needed.

As cat’s age, their nutritional needs change. Though we were feeding him a balanced diet, he wasn’t able to easily digest his usual food anymore. So we started looking for a good quality pet food in our price range. Have you ever read pet food ingredients? As we stood in our local pet store reading labels, I couldn’t help but remember one of Michael Pollan’s food rules: Avoid foods that have ingredients that a third-grader can’t pronounce. Sure, that rule is for humans, but why shouldn’t it apply to pets as well? Why would we want to feed Caesar something that isn’t even in the dictionary?

Sadly, we couldn’t find one single cat food that did not have at least one ingredient that we had no idea how to pronounce (much less what nutritional value it added) so we opted for the most affordable food with the fewest unpronounceable ingredients. In this case, it happened to be Goodlife.

In years past, Caesar has been very opposed to change. Give him a different food, he wouldn’t eat for days. Change his litter, he’d pee on the floor. Vary his schedule one bit and he’d sing you a sad song all night long. Ornery doesn’t even begin to cover it. Caesar has always been a big boy with a big attitude and you just didn’t cross him. But something changed when we switched his food. He liked it. And not only that, his coat started to shine again and his digestion was slightly improved.

Why stop there, we thought. If he’s amenable to change, we should take this opportunity to make our cat a little more crunchy (ie. environmentally friendly). So we changed his litter too. We chose a pine litter. Pine litter is a natural, biodegradable product, made from wood scraps that would otherwise go to waste. But traditional pine litters are expensive! Being the frugal folks that we are, we naturally found a way around this: equine bedding. These pine pellets are EXACTLY the same as pine cat litter, only way cheaper. A 40-pound bag of equine pellets costs $5.99 at Tractor Supply Co.

Caesar accepted this change in stride. At first, he thought it was a little weird to have large pellets for litter but as the pellets began to break down to more of a sawdust texture, he got more used to it. We’ve been using the pine litter for 3 months now with no problems. The best part – it lasts for a very long time and has no urine odor at all.

The new cat litter made something else more noticeable – Caesar’s poop contained worms! Suddenly a lot of things made sense – the weight loss, the throwing up, the insatiable hunger. We aren’t sure how long Caesar had the tapeworm. His vet exam in September did not show any signs of worms but then again, some test results can come back negative even when worms are present. We’re not even sure how he got them. He’s an indoor cat. But nonetheless, we needed to act immediately.

The question then became, do we opt for a chemical dewormer or an all-natural one? After much research, we decided to try a natural remedy first – diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is a plant-based powder that has microscopically sharp edges that shred worms when they ingest it. I already knew about the pest controlling properties of DE in the garden but I had never heard of feeding it to pets before. We purchased a food grade DE on Amazon and gave it a try. As a dewormer, I can’t say conclusively that it worked. It did cause Caesar to expel a huge amount of worm segments but they are not gone completely…at least not yet. Caesar is eating normally now though and his weight loss has stopped. DE also helped to stop his vomiting almost completely.

I’m pleased to report that Caesar is much happier today than he was even a month ago. Though he still yells at me on occasion, he spends the majority of his time napping and playing. Just yesterday, he stole a paper clip from me and started batting it around the living room and twice he’s offered to help us with a puzzle (by swiping the pieces into the floor for his own amusement).

We want Caesar to be happy and healthy for a long time to come. He’s part of our family, after all. But…and I say this will all the love in the world…we don’t want to go broke in the process. With aging comes illness and illnesses can be expensive, but routine vet visits and making simple changes (like better food or adding a supplement like DE) can go a long way in keeping Caesar, or any pet, well.

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Food & Finance

I received my W-2 statement in the mail today. After taxes, insurance, and other standard deductions, I brought home $26,632.12 in 2017. When you add in our side hustles ($1161.58), our total income for the year was $27,793.70. I mention this for two reasons. One, so I can marvel for a brief moment at the sheer awesomeness of living simply. If you had told me a decade ago that I would be living successfully on less than half of my then income…on purpose…and loving it…I would have called you crazy. The bank holding the note to my SUV, my suburban townhouse, and my camping trailer would have concurred. Today, looking at that W-2, I feel proud. I feel accomplished. I feel good about choosing time over money and I wouldn’t go back for every dollar in the world.

But…that’s not the only reason I mentioned our income. I wanted to use it as a real world example for today’s post on food waste.

Over the weekend, we watched the documentary film, Dive! If you substituted Angie and me for the folks making the film, this could have very easily been the story of our lives – minus all the meat. Everything they found – right down to the limes – is stuff we find in our own dumpster all the time. Blueberries, strawberries, bread, eggs…you name it, we find it. More than just the fact that we had similar dumpsters, what really stood out to me was that this film and their attempt to improve food waste conditions in CA was made in 2009 and yet here we are, nearly a decade later and 2,031 miles away, living the same story.

In the film, Jeremy Seifert makes a very valid point – Americans spend so little of their income on food that it has essentially lost it’s value. When we don’t value something, we have no qualms about throwing it in the trash.

At the time the film was made, Americans spent 16% of their income on food every year. Currently, we spend 6.4%; less than any other country in the world.

And still, we waste more than 1/3 of that.

Why? Because the scale of our personal economic impact is so small it doesn’t matter.

Let’s do the math. 6.4% of our income essentially means that 6 cents out of every dollar is designated for food. If we waste 1/3 of the food we buy, that’s 2 of those 6 cents. In reality, how much do we care about 2 cents? If the number of pennies that I find on the ground just walking into the grocery store is any indicator, then I’d say not much. But pennies don’t tell the whole story.

People don’t set out to waste food. We have every intention of eating what we buy but then life gets in the way. The apples rot before we get around to making that pie. The meat goes bad when plans change and we forget to freeze it. Or we get tired, bored, or disgusted with something before we finish it. And we throw it away because…it’s easy…it’s cheap…it’s not going to make a difference. Or is it?

Let’s try that math again. 6.4% of our income in 2017 would have been $1,779. In actuality, Angie and I spent more than double that amount on food last year, approximately 13% of our income (or $3,661.81). If we were “average”, $1,208 of that would have gone into the garbage as food waste. And that’s certainly not pocket change!

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about ways to improve your own financial situation this year. Skipping your morning coffee might put $500 back in your pocket for the year. Cutting cable will give you another $960. Heck, switching to Geico could save you 15% on car insurance (or so they say). But one of the easiest and most overlooked ways to start saving – simply reduce your food waste. Pennies do add up to dollars.

I don’t know about you but I’m not a fan of tossing money in the trash!


Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food this week: 0
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 3 ounces
  • Found Food this week: 10 US pounds
  • Total Found Food this year: 43.75 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.