Transcript for Episode 18: The Honest Kitchen – Human-Grade Pet Food (Mini)

This is the transcript of Episode 18: The Honest Kitchen – Human-Grade Pet Food (Mini) of the How to Make a Difference podcast. Go to the episode page to listen to this episode and for the show notes. Furthermore, we encourage you to read our blog post on climate-friendly pet parenting.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Hey everyone. 

Chinmai Gupta: Hey everyone.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We have a very special guest today, who is sitting on my lap. A very lovely cat whose name is Chango. It’s actually the neighbour’s cat who I’m cat-sitting.

Chinmai Gupta: He has some very wise comments and feedback for us. Which reminds me that we’ve got some very impassioned feedback on our website.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I think we’re famous now!

Chinmai Gupta: We are. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We’ve got our first public criticism. So if that doesn’t mean we’re famous, I don’t know what does. 

Chinmai Gupta: We’re famous.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yay!

Chinmai Gupta: And we’re on Patreon. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: You had to bring that up, didn’t you? 

Chinmai Gupta: Of course! Famous goes hand in hand with rich. It’s rich and famous.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We still have a bet to go there. Also the cat just left. 

Chinmai Gupta: Bye-bye cat. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Well if you would like to give us feedback, we really welcome that. We do try to do the best we can with the means we have, but of course, we don’t know everything. So if you want to add something, please, please let us know.

Chinmai Gupta: So today we’re talking to a human-grade pet food company called The Honest Kitchen.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: If you’ve been listening to the past episodes, you probably know by now that I’m quite sceptical when it comes to human-grade pet food. Just because the climate impacts are really high.

Chinmai Gupta: Yeah, but it seems like a lot of people want to feed their pets human-grade pet food, or the best that they can get on the market.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, and I don’t think it makes sense, right? Like after what we heard from Tracy, and what can go into pet food, I really understand why some pet parents would be very troubled by standard pet food, or at least in the US, it seems.

Chinmai Gupta: And as we’ll hear in today’s interview, another argument is that byproducts can be quite difficult for the pet’s body to assimilate as a protein source. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. Though, I guess, it also depends on what your definition of byproduct is.

Chinmai Gupta: I agree.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Because as we heard in Episode 15 with Alvar – they put a lot of really good stuff into their pet food. So, you know, is byproduct bad or good? People have very different views, right? 

Chinmai Gupta: I think, that’s because people have very different views on what byproducts are also.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Exactly.

Chinmai Gupta: Because through our episodes we’ve heard that some of the internal organs are quite often called byproducts. For others, byproducts are just the beaks and the feathers. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, yeah.

Chinmai Gupta: So our current understanding is that meat is bad in terms of our CO2 impact. And so whatever we can do to reduce that would be good. However, we do understand that it’s a balancing act. We’ve heard through the last few episodes that cats for example are obligate carnivores. They need to have meat in their diet. So what can we do to produce nutritious pet food that’s also good for the environment?

Elisabeth Ignasiak: This is why we were quite curious to talk to the honest kitchen because their branding is all about being human-grade. And of course, for us, that rings a few alarm bells. So the question we were really asking is: Can human-grade pet food ever be sustainable? 

Chinmai Gupta: And it seems like a lot of companies these days are trying to improve their processes in order to reduce their climate impact. And The Honest Kitchen seems to be one of those companies.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, and this is why we hope you will find this interview as interesting as we did.

Chinmai Gupta: So here comes the interview with Lucy. 

Interview with Lucy Postins: 4:19

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We’re talking to Lucy Postins, today she’s the founder and chief integrity officer at The Honest Kitchen, and she’s also the author of  Dog Obsessed, The Honest Kitchen’s complete guide to a happier, healthier life for the pup you love, and she’s a speaker on subjects like pet nutrition, and holistic health. Welcome, Lucy!

Lucy Postins: Thank you very much. Happy to be here.

Chinmai Gupta: Welcome, Lucy! Maybe you could start by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Lucy Postins: Yeah, absolutely. Yes. My current role is founder and Chief Integrity Officer for The Honest Kitchen. I started the company in my own garage back in 2002. I am originally from the UK and then come to the United States for another job, which I stayed in for about five years and decided to start my own company when I was trying to address some issues of my own dog’s health. So I worked as the CEO for the first 16 or so years and then I moved into the Chief Integrity Officer role, which is really responsible for making sure that we stick to our guardrails and our morals and ethics as we continue to grow as a brand.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We were wondering what makes The Honest Kitchen special? 

Lucy Postins: There’s a couple of things that are sort of unique and differentiated about The Honest Kitchen. The first and foremost is the fact that we’re 100% human-grade. So we’ve actually got FDA approval to say human-grade on our product labels because every single ingredient that we buy is sourced from the human food supply chain, and then we produce our products in human food production facility, so they’re literally safe enough for human beings to eat. And then the second thing is we really pride ourselves on using very gentle production methods so lower temperature production which is more energy-efficient, things like dehydration which use less energy and create a more nutritional finished product as well. Because when you use lower temperatures you maintain a lot more of the natural vitamins and minerals and antioxidants, things like that.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So what I’m getting is that one thing you pride yourselves in instead of human-grade part that every ingredient could be eaten by you and me, basically. And that, by cooking things at. Well, low temperatures and with a mild process you, you keep all those vitamins and all the good stuff in there.

Lucy Postins: Exactly. 

Chinmai Gupta: We’ve had a few conversations about, you know meat byproducts being used in the pet food industry. Could you start, could you tell us what what which parts of the other maneuvers in your ingredients?

Lucy Postins: Sure, yes. We use any human edible part of the meat. So it’s basically the muscle meats, and I think a lot of people sort of get the impression that we’re literally just taking a filet of a chicken breast and throwing the rest out the window. That is not the case. So we work hand in hand with human food producers. So chicken breasts that you might find in a package in a Whole Foods or a supermarket – we’re using that same chicken frame so that the breast itself would be cut away from the frame and put into a package that goes into the supermarket, and we take that exact same frame, and we’ll strip the remaining parts of the meat of it so it’s literally stripped down to the bone. We’re using that meat. What we don’t use would be things like the legs, the beaks the feathers, which are considered byproducts. We also do not use the entrails. In the United States, AFTCO is our pet food regulatory body, and they permit a lot of rather horrible things to be used in pet food I mean literally, guts, which has been freed of their contents are a legitimate source of protein for a pet, and we do not use those types of things. We feel, they shouldn’t be wasted, but we feel that they have a better home, something like a fertilizer for a garden or a farm, not to be used as a protein source for another living being. And for example the feathers, they shouldn’t be wasted, they can go into sofa cushions or other applications they also can be ground up and used as fertilizer, but they’re very difficult for the body to assimilate and actually absorb nutrients from when they’re used as a protein source. So that’s why we do not use those we believe that animals should eat the most nutritious parts. We’re not stealing from the human food supply, but we’re sort of working hand in hand with it. Another good example of that would be with our beams, our ocean fish skin chews. So there’s a source from wild-caught fish off the coast of Iceland, the body part of the fish goes for human consumption and then we’re utilizing the skins, which remain human grade status because of the way that they’re handled in terms of safety and pathogen testing, we’re using those skins and drying them out and making a dog chew from them.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I mean, it sounds like basically what you’re using is what… what the romantic picture would be of byproducts right? There’s a certain part of the meat that humans eat and whatever is left you give to pets. And so it’s really interesting to hear that this is what you’re… what you’re doing.

Lucy Postins: Yes, yeah. And for us it’s really about sort of quality control and safety.

Chinmai Gupta: Yeah, also, on the one hand, we’ve heard these horror stories of, you know, the sort of things that go into pet food, but on the other hand, we’ve also had comments on how bad human great food is for the environment. So what’s your take on that?

Lucy Postins: Well, we believe that we can use our purchasing power to actually do good work for the environment. And so we’ve got really long term deep partnerships with a lot of our suppliers, where we’re sort of using our purchasing power to encourage them to use fewer pesticides. We only buy non genetically modified produce for our, for our pet foods and treats. On the meat production side, we were committed to only use free-range chicken we use, we partner with companies that are extremely proud of the standards that they have in place in terms of the way the animals are raised with access to the outdoors and enriched environments. So we feel that we can sort of use our purchasing power to impact that meat usage right at the field level or the barn level where you know we’re influencing what sorts of feed those farm animals consume, and we’re using a lot of organic ingredients, and then also even going into the concentric circles beyond that, electing to… we’ve actually got written policies where we prioritize minority and women-owned suppliers and so we’re sort of making a bigger impact in local communities and thinking about our social impact as well is the direct effects on the environment itself. So there’s a lot to sort of think about when we do our purchasing contracts.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. I think that’s really important that you use your purchasing power in this way.

Lucy Postins: Yes, for sure. Yeah, we have, we have this motto pets before profits and we really live by that. 

Chinmai Gupta: Yeah, we’ve read about your veggie basis, and we’re quite curious about them so can you tell us a little bit about the concept, please.

Lucy Postins: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so we’ve got a line of a couple of different base mixes which are made of vegetables and fruits and one of them has grains in as well. The original idea behind those was the people that were really interested in doing sort of a partially homemade diet. A lot of people actually like to prepare their own pet food from scratch but it can be incredibly labour-intensive…

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, we’ve heard, it’s very difficult to do

Lucy Postins: … cooking up a big bottle… food at the beginning of the week it is. And so we created these base mixes for people to combine with their own source of protein. They’re particularly ideal I have sort of got multiple food sensitivities. There’s sometimes customers who will come to us and their pet is tested sensitive, or allergic to chicken, and duck, and pork, and lamb, and beef. And they’re at their wit’s end trying to find a pet food that doesn’t have all of those ingredients in it. So they could then choose something like pheasant, or kangaroo, or a more exotic meat source, and use our base mixes with that. 

Sometimes people raise their own meats. They might have, you know, raised their own chickens, or they might be a hunter that is perhaps hunted the deer and they’re consuming the deer and sharing it with their pets. So it could use the base mixes in that instance as well. So a few different versatile ways to use them.

Chinmai Gupta: And in terms of the protein does not have to be made, or can it also be eggs, or, I don’t know, tofu.

Lucy Postins: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. We do have some customers who use an alternative to meat with our base mixes. We really recommend that people do that, under the guidance of a veterinarian. Some alternate alternative proteins like soy are not very easily digested by pets, and a lot of plant-based proteins do not contain all of the essential amino acids, particularly taurine in the case of a cat. Methionine and cysteine which dogs use in their bodies to synthesize taurine. So, generally, we recommend it should be some sort of meat that gets mixed with those you can use eggs of course…

Chinmai Gupta: One question I wanted to ask you earlier was: Have you calculated the carbon footprint of any of your meals?

Lucy Postins: Not yet. It’s something that we’re working on. It’s a pretty big job to try to really understand that carbon footprint. We do buy as much local produce and certainly meat as we can, we do buy some things from overseas, for example, our quinoa is grown down in Bolivia, by a cooperative of micro farmers here. It’s a fairly traded product, and quinoa is not readily available here in the United States. It’s not grown in this continent. So we do buy some things from overseas. So it’s a big job to try to establish exactly what that carbon footprint is but it’s certainly on our list of priorities for the next year or two. We recently just reincorporated as a benefit corporation. So it’s now given us the legal framework to really prioritize a triple bottom line, factoring in those social and environmental issues. In addition to financial sustainability as well. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Cool. Well, thank you so much. Where can people find you?

Lucy Postins: Well here in the United States we’re in just under 5000 independent pet speciality retailers, as well as Whole Food Markets and Sprouts Farmers Markets. There’s a store locator on our websites – you can put in your zip code and find out where the local stores are in your community. We sell directly on our website as well, so you can purchase online, as well as through bigger retailers like Amazon and Chewy. If you don’t have a store in your local area, you can order online if you need to.

Chinmai Gupta: Thanks so much, Lucy, it was very interesting to chat with you. Thank you for coming on our show.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Thank you for having me. My pleasure.

Discussion: 15:40

Chinmai Gupta: Right, so The Honest Kitchen has not yet calculated their carbon footprint, but we’ve done some back of the envelope calculations.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And basically, if a company uses some recycled materials in their packaging, they use some greener electricity, they source locally, so there’s all of these things together, you should get a 10 to 50%, lower carbon footprint than for a comparable product.

Chinmai Gupta: So when you’re trying to look for a new pet food brand, just ensure that the new company that you’re looking at, ticks some of these boxes.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And circling back to The Honest Kitchen: One thing I did appreciate about them, is how conscious they are about their purchasing power because that is not something simple to do.

Chinmai Gupta: And also 80% of their raw ingredients are now sourced locally in North America, which also has a huge carbon impact.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And also one thing Lucy mentioned in the interview, is that they use low temperatures to prepare the pet food, and obviously lower temperatures, means less energy consumption.

Chinmai Gupta: They’ve also got some very interesting blog posts if you want to have a look on their website. I found one that has tips on how to reduce your pet’s carbon pawprint. The first one was don’t overfeed your pets. Obesity is rampant, not just in humans but in pets too.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. That’s actually a big one. I think you can, just by basically making your pets healthier – feeding them less – you can also have a positive climate impact. I think that’s… that’s a neat one. 

Chinmai Gupta: And while you’re checking out their blog. Don’t forget to check out ours too. We list out all the sustainable pet food companies from around the world. And of course all our other blogs on green electricity, sustainable banking, and carbon credits, too. And that’s it from us for today. I hope you enjoyed that episode, as much as we did. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Bye-bye. 

Chinmai Gupta: Bye-bye.