This is a no-brainer, or so I thought. Before asking my extended family this question at a family gathering this weekend, I assumed that everyone would agree to my hypothetical proposal. As distasteful as it might seem at first, I assumed that everyone in the room would (if given the opportunity) agree that they would eat nothing but dog food for one year in return for $1 million.
I write this post having tasted dog food on two occasions in past years. On those two occasions, I’d chomped on a nugget of dry dog food, the kind that comes in a 40 pound bag. I thought it tasted like cardboard, but it was not disgusting. On the other hand, it was not food I would be inclined to eat again unless given an incentive. Note: I have smelled canned dog food before, and I would not be inclined to eat that stuff. The canned dog food I smelled had a strong disgusting odor to it. It looked and smelled like it was no longer safe to eat.
So there I stood with various members of my family in my mother’s kitchen when I raised the question: who would be willing to eat nothing but dog food for the next year in return for $1 million? To my surprise, the rejections and objections started pouring in, even though I went first and even though I proudly stated that my answer was absolutely “yes.”
Two of my sisters and my mother each rejected the idea out of hand. I listened to their excuses and I thought that I addressed all their objections, but they continued to reject the hypothetical offer. One sister was concerned that if she went to all that work eating dog food for one year, they wouldn’t actually pay her the $1 million. Therefore I changed the hypothetical so that it included an escrow account held by a person or institution she trusted. Still, she refused to buy into the program.
Another concern (raised by a brother-in-law) was that even if dog food might provide most of the nutrition needed by a human being, it might not provide all of the vitamins and nutrients needed by humans. Therefore, it might be dangerous over the course of the year. Fair enough. In response, I agreed that anyone engaging in this endeavor could take any vitamins or supplements that one might need (but that dog food might not provide). That same brother in law then indicated that he might be willing to join the program, but only for $2 million.
I urged everyone to be honest. We were talking about $1 million. This is enough money to allow people to retire. I reminded everyone that they could buy their dog food at any supermarket or any pet store. Their dog food could include any commercially available product labeled “dog food,” and this could include any type of dog food, dry or canned food, entrées or dog treats (I was hoping that the phrase “dog treats” would get everyone more excited about signing up for this hypothetical deal, but it didn’t).
I wasn’t suggesting that they would have to eat their dog food on the floor or that they would have to eat it out of a doggie dish. They would merely have to agree to eat dog food, in any position. They could light candles before dinner if that ambiance made the difference. The main rule is that all of the food that they ate would have to be actual dog food. The only fluid that they would be able to drink would be water, since that’s the only liquid that most people give to their dogs.
In the course of discussing the issue, I told my family that a good friend of mine fed his son some dry dog food when the boy was three, with no ill consequences. One of my brothers-in-law indicated that when he was small, he offered a neighbor kid (“Kurt”) 25-cents if Kurt would eat two soggy chunks of dry dog food that had fallen in the dog’s water. “Kurt” accepted the offer and ate the dog food. Again, there were no ambulances or any untoward circumstances.
I reminded my family that they should consider the wonderful-sounding advertisements for dog food. For instance, Purina’s Pro Plan Dog Food purports to give your dog everything your dog needs to be a happy and healthy dog:
Dogs bring companionship, love, and more to our lives. Give more to your dog when you choose Pro Plan® dog food. Meet all of your dog’s nutritional needs with premium food; with real protein and healthy nutritional extras. With Pro Plan®, you are providing the building blocks of good health and a delicious selection of choices.
As often happens in my mother’s kitchen, the topic veered toward weightier moral issues. This injection of morality into this frivolous hypothetical reminded me of a conclusion once announced by a philosopher friend (“Tim”): “Morality starts with what you are willing to put into your mouth.”
One basic moral angle was this: Shouldn’t one be willing to eat anything that one make one’s dog eat?
That objection didn’t seem to have much traction. But then my mother modified the hypothetical. What if you were offered the chance to magically achieve world peace if you ate dog food for one year? That question drew some affirmative head nodding. Same result for this question that I raised: “What if someone agreed to fund medical treatment to cure 1,000 children who are dying of malaria if only you would eat dog food for one year? The elephant in the room is that there are millions of people starving to death who would jump at the opportunity to eat any food at all, even dog food (Starvation.net suggests that on September 11, 2001, 35,000 people died of starvation–a comparable number of people die every single day).
Back in my mother’s kitchen, the conversation turned back to one of fairness to the dog. Can you really have it both ways? Shouldn’t the rule be that if you aren’t willing to eat dog food neither should your dog? This fairness issue didn’t seem to change any votes.
In the end, I was the only clear and strong “yes” vote: I was the only one in the room who expressed that I was willing to eat nothing but dog food for one year in return for $1 million. Perhaps everyone else was too focused on recent reports on the kinds of things that manufacturers put into pet food.
All I will need to do now is find someone willing to pay me $1 million so I can get started.
I would add one more item to this hypothetical. I would agree that if you wanted to quit partway through the year (e.g., if you just couldn’t stand it anymore–or if it was making you sick), you could, but you wouldn’t receive any money unless you eat dog food for the entire year.
Questions to consider:
1. Would you sign up for this arrangement if it were offered to you: Would you be willing to eat nothing but dog food for one year, in exchange for $1 million?
2. If you would not sign up, name your price if you have one. How much would someone have to pay you so that you would eat nothing but dog food for an entire year?
For those of you who find this entire topic of eating dog food distressing, I am reminded of an old joke sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill:
Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?
Socialite: My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course…
Churchill: Would you sleep with me for five pounds?
Socialite: Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!
Churchill: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.