Discovering Peru

I’ve started expanding my horizons in Peru; the past week I’ve been wearing borrowed pink gloves and showing up as the token white girl for Muay Thai classes. It’s a nice use of some pent-up aggression I have, learning how to punch and kick things more effectively.

One of the dogs of Flora Tristán

Now, what does this have to do with animals? Simply that, en route to my classes, I walk past an animal clinic and pet supply store. From this, I made the shocking discovery that they sell Acana and Orijen here - color me surprised, because I didn’t realize they had international distribution at this level.

I’ve noticed a thing or two about what you might find in the pet section at grocery stores around the world. I’ve also seen the differences in cultural impressions of animal diets.

Purina is everywhere. I’ve seen it in mega stores globally, in Hungary, in Nepal, in Germany, and here in Peru. It comes in varying shapes and sizes, advertises different qualities, and is omnipresent. And so it seems Purina is the international standard of dog food, yet I haven’t seen many dogs actually eating it.

For example, the dogs and cats in Nepal ate the scraps from our meals, inhaling bowls of rice, pickled vegetables, and lentils. Knowing what I know about animal diets, is it really optimal? No, but it is fresh food and the cats at least hunt to supplement their diets. However, during Dashain, when everyone indulged a little, the patriarchs of my host family came home with bags of dog food (Purina) and presented it to the dogs as they would a magnificent feast.

Empanada, the hostel mascot, and her demolished stuffed llama

I saw similar patterns when I was in Cuba, that stray dogs and pet dogs ingested remnants of suppers, animal bones with meat still on it, and other leftovers. Dog food, though considered something that dogs eat - indeed food for dogs - is also quite often a luxury in other countries.

I find it an interesting contrast with Portland, where dogs get dog food and cats eat cat food, yes, but where the culture of those items has become specialized. Our customers at Healthy Pets NW know to lessen iodine intake for pets with kidney problems, quiz us on the differences between kill-steps in the raw foods, and purchase things like fermented goat milk to give an added kick of probiotics. We’re in a position to look beyond labels and brands to care for our animal companions - it’s also a very classically American take on thinking about nutrition.

Peru is an up and coming country. Though the tap water is undrinkable and corruption remains a point of protest, there is a burgeoning middle class here. The stratification is visible on the streets, even as an outsider. Peruvians are learning about the problems in their own food, such as with the milk I’ve been told isn’t real, and the increasing vegetarian and vegan presence here. With pets, it’s apparent in the mutts who wander the streets wearing t-shirts as a signifier of ownership and the contrast with the owners who walk with their St. Bernards attached to a harness, feeding them popcorn as training incentive.

I’m still learning about Peru, and given that I’m here much longer than during my other trips, I know I’ll learn a lot more. I still have plenty of pets left to meet here.

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