What I’ve Learned From Cats
Photograph & Text by Cat Simril Ishikawa
We now have two cats, ginger tabby brothers named Jazz and Blues, born in February, 2004. They are not the only indoor cats we’ve ever had. When my wife and I were first married, we had a couple of indoor cats in the apartments where we lived. This is the first time we’ve had indoor cats since they were kittens and for a long period of time. Though they are brothers, they look and act quite differently. In particular, they react to food in different ways.
Jazz is the more adventuresome of the brothers. When company comes over, Blues hides until they leave, but Jazz’s curiosity eventually gets the best of him and he emerges, however tentatively, to check out the intruders. Blues has the more adventuresome appetite, or at least tolerance for food. We feed them both a wide variety of wet and dry food. Jazz has more difficulty in eating because of mouth problems he was born with that keep him from chewing as well as his brother. He also tires of one kind of food for a while, then forgets his intolerance and wants it again. I wonder if this is because his body needs the particular nutrients in certain foods. He isn’t picky, it’s his body that knows what it needs and he acts accordingly.
This is true for me as well. I’ve always craved fruit, for example. Sometimes I really crave certain vegetables, like lettuce or in particular, orange bell peppers. For 15 years, I awoke every morning with a craving for half a pink (or red, if possible) grapefruit. Not just any grapefruit. It had to be almost frozen on top for me to eat it, which meant time in the freezer for 15 minutes or so. My body has very specific needs. I didn’t know cats’ tastes were that specific before these two came to live with us.
Our previous cat Ernie, whom we brought from Japan, learned to love bonito flakes (katsuo bushi) in her homeland and brought her proclivities to Vancouver. Blues shares Ernie’s taste for flakes, but Jazz is largely indifferent to them. Do cats in the wild have such specific tastes? Surely they have equally specific needs. I would imagine they would have greater vitamin deficiencies depending on the vagaries of their hunting skills and other food sources. Our cats, like all indoor cats, need “cat grass.” Feral cats, like our late dog Icy, feast on greens at will.
Recently we visited my cousin and her husband in LA. They have no pets of their own, but take care of a group of neighbourhood cats who appear to have no homes. I would have thought they would be grateful for any food, but no, some are just as picky as our Jazz.
Parents often fret about their picky children. When our daughter was young her friends would visit and eat only a tiny variety of foods. Their parents hadn’t exposed them to a wide enough assortment of food, perhaps. Many are the foods I’ve never been able to eat, and though I try and eat new things all the time, the fact that I’m incapable of eating avocados, persimmons, liver, raw fish, etc. I see as no particular detriment, any more than Jazz not sharing his brother’s enthusiasm for bonito flakes. I figure my body knows what it needs and what is inedible, just as our cats do. Variety not only fights boredom, it gives the body useful tools. Thanks for the daily dietary lessons, Jazz and Blues.
Cat Simril Ishikawa / Writer
Cat Simril was born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan in 1951. He then lived in LA from 1956-69, the year he discovered photography, after seeing the movie Blow Up. Living in Vancouver in 1975, he acquired his wife’s last name, becoming Cat Simril Ishikawa. They lived in Japan and Vancouver on and off until moving back in 1988. Shortly thereafter, he helped a friend start the magazine Adbusters and worked on that magazine for several years. The advent of digital photography reignited his interest in photography. Cat’s Adbusters work and a series of his radio plays are at http://www.seemreal.com and his blog about food and reflections is at http://seemrealland.blogspot.ca