A Holiday Color Riddle: What’s Sometimes Red and Green on the Outside but Always Brown on the Inside?

Here’s the answer to the riddle straight off – it’s commercial dog food. A few brands have red and green labels, but the food inside is inevitably brown.

Why am I writing about the color of dog food for today’s Andy’s Corner? The inspiration was sparked by Ann’s search for foods sporting red and green holiday colors. To be honest, I was somewhat put off by the blatant humancentric bias of her search. How could she overlook food that is consumed by our canine nonhuman companions? Tove Danovich aptly points out in an Eater article that these furry family members are foodies in their own right:

They eat pea shells and slices of apple, go nutty for peanut butter, and would sell out their own mothers for an entire piece of bacon. Food can come on a plate, in a bowl on the floor, even on the floor, and it makes no difference. Not even the most fervent restaurant-goer loves food, and I mean all food, as much as a dog.

Even MFK Fisher, whom I wrote about in our last blog, gave pets their culinary due: “I have always said (and practiced) that I would never give a dog or a cat what I would not eat myself.” She goes so far as to claim that her low budget human recipe for Sludge is “the finest all-in-one diet for any normal dog or cat alive.”

Despite a growing interest in home-made dog food among select dog owners* (see my note at the end), the preponderance of what our canines consume is produced commercially. And the economic magnitude of the pet food industry is staggering. In 2019, nearly 100 billion dollars was spent on our pets, with dogs gobbling up the lion’s share. My Google search for “dog food” yielded 82,300,000 hits. Compare that to the piddly 7,960,000 hits from my “human food” search! The web site Dog Food Advisor has reviews for over 950 dog foods and hundreds of product lines. And that’s only one of the many such sites that popped up in my search.

Although I stopped short of viewing all 82 million plus sites, I did chance upon a good summary of the history of commercial dog food in something called The Farmers Dog Digest. Here’s an excerpt:

Canned pet food became the most popular option on the shelves after Ken-L Ration, the first canned dog food in the United States, was produced in 1922. Made of horse meat (which was carefully marketed as “lean, red meat” and only disclosed in much smaller letters at the bottom of the packaging), canned food was stamped with a seal of government approval and had a 90% share of the market. By 1941, canned food was so successful that producers were breeding horses just for dog food and slaughtering 50,000 of them per year.

The list of ingredients on the can was not mentioned in the Ken-L Ration marketing blitz.

The article goes on to say that by the 1960’s, largely due to the public outcry, horse meat was no longer used and the bulk of the dog food sales had shifted to dry kibbles, the development of which has its own interesting story (that I will forgo for now).

The modern dog has come a long way from having to stomach the one-trick-pony ingredients of Ken-L Ration (pun definitely intended). And it is largely because we no longer view dogs as “dogs.”

According to dog researcher Dr. Alexandra Horowitz in a NY Times article, owners tend to treat their live-in four-legged companions as quasi-people. In her words,

contemporary dogs in Western households live inside and join us on our walks, in our repose with a book or in front of the TV — they even sleep with us. We talk to our dogs as though they not only understand us, but also care deeply about what we say.

I would add that we modern humans even think that our dogs share with us similar food needs and tastes. This becomes clear with just a quick glance at the labels found in the pet food sections of most markets. Below are just some that I have encountered. Who could resist not bringing home some of these scrumptious delicacies for their tail-wagging gourmet gourmands.

Referring back to Ann’s quest for holiday reds and greens in food, I have to concede that beyond the colors on the labels, what most Americans feed their canine counterparts does not come in greens or reds. After processing of the labels’ ingredients, it generally ends up with colors ranging from “underwhelming pate-gray” to “chunky, syrupy brown” as Tove Danovich says in her Eater article. So, in the final analysis, I have to admit that including dog food in her search for holiday colors would not have been helpful to Ann for finding red and green eatables, but it certainly would have earned her a few brown-y points from the gourmet dog owners who read our blog.

Picking up some dog food at Swedes Feeds, our go-to gourmet pet food source. Oakley loves the place! (Photo courtesy of Aspen)

I’ve got to run; it’s time to feed Oakley. I think she’s going to enjoy her Taste of the Wild Southwest Canyon Formula selection for this evening, containing beef, beef broth, beef liver, peas, wild boar, sweet potatoes, and raspberries, along with 42 other ingredients. I truly doubt that she will care if it comes out of the can a “chunky, syrupy brown.”

Oakley’s Southwest Canyon Formula dinner. If you look close you can see a “green” pea.

Bon appétit Oakley!

*Note: although DogTime.com claims that the term dog owner relegates the animal to the status of mere property without recognizing that it has its own rights, thoughts, and feelings, I could think of no other convenient way to refer to a person who owns a dog.


  1. Bob Owen says:

    Nothing about dry dog food? Growing up, my family always served Purina Dog Chow that was enhanced with our ‘human food’ leftovers and scraps. Our 95 lb. German Shepard really appreciated the meat/grease embellishments to his base diet. And Milk Bones!


    • theRaggedys says:

      Thanks for the comment. You are correct to suggest that dry dog food is an important part of the dog food market. I did mention that by the 1960s the bulk of the dog food sales had shifted to dry kibbles, which in itself is an interesting story. But for the sake of brevity, I didn’t go into any of the details. A pretty good summary can be found here (https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/the-history-of-commercial-pet-food-a-great-american-marketing-story/). Sorry for the long url, I am not sure how to imbed (or even spell embed correctly) url’s in comments.

      In addition to the omission of dry dog food, I have been braced for comments from our feline companion lovers for not including cat food – another interesting story I am sure.

      Again, I appreciate your comment. Happy holidays!


  2. Linda Sheppard says:

    In her book Gulp, Mary Roach does a whole chapter on pet food. (Andy, if you haven’t read her, you should. Your kind of humor). Anyway, she said there used to be red dye in kibble to make it more appealing looking. They took it out after people complained it was staining their rugs after the dogs threw up! So much to chew on the this concept!


    • theRaggedys says:

      Darn! That would have been perfect for the blog. And I do like her style. Actually, what seems like long ago, I included her book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers on my reading list for a Death and Dying class I taught at SSU. Thanks for the note and the reference. Have a great holiday season.


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