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(Looking at the Science on Raw vs. Cooked Foods--continued, Part 1H)

Lesson of the Pottenger's Cats
experiment: cats are not humans

In the period 1932-1942, Dr. Francis Pottenger conducted a series of feeding experiments on cats investigating the effects of cooked food. The papers published from that research have been compiled and edited and released as Pottenger [1995]. Pottenger [1946] is relevant as well, and is available as a reprint from the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation.

Dr. Pottenger observed that cats fed a cooked diet developed a number of pathologies, some of which were remarkably similar to certain diseases of civilization, whereas cats eating raw didn't suffer from these problems. It has thus been tempting to blame cooking for all the food-related evils from which we suffer; and in the raw-food movement, this study has been held up as the quintessential paradigm of proof of the perils of cooked food. However, casting Pottenger's experiment in this role suffers from some weaknesses that we shall examine, some of which are fundamental.

Pottenger's cat study was well-conducted for its day, but does not support the usual rawist conclusions

Although a few of the details of the Pottenger cat study might not meet current research standards, it appears that at the time the work was done, Pottenger's study was probably a good one, perhaps even excellent. Despite the major handicap of lack of knowledge about the role of taurine in cat nutrition, Pottenger had the considerable foresight to hypothesize (pp. 19-20, from the reprint of Pottenger [1946]; italics below as in the reprint):

What vital elements were destroyed in the heat processing of the foods fed the cats? The precise factors are not known. Ordinary cooking precipitates proteins,(7,8) rendering them less easily digested.(9)...

It is our impression that the denaturing of proteins by heat is one factor responsible.

In summary. Thus we see that the suggestion in this paper--i.e., that the symptoms observed in Pottenger's studies likely were the symptoms of taurine deficiency--was expressed in a less precise form by Pottenger (the only form possible at the time of his research) as a possible explanation. Inasmuch as the above hypothesis of Pottenger appears to be substantially supported by research done 40-50 years later, that is a tribute to Pottenger and his skills as a scientist.

In this connection, we once again note that the rawist idea that "dead" food was responsible for the study results is not only vague but incorrect. Instead, a specific deficiency of a specific nutrient (whether of taurine or possibly some other nutrient(s)) is the explanation required to account for the cats' problems. It should also be noted, once again, that as cats are not a valid experimental model for humans in critical respects such as taurine metabolism, it is invalid to extrapolate the results as having specific relevance for humans. Thus, while Pottenger's results may have been valid (for cats), the usual rawist conclusions about them (for humans) are not.


(Digestive Leukocytosis: What a Close Reading of Kouchakoff Reveals)

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GO TO PART 1 - Is Cooked Food "Toxic"?

GO TO PART 2 - Does Cooked Food Contain Less Nutrition?

GO TO PART 3 - Discussion: 100% Raw vs. Predominantly Raw

Back to Research-Based Appraisals of Alternative Diet Lore

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