The exchange was so swift that unless you were looking out for it, you’d miss it.
A young, skinny ginger tabby approached a pudgy tuxedo in front of a stoop. The felines exchanged a nod and bumped paws, then the tabby scurried into an alley, disappearing into the shadows between two buildings.
“Gotta get it in me!” the tabby said, taking quick breaths. He dragged a claw across the top of the pouch to open it, poured every last morsel of meat into his mouth, then dropped to the ground, leaning against the brick wall.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, his pupils dilating. “That is the good stuff! Man, I needed that.”
The tabby, who would only identify himself by his street name, Skinny G, is one of thousands of so-called “vegan cats” in New York who have been defying their humans, finding ways to slip out and connect with a burgeoning network of “can slingers.”
Resembling drug dealers in their methods and presentation, the can slingers nevertheless point out that what they’re doing is not illegal.
“We like to think of ourselves as a charitable organization even though we earn a tidy profit,” said Tuco Salamanclaw, vice president for emerging markets with Los Gatos cartel. “It’s tragic to see so many misguided humans forcing their faithful felines to eat tofu, soy and other junk that doesn’t have the nutrients we need. We’re here to help address that injustice.”
The rise of the underground meat market — and the profits it promises to organizations that can muscle their way in — has attracted the Meowfia as well as The Buddy Organization, which was rebranded last year as Nipped In The Bud Catnip Co. Jostling for position among those three major players, as well as smaller groups, has led to a revival of the territorial battles that marked the catnip wars years ago.
“It’s just a matter of time before we see another drive-by spraying,” said Pawl Oreoson, a criminologist at John Jay College of criminal justice in New York. “Los Gatos is not an organization that surrenders territory easily, and the Meowfia also play for keeps. There’s just too much money to be made here.”
Profits from the underground cat food market set a record for the 10th consecutive quarter in March, reflecting the growing number of humans forcing their felines to eat meat-free diets of ultra-processed, plant-based “food.”
“Disgusting,” is how three-year-old Nala put it when asked about the “vegan cat food” her humans feed her. “Imagine eating damp cardboard with little clumps of carrot and celery embedded in it. No self-respecting cat should be forced to eat this stuff.”
Tigger, a striped eight-year-old from Brooklyn, was admonished by his humans two weeks into his vegan “cat food” diet when he got into the fridge and helped himself to an entire pound of Boar’s Head ham and two large chorizos.
With a child lock now preventing him from opening the refrigerator door, Tigger said he’s been squirreling away portions of the vegan kibble and dumping it off the fire escape when his people aren’t looking. He hunts rodents to keep himself from starving, but says he’s getting sick of mice.
“If these lunatics want to subsist on broccoli, quinoa and hummus, that’s on them, but I just can’t,” Tigger said. “I’ve scraped together enough cash to buy a few cans of Friskies, and tomorrow I shall feast!”