My primary donation for the year – $60,000 to Good Food Institute

Just a quick update.

Today I donated $60,000 AUD to the Good Food Institute, which works to promote plant based meat alternatives and cellular agriculture to reduce farmed animal suffering. I thought about which charity to donate to clear my donation backlog for a while, but decided to outsource my thinking to someone who was able to spend a lot more time thinking about it than I could (Michael Dickens wrote his 2016 charity analysis here). Dickens’ values seem to be very closely aligned to my own (roughly total utilitarian, valuing all sentience, biological and digital and whatever other form it may take, valuing future wellbeing and suffering about as equally as current lives), and so I was happy to outsource most of my thinking to him.

While this didn’t alter my decision, it was good confirmation to see that Animal Charity Evaluators had also recommended GFI as one of their top charities in the last 24 hours.

I believe that GFI is doing great work and is one of the best options in terms of value for money currently out there for reducing suffering if you value sentient minds based on their level of sentience or equally. I strongly encourage you to read ACE’s and Dickens’ work on them, and consider supporting them. I expect even a tiny donation to save many years of animal suffering.

Edit – To clarify on a few things – this does not necessarily represent the views of any of my employers. Also, I was able to save this money to donate because I took a high paying job for 1.5 years with the express purpose in mind of donating most of my income.

Movember, men’s health and the risks of consuming animal products

Coauthored by Hugo Burgin and Michael Dello-Iacovo

Depending on where you live you may have noticed a steady increase in the number of “Fuzzy Caterpillars,” floating around your workplace or local supermarket.  It is “Movember,” after all.

The Movember Foundation was registered in 2004 by a group of friends hoping to raise funds for Men’s Health awareness, the main focus being Prostate Cancer. Since then the organisation has gone global in addition to expanding its efforts to cover men’s health more generally.

  • In 2015 NGO Advisor ranks the Movember Foundation as 55th in the top 500 NGOs around the world.
  • Over 5 million participants from 21 countries having taken place from 2003.
  • CAD $759 Million has been raised since 2003 with 1200 men’s health projects receiving funding.

It is obvious then that the “Movember,” movement has done and continues to do a significant amount of good within Western Society. Although the foundation began with a focus on prostate cancer, they have now expanded their efforts to include a wider variety of Men’s Health initiatives.

If we look in more detail at some statistics surrounding Prostate Cancer in particular, it’s clear to see that within our society it is an issue well worth addressing. According to the Cancer Australia website:

  • Prostate cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia in 2012. It is estimated that it will remain the most commonly diagnosed cancer in 2016.
  • In 2016, it is estimated that the risk of a male being diagnosed with prostate cancer by their 85th birthday will be 1 in 6.
  • In 2013, there were 3,112 deaths from prostate cancer in Australia. In 2016, it is estimated that this will increase to 3,398 deaths.
  • In 2013, prostate cancer accounted for the 2nd highest number of deaths from cancer among males in Australia. It is estimated that it will remain the 2nd most common cause of death from cancer among males in 2016.

Taking part in “Movember,” and fuzzying up your top lip, seeking sponsors is a great endeavour and we applaud in every way each participant but as with every charity initiative it is worth asking, how effective is the action I’m taking at solving the problem I’m trying to solve and are there better ways of doing it? In this case, it is clear that there are not only more effective ways to combat health issues like prostate cancer in men but ways that can prevent the problem before it’s even begun.

Dairy Consumption & Prostate Cancer Risk

For example the latest Meta-Analysis studies of both case-controlled and cohort studies on the consumption of cow’s milk show conclusively that there is a positive association between the consumption of cow’s milk and prostate cancer risk in men. Additionally, the intake of large amount of dairy products between the ages of 14-19 has also been associated with a 3-fold elevation in risk for advanced prostate cancer in later life. The leading factor behind this elevated risk is the large amounts of exogenous hormones (like estrogens) that can be found in cow’s milk. As a species we are the only ones on the planet that are subjected to external hormone manipulation, from sources such as milk, from the perinatal period into adulthood.

Additionally, once diagnosed with prostate cancer the elimination of dairy products has been found to increase survival rates. Once diagnosed, men who consumed greater than or equal to 3 servings of dairy per day were found to have a 76% higher risk of total mortality and a 141% higher risk of prostate cancer mortality compared to those than consumed less than a single serve a day.

Finally, if we haven’t convinced you yet that a link exists between dairy consumption and prostate cancer it pays to have a look at the graph below. Here we see milk consumption per day plotted against mortality rate from prostate cancer in countries from around the world, and while we admit correlation by no means implies causation it would be foolish to ignore such a trend given the substantial amount of complimentary evidence.

cancer

Taken from: D. Ganmaa, X.-M. Li, J. Wang, L.-Q. Qin, P.-Y. Wang, A. Sato. Incidence and mortality of testicular and prostatic cancers in relation to world dietary practices. Int. J. Cancer. 2002 98(2):262 – 267)

Meat Consumption and Prostate Cancer Risk

In 2015, the World Health Organisation announced that processed meat (e.g. bacon and sausages) was a Group 1 carcinogen – carcinogenic to humans. This means that there is strong, convincing evidence for it causing cancer in humans. Tobacco and asbestos are both Group 1 carcinogens. While it is true that regular processed meat consumption doesn’t increase cancer risk as much as regular tobacco consumption, this should still be alarming.

More alarming is that schools still serve processed meat to children at schools as snacks. To put that another way, schools are feeding known carcinogens to children. Now that we have the evidence, this needs to stop. According to the WHO, there is no safe amount of processed meat that can be consumed, and so raising the argument of ‘all things in moderation’ does not seem valid here.

Red meat was also classified by WHO as a Group 2A carcinogen – probably carcinogenic to humans. This means that there is some, but at this time limited evidence for red meat causing cancer to humans.

Red meat has been associated with prostate, colorectal and pancreatic cancer, and processed meat has been associated with stomach and colorectal cancer.

Why is this so important for Movember and men’s health? Prostate cancer is one of the main focal points of the Movember campaign, however one of the ways of promoting concern for this has been through typical ‘mens’ activities, like barbecues. Given the amount of meat consumption at barbecues, it is easy to see the conflict here.

PCFA, the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, recently had an advertising push for their Big Aussie Barbie, encouraging people to talk about prostate cancer. In none of their messaging did I see them asking people to choose foods that don’t cause prostate cancer.

While we don’t cover it here, red and processed meat are also both associated with a number of other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

Plant Based Diets & Depression

In Australian culture especially, there often seems to be a myth that those who consume a wholly vegetarian or vegan diet are depressed. We can assure you that it is exactly that: A Myth! In 2014 a systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression in adults found that a healthy diet pattern was significantly associated with a reduced chance of depression. One randomised control trial included within this review found that removing meat, fish, poultry and eggs from the diet of a previously omnivorous study group saw mood scores in a number of areas increase after only 14 days. Why is this you ask? Consuming a vegetarian or vegan diet will result in a much higher level of antioxidants in the body which can reduce the detrimental effect of stress on mental health. One of the most power anti-oxidants out there is Lycopene (it’s what makes tomatoes red) which again has been shown to prevent severe depressive symptoms in Adults.

Additionally low blood-folate levels have been associated with clinical depression in humans which in many western individuals can be traced back to an overconsumption of highly processed food. So perhaps next time you’re feeling a little blue hit yourself with some greens!

Exercise & Depression

Anyone who does regular exercise will tell you that it’s a mood enhancer and this has been scientifically proven. A 2011 study expanded on this and linked regular physical activity to a decrease of severe depressive symptoms in adults from age 15 – 54. There is the arguments that in this case the cause and effect may be the other way around (eg: people who are depressed are unable to exercise) however this theory has also been tested: Men and women over 50 suffering from major depression were randomised to complete a 10 week aerobic exercise program or start a 10 week course of antidepressant medication. This study found that after ten weeks regular exercise was just as effective at combating severed depression as the medication and without all the unpleasant side effects that often come with antidepressants. At best regular physical exercise has been shown to have a significant effect on reductions in depression syndromes.

Implications for Movember and Campaigning for (Men’s) Health

We would like to advocate for a plant-based diet to be incorporated as a core component of messaging for health campaigns, especially campaigns such as Movember. Raising awareness without promoting good diet change has a diminished effect, which is compounded by typical activities organised to raise awareness for men’s health, such as barbecues.

The health, environmental and ethical reasons for choosing to not consume animal products are many, and there are increasingly fewer reasons to advocate for consuming them, or to remain silent on the issue.

Summary

What we hope to achieve with this short post is to convey to you that while growing a moustache to raise awareness for Men’s Health, is at its core a noble undertaking, there is a way to prevent many of these specific health issues entirely. From there, imagine what an event like “Movember,” could do for highly effective charity causes such as The Against Malaria Foundation, De-Worm the World or give directly. Groups that have shown to solve issues that have no other plausible solution like a simple change in diet and that quantitatively save lives than will otherwise go unsaved.

Sources

R R Yeung. The acute effects of exercise on mood state. J Psychosom Res. 1996 Feb;40(2):123-41.

U F Malt. Exercise in the treatment of major depressive disorder: still a long way to go. Psychosom Med. 2008 Feb;70(2):263; author reply 264-5.

R D Goodwin. Association between physical activity and mental disorders among adults in the United States. Prev Med. 2003 Jun;36(6):698-703.

J S Lai, S Hiles, A Bisquera, A J Hure, M McEvoy. A systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression in community-dwelling adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jan;99(1):181-97.

Ganmaa, X. M. Li, L. Q. Qin, P. Y. Wang, M. Takeda, A. Sato. The experience of Japan as a clue to the etiology of testicular and prostatic cancers. Med. Hypotheses. 2003 60(5):724 – 730.

L.-Q. Qin, J.-Y. Xu, P.-Y. Wang, J. Tong, K. Hoshi. Milk consumption is a risk factor for prostate cancer in Western countries: Evidence from cohort studies. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007 16(3):467 – 476.

W. Danby. Re: Endogenous sex hormones and prostate cancer: a collaborative analysis of 18 prospective studies. JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst. 2008 100(19):1412-1413.

Ganmaa, X.-M. Li, J. Wang, L.-Q. Qin, P.-Y. Wang, A. Sato. Incidence and mortality of testicular and prostatic cancers in relation to world dietary practices. Int. J. Cancer. 2002 98(2):262 – 267.

Bouvard, D. Loomis, K. Z. Guyton, Y. Grosse, F. El Ghissassi, L. Benbrahim-Talla, N. Guha, H. Mattock, K. Straif, Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat, The Lancet, 2015, 16(16):1599-1600.

Yokoyama, et al, Vegetarian diets and blood pressure: A meta-analysis, The Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine, 2014, 174:577-587.

N. Appleby, T. J. Key, The long-term health of vegetarians and vegans, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, Conference on ‘The future of animal products in the human diet: health and environmental concerns’, 2015.

Key, T.J et al, Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999, 70:516-524.

Why you should NOT leave USA

By all accounts, it looks like a pretty sure bet that Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States of America. This has a lot of people worried. I don’t know what to make of such stories, but there are reports of the Canadian immigration site crashing and the borders of Mexico seeing increased traffic.

This article assumes that Trump being president is an overwhelmingly bad thing, relative to other candidates. This is not the topic of the article, and I won’t spend any time clarifying why this is the case, but a lot of clever people seem to agree. In any case, if you think Trump being president is a good thing, this article isn’t targeted at you.

I write to you – the worried individual and defender of a good world that is wondering if you should leave America or no longer visit.

I urge you – Don’t leave USA.

If you are the type of individual who would consider leaving or not going to USA because of the values held by its new president, then you are exactly the sort of person that America needs more of right now. How will we counter the insanity if all the good people leave? Now is not the time to leave USA full of Trump supporters.

These aren’t idle words written from afar – I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I have no intention of cancelling my extended research trip to California in 2017.

Do you think Trump will care or notice if you leave? What difference will that actually make? Instead, think about the impact you will have by increasing your involvement in civics.

What’s scarier than Trump being president? Trump being president twice. Leaving USA now literally increases the chances of Trump winning a second term. Don’t let that happen.

Edit: A good point was raised to me that I was overlooking concerns people have about their safety. I think this is very valid. I would just ask you to seriously weigh the added safety concerns against the reduced ability to make a difference by leaving.

Why do people think Ben & Jerry’s is an ethical company?

A video version of this article is available here.


Recently I saw a talk by one of the staff at B Corporation Australia. I’d sort of heard of the B Corp certification, and knew a few companies that had achieved it, and was vaguely convinced that it was a good thing (with a small level of skepticism). After seeing the talk, however, I was almost totally convinced that it meant not very much.

If you aren’t already aware, to become a certified B Corp, your company is compared to others in the same industry, and must achieve a certain score across a number of criteria (80 out of 200), including governance, employees, community and the environment. Apparently, despite sounding low, this is actually very hard to achieve.

The benefits of being a certified B Corp are that your brand is seen as being ethical and becomes one that people want to buy, and also people will want to work for you.

My first main point of skepticism was at the end of the talk when I realised the speaker had not mentioned animals as being part of the criteria, both in terms of animal welfare and in terms of environmental impact. My worry was confirmed when she said that neither of these factors were taken into consideration during the evaluation process.

This means that implementing a company cafeteria program that encourages a plant-based diet, which is significantly more environmentally friendly than an omnivorous one, does not get counted. On the other hand, less effective ways of reducing environmental damage, like having solar panels, are rated relatively highly.

Also, it leads us to the obvious conclusion that a company can participate in as much animal cruelty as it likes and still become a certified B Corp, as long as it treats its employees well.

In particular, it’s worth noting that Ben & Jerry’s, a company which produces ice cream primarily from dairy (cow exploitation and cruelty) is a certified B Corp. In my mind, the certification at this point becomes almost meaningless, given the scale of suffering experienced by the cows probably outweighs the happiness of the employees of Ben & Jerry’s.

Does this photo (not shown here due to extreme graphic content) look like the source of milk used by an ethical company? This could very well be from the floor of a factory farm producing dairy cows which B & J’s eventually source their milk from.

To their credit, B & J’s do have a vegan product line slowly being released (not in Australia yet!), but until 100% of their products are vegan, I would argue that they shouldn’t be able to achieve the certification.

I was recommended to contact the B Corporation headquarters and suggest that they add animal related factors as a requirement, however haven’t heard back yet. I hope that they will do so, to make the criteria more meaningful in terms of actually producing positive outcomes for the wellbeing of individuals.

I also have other concerns about the criteria not covering the most important considerations for the wellbeing of employees and stakeholders, though I haven’t done enough research to determine whether this is a problem.


I’ve added this at the end, as the article was starting to look like an attack on Ben & Jerry’s specifically. I do want to make it clear that I think they are just one example of a company that probably shouldn’t get to call itself ethical.

It irks me that Ben & Jerry’s tweet things like “Black Lives Matter. Choosing to be silent in the face of such injustice is not an option.” without recognising that they are also contributing (in a big way) to another injustice to another species.

Their motto is ‘Peace, Love & Ice Cream’. I’m not sure they know what half of those words mean.

Why is fair trade worse than free trade?

Recently I’ve been asked this question a lot after casually mentioning in conversation that fair trade is actually worse than free trade. I decided to write out my thoughts here in full so I can refer back to it in the future. Feel free to use this to do the same!

Full credit for the original work is to Will MacAskill – many of the points here are originally from his book Doing Good Better.


The ‘Fairtrade’ licence is given to producers that have met specific criteria, for example meeting certain safety requirements and paying workers a minimum wage. People assume that this means it is better overall for the world’s most poor and exploited workers. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Because Fairtrade standards are so rigorous and difficult to meet, producers in the poorest developing nations are often unable to fulfil them and get the certification. Much of the Fairtrade production comes from moderately affluent nations (by relative standards at least), and so the money from purchasing Fairtrade is typically not going to the countries  and individuals that need it most.

Also, Fairtrade products cost more, but very little of the extra money ends up in the hands of the actual farmers. Most of it is taken by middlemen. To quote some independent estimates provided in Doing Good Better:

Dr Peter Griffiths, an economic consultant for the World Bank, worked out that for one British cafe chain, less than 1% of the additional price of their Fairtrade coffee reached coffee exporters in poor countries. finnish Professors Joni Valkila, Pertti Haaparanta and Niina Niemi found out that, of Fairtrade coffee sold in Finland, only 11% of the additional price reached the coffee-producing countries.

The list goes on.

In addition, the small amount of money that actually reaches the producers doesn’t necessarily result in greater wages for the employees. One study showed that Fairtrade workers in Ethiopia and Uganda consistently had lower wages and less desirable working conditions that those working in similar non-Fairtrade companies.

Finally, MacAskill concludes by saying:

Even a review commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation itself concluded that ‘there is limited evidence of the impact on workers of participation in Fairtrade’.

A much more effective way to improve the lives of the most poor would be to buy the cheaper, non-Fairtrade products and donating the savings to an effective poverty charity.

In short, buying fair trade instead of free trade redistributes money from the most poor to the moderately poor, it is a very ineffective means of getting money and positive outcomes to the poor in the first place.

Check out Doing Good Better for a lot more research on counterintuitive ways to do more (or less!) good in the world.

Why isn’t palm oil vegan?

I made a video version of this article here.


Today I discovered that many people don’t consider palm oil to be vegan. The short version of this story is that palm oil production is generally associated with a lot of rainforest deforestation, and therefore destruction of orangutan habitats, often resulting in the death of orangutans.

Fair enough.

But the average vegan still contributes to 0.3 animal deaths per year (not including insects!) as the result of food production (based on a simplified calculation by Matheny). Obviously, there are some foods that are worse than others. I’m going out on a limb here, but I daresay something like wheat is going to result in more deforestation, land use and animal death than something like apples (I could of course be very wrong, but the point is that some vegan foods are going to kill more animals than others).

However, I typically don’t see/hear vegans avoiding certain foods like wheat because of the animals killed. In fact, most vegans seem to blissfully ignore the fact that they contribute to animal death. Obviously, it’s impossible to eliminate your impact because you’re bound to accidentally step on an ant at some point in your life, but reducing your bread intake seems like a reasonably easy thing to do.

But why avoid palm oil and not wheat? One anonymous comment on Facebook seemed to sum it up.

Yeah I think it’s because of the immediate danger of extinction the species faces.

Interesting. Why is risk of extinction a key factor, but pain and death isn’t? Unless it plays a crucial role in the ecosystem, it seems like extinction wouldn’t really be that bad beyond the individual deaths. Why does a species as a whole get consideration?

I would argue that, if you’re going to avoid palm oil because it hurts orangutans, you should probably consider optimising your entire diet, not just avoiding one thing (beyond not eating animals, that is). If what you value is the wellbeing of animals, there are many ways to do that, and probably more efficient ways than just avoiding palm oil.

Of course, this is all complicated by the fact most animals in the wild have lives full of suffering. Do orangutans have natural lives in the wild that are not worth living? I don’t know, but I’m open to the idea. If that’s true, we would have to face the frustrating reality that maybe keeping orangutans alive is bad.

Morality is more complicated than you want it to be.

Interview with Barry Honeycombe – Founder & CEO at Plantalicious Limited

Barry Honeycombe is the founder and CEO of Plantalicious Limited, a company selling wholefood plant-based meat substitutes.barry-honeycombe

How and why did you become vegan?

For me, it was all about health. I’ve been a yo-yo dieter for the majority of my adult life. There is a history of heart disease in my family and my father had a massive heart attack aged 46 and nearly died. At the age of 61 my father passed away. This played on my mind and I spent many years trying to find a way to avoid the same fate. When I reached 51; 10 years off the age my father died, I read “the China study“. This book really changed my life, and may have saved my life! I then studied for a certificate in plant-based nutrition at E-Cornell University and the T Colin Campbell Foundation (M – I have a friend who did this course and highly recommends it).

Following on from this, I happened to be in the US and went to a “Farm to Fork’s” weekend which was held in Orange County. All of the food that was served at this event was whole food and plant-based and I met some really inspirational people. At the end of the weekend I came back to the UK and told my partner that I was changing my diet and I would no longer be eating anything with a face or mother. That was almost three years ago, and whilst initially I didn’t call myself a vegan I have gradually become one. So for me it was an imperative around health that propelled me towards becoming a vegan but as I read and learned more it only made me feel that I was making the right choice.

I hadn’t heard of Farms to Fork. Could you tell us a bit more about what the event involves?

Farms 2 Fork are the events of the Engine 2 Diet which was founded by Rip Esselstyn based on the work that his father did in the prevention and reversal of heart disease using a plant strong diet. The event was a weekend long retreat at a hotel where all of the chefs have been trained in the preparation of a whole food plant-based diet. The event involved various speakers and sessions all about the use of a whole food plant-based diet to revolutionise your health. I met some amazing people who I now count as my “food heroes”. Rips latest venture is a seven day rescue plan that helps people take control of their health through the use of plant-based diets.

Tell us a little about what you do now and how you got to that point.

The majority of my career was spent on aeroplanes and in hotels travelling all over the world, selling analytics to banks and financial services to manage either their risk or their pricing for Silicon Valley software companies. I did this for several companies for about 30 years. I was really fortunate that when I decided to establish my company my then employer, Nomis Solutions, were willing to let me work three days a week for them so that I could use the rest of the time to build my business.

plantalicious-limited_0519

My business came about purely because I was unable to find high quality, delicious plant-based or vegan convenience foods which had the nutritional qualities that I was seeking.  All too often when I wanted something quick and convenient all I could find was something that was chock-full of salt, fat and sugar. As a result, I started making my own vegan convenience foods and my friends and partner asked me why didn’t I start selling them. It seemed like a good idea and that was the genesis of the company.  We spent the best part of two years developing the products and testing them in various markets across the UK and reformulating them based on customer feedback. Getting customer feedback is one of the most valuable things that we have done to date and that’s really shaped the products that we have today. 

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So now the company offers five products for retail and seven for foodservice. Our focus currently is on growing our food service business in order that we can use the revenue from this to fund some new packaging for retail. Currently our packaging is functional and only really suited to small independent retailers. We need to do a thorough look to ensure that the packaging connects with the consumer and conveys the key messages that our products are delicious, healthy and made with natural ingredients.

Why do you think having high quality meat substitutes is important for the animals?

What I’ve found is that the better the quality the meat substitute, particularly the flavour and texture, the more likely people are to choose it and consume it regularly. The most obvious market for our products are vegans and vegetarians who already buy our kind of products. However, it’s the flexitarians or people looking for a tasty alternative to meat for Veganuary or Meatless Mondays or organisations wishing to add some meatless options to their menu that really make the difference.

The rapidly growing number of the vegans in the UK was reported recently, however the study also commented on the huge rise in people adopting a flexitarian approach where they eat some meatless meals each week. I think it’s that market where having high quality meat substitutes probably has the most impact for animals. My reason for saying this is that when you’re eating a burger you have a certain expectation as to how it will chew; the resistance and the flavour.

more-than-meat-pacakage-pf-products

Many products that are labelled “burger” don’t provide that kind of experience for the consumer. What we found is that providing a tasty and familiar product means that people are eating a burger and are not concerned as to where the proteins come from. We are not trying to mimic meat as many organisations seem to be in the US, rather we are trying to give people an alternative which is familiar and comfortable and that meets or exceeds their expectation when they eat it in terms of flavour and texture, and certainly something that is superior when it comes to comparing our nutritional information with a similar product made from animal proteins.

What skills would you suggest are most valuable to learn early for starting and running a great business?

The first word that comes to mind when answering this question is “resilience”. Having not come from the food industry, I entered it with a degree of arrogance.  I was confident that because my friends and partner liked my products, that everybody would immediately embrace them, order them, add them to their menus and want to retell them! Being told that somebody doesn’t like your products, or you should change something about them is very difficult for an entrepreneur to accept, let alone act upon.

One of the things that I found very early on was to listen to what customers were saying, whilst holding onto the principles on which I founded the business, I still had to act and respond based to the feedback being given to me. It is extremely hard to maintain positivity when people are criticising your packaging etc. You really do need a robust sense of self belief and belief in your products whilst maintaining an open mind and listening to the feedback that is being provided. 

The second skill is one that was said to me many times, and that’s to “know your numbers”. We went through an agonising time when we had to take a very in-depth look at our pricing in order to re-evaluate our pricing strategy and positioning in the market. This was a difficult, time-consuming and a painful process but hugely worthwhile as we came out of it really understanding the costs involved in making our products and the price that is necessary for us and our partners to achieve a margin from them.

The third insight is to be persistent. We all know that JK Rowling didn’t get a publisher for the Harry Potter books on her first try. It’s the same for any new product. Knowing why somebody should buy your product and what the benefit is to them is absolutely imperative. Communicating that is just as important. This goes hand-in-hand with resilience because you will need both to be able to make a success of what you’re doing.

What is your biggest insight on encouraging regard for animals?

The biggest insight for me with regard to animals came from looking at the animal protein based competitors to my products. If a supermarket sells four Aberdeen Angus burgers for £1, then think about how much of that £1 was spent on packaging, advertising and the margin for the producer, wholesaler and retailer. Just how much was left to pay for the ingredients and for the animal husbandry of the animals gave their lives for this product? It made me realise just how the meat and dairy industry behave in order to provide food at the costs expected by the consumer and the supermarkets. The sooner we realise that it makes no sense to turn plants into animal proteins to feed the human race the better.

What one movie, piece of literature or other medium has most shifted your views?

For me, my journey began with the need to improve my health and so the materials that most shifted my views were “the China Study” and the film “Forks over Knives”. The other book then made an impact on me was: “Rethink Food: 100+ Doctors Can’t Be Wrong” as well as the work of Dr Michael Greger.

That we can solve the global obesity crisis and reduce significantly the financial strain on the National Health Service here in the UK simply by the promotion of the widespread adoption of a  whole food, plant-based diet.

What is one thing that you believe which almost no one else does?

That we can solve the global obesity crisis and reduce significantly the financial strain on the National Health Service here in the UK simply by the promotion of the widespread adoption of a  whole food, plant-based diet.

What’s next for you?

Our strategy as a business is to focus on building our food service partners and then using the cash flow that this creates to finance a complete revamp of our packaging for retail. Our plans then are to promote both retail and foodservice formats of our products and to build the brand through entry into multiple retailers. Simultaneously we will need to look at either ramping up our in-house production or outsourcing the production of one or more products to a third-party as demand increases. Once we are firmly established in both the foodservice and retail markets in the UK we will look at the best models to either export or manufacture our products under licence in other markets that are attractive to us.

Thanks for taking the time to chat Barry!

Definitely check out Plantalicious‘ products, their plant-based burger looks ridiculous.

more-than-meat-jerk-burger-1

Interview with Geoff Palmer – CEO and founder of Clean Machine

Geoff is the CEO and founder of Clean Machine, and is 31 years a vegan! That is by far the longest running vegan I’ve met. What have been your highest and lowest points of the journey?geoff_palmer

My lowest point was in the beginning feeling so isolated, ridiculed and ostracized by others. Whether with family, friends, co-workers or love interests, eating is a very social experience for me. That there was so much difficulty in not only finding food, but sharing it with others made it very hard to just get through a normal day without some sort of judgement or harassment. It is definitely so much easier now in food choices, accessibility and acceptance.

My high point was meeting Vanessa, the woman I fell in love with who is also a long term compassionate vegan. We first met at the Central Florida Veg Fest, we had a vegan wedding reception at Sublime, a vegan restaurant that donates 100% of the profits to Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) and honeymooned on Holistic Holiday at Sea, Vegan Cruise!

Tell us a little about what you do now and how you got to that point.

I am the Founder and CEO of Clean Machine, a natural vegan sports nutrition supplement company. I started Clean Machine a little over 3 years ago out of a want to provide clean, natural, vegan supplements to help people with their physical fitness and health goals. I worked in the natural products and sports nutrition industry for over 25 years and saw health-promoting products that were not made for the serious athlete, and sports nutrition products that were not healthy or even dangerous. Health and fitness should be two parts of a whole, not polar opposites. So I created Clean Machine to provide a natural, effective alternative.

What skills would you suggest are most valuable to learn early for starting and running a great business?

The numbers first and foremost. Costs, margins, pricing, promotions, etc. that make a business profitable. No company succeeds without being profitable. Second, know your customer. You may think something is great, but that doesn’t mean others do. No wise investor will even consider a business until it is past proof of concept – is there a sustained demand, is it scalable, profitable and what protects you against competition in the marketplace? Bottom line, unless you have years of experience in a business, find some who does. Consultants and mentors can save you from wasting a lot of money and making mistakes that could end your business before you even get started. Partnering with people who excel in areas that you don’t is worth it.

What is your biggest insight on encouraging regard for animals?

Find an approach that suits you. I believe change will come in different ways for different personalities and that they all have their place. I prefer the science and nutrition because that is my passion and it is the way my mind works. But it is also usually less combative or judgemental to just show the research, or the statistics. I am not a confrontational person and for me being vegan is simply an extension of my compassion, so that is how I try to treat others. This approach feels best for me, so finding the approach that feels right for you is a good place to start.

I do caution people about becoming an “angry vegan”. Many people feel (rightfully so) very angry about the injustice and suffering. But if we can find ways to condemn the act and not the person, we may get less resistance to change, which I feel is the real goal (for the animals). No one likes to be judged or made wrong. Finding that nuance in your presentation can mean the difference in how it is received.

What one movie, piece of literature or other medium has most shifted your views?

Funny, I really haven’t felt that influenced by any of them, though I have enjoyed, or been moved by many. My shift came from a deeply personal transformation that freed me from so much of my own pain, I felt such an overwhelming gratitude that I searched my own soul for how I could contribute to less suffering in this world. In meditation, it just came to me and it felt so immediately right in every way, it was if I was already innately vegan, I just needed to remember it. At the time I did not know of any book, or movie (there was no internet yet) and I didn’t even know there was a word “vegan”. Someone else told me after I described my values to them. I was just using “strict vegetarian”.

What is one thing that you believe which almost no one else does?

That life is perfect.

What’s next for you?

Surfing this wave, this vegan movement as far as it will take me and enjoying being a part of this transformation of human consciousness.

That and launching some kick-ass cool new products that help people achieve health and fitness without harming their bodies, the planet or the animals.

Thanks for taking the time to chat Geoff. I hope to remain as passionate about helping animals in 31 years as you are today!

The need for convergence on an ethical theory

For this post, I’m going to use the scenario outlined in the science fiction book Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It’s a far-fetched scenario (and I leave out a lot of detail), but it sets up my point nicely, so bear with me. Full credit for the intro, of course, to Stephenson.

This is cross-posted to the Effective Altruism Forum. Please post your comments there to keep them all in one place.


Introduction

Humanity is in a near future state. Technology is slightly more advanced than it is today, and the International Space Station (ISS) is somewhat larger and more sophisticated. Long story short, the Moon blows up, and scientists determine humanity has two years before the surface of the Earth becomes uninhabitable for 5,000 years due to rubble bombardment.

Immediately, humanity works together to increase the size and sustainability of the ISS to ensure that humanity and its heritage (e.g. history, culture, animals and plants stored in a genetic format) can survive for 5,000 years to eventually repopulate the Earth. That this is a good thing to do is not once questioned. Humanity simply accepts as its duty that the diversity of life that exists today will continue at some point in the future. This is done with the acceptance that the inhabitants and descendants of the ISS will not have any easy life by any stretch of the imagination. But it is apparently their ‘duty’ to persevere.

The problem

It is taken as a given that stopping humanity from going extinct is a good thing, and I tend to agree, though not as strongly as some (I hold uncertainty about the expected value of the future assuming humanity/life in general survive). However, if we consider different ethical theories, we find that many come up with different answers to the question of what we ought to do in this case. Below I outline some of these possible differences. I say ‘might’ instead of ‘will’ because I’ve oversimplified things and if you tweak the specifics you might come up wit ha different answer. Take this as illustrative only.

Classical hedonistic utilitarian

If you think the chances of there being more wellbeing in the future are greater than there being more suffering (or put another way, you think the expected value of the future is positive), you might want to support the ISS.

Negative utilitarian

If you think all life on Earth and therefore suffering will cease to exist if the ISS plan fails, you might want to actively disrupt the project to increase the probability that happens. At the very least, you probably won’t want to support it.

Deontologist

I’m not really sure what a deontologist would think of this, but I suspect that they would at least be motivated to a different extent than a classical utilitarian.

Person affecting view

Depending on how you see the specifics of the scenario, the ‘ISS survives’ case is roughly as good as the ‘ISS fails’ case.


Each of these ethical frameworks have significantly different answers to the question of ‘what ought we do in this one specific case?’ They also have very different answers to many current and future ethical dilemmas that are much more likely. This is worrying.

And yet, to my knowledge, there does not seem to be a concerted push towards convergence on a single ethical theory (and I’m not just talking about compromise). Perhaps if you’re not a moral realist, this isn’t so important to you. But I would argue that getting society at large to converge on a single ethical theory is very important, and not just for thinking about the great questions, like what to do about existential risk and the far future. It also possibly results in a lot of zero-sum games and a lot of wasted effort. Even Effective Altruists disagree on certain aspects of ethics, or hold entirely different ethical codes. At some point, this is going to result in a major misalignment of objectives, if it hasn’t already.

I’d like to propose that simply seeking convergence on ethics is a highly neglected and important cause. To date, most of this seems to involve advocates for each ethical theory promoting their view, resulting in another zero-sum game. Perhaps we need to agree on another way to do this.

If ethics were a game of soccer, we’d all be kicking the ball in different directions. Sometimes, we happen to kick in the same direction, sometimes in opposite directions. What could be more important than agreeing on what direction to kick the ball and kicking it to the best possible world.

Is it selfish to not give to existential risk or far future organisations for reasons of risk aversion?

Cross-posted from the Effective Altruism forum. If you have comments or feedback I’d prefer you post them there for continuity.


I have this idea which I haven’t fully fleshed out yet, but I’m looking to get some feedback. To simplify this, I’ll embody the idea in a single, hypothetical Effective Altruist called Alex. I’ll assume silly things like no inflation for simplicity. I also use ‘lives saved’ as a proxy for ‘good done’; although this is grossly oversimplified it doesn’t affect the argument.

Alex is earning to give, and estimates that they will be able to give $1 million over their lifetime. They have thought a lot about existential risk, and agree that reducing existential risk would be a good thing, and also agree that the problem is at least partially tractable. Alex also accepts things like the notion that future lives are equally as valuable as lives today. However, Alex is somewhat risk averse.

After careful modelling, Alex estimates that they could save a life for $4,000, and thus could save 250 lives over their own lifetime. Alex also thinks that their $1 million might slightly reduce the risk of some catastrophic event, but it probably won’t. On expected value terms, they estimate that donating to an X-risk organisation is about ten times as good as donating to a poverty charity (they estimate ‘saving’ 2,500 lives on average).

However, all things considered, Alex still decides to donate to the poverty organisation, because they are risk averse, and the chances of them making a difference by donating to the X-risk organisation are very low indeed.

This seems to embody the attitude of many EAs I know. However, the question I’d like to pose is: is this selfish?

It seems like some kind of moral narcissism to say that one would prefer to increase their chances of their personal actions making a difference at the expense of overall wellbeing in expectation. If a world where everyone gave to X-risk meant a meaningful reduction in the probability of a catastrophe, shouldn’t we all be working towards that instead of trying to maximise the chances that our personal dollars make a difference?

As I said, I’m still thinking this through, and don’t mean to imply that anyone donating to a poverty charity instead of an X-risk organisation is selfish. I’m very keen on criticism and feedback here.

Things that would imply I’m wrong include existential risk reduction not being tractable or not being good, some argument for risk aversion that I’m overlooking, an argument for discounting future life, or something that doesn’t assume a hardline classical hedonistic utilitarian take on ethics (or anything else I’ve overlooked).

For what it’s worth, my donations to date have been overwhelmingly to poverty charities, so to date at least, I am Alex.