Morality is Hard podcast launched today

I’m pretty excited to announce that the pilot episode of a podcast I’ve been working on over the last few weeks is finally available. I had a chat with Rob Farquharson about some tricky topics, including no-platforming, artificial intelligence and wild-animal suffering.

Ever since I became interested in philosophy about 4 years ago, and especially moral philosophy, I’ve noticed that determining the most ethical course of action in specific, real world situations is actually quite hard. This doesn’t seem to reflect in the actions of most people, who seem to assume that it is easy. I’m not really sure why this is, maybe they like to believe that it’s easy to be a good person. In any case, morality is not as simple as you want it to be.

This podcast seeks to shed light on some of the most difficult ethical questions today.

As the pilot episode, I’m really looking for feedback on everything from the production to the content. I want to know if this is something that people would be interested in listening to before I continue spending time working on it and interviewing more people. Also, if you have any suggestions for future topics to discuss or people to interview, I want to know that too. Anything relating to ethics is fair game.

If you enjoyed this, please share it with your friends and like us on Facebook.

You can see the episode here, or listen via Youtube.

If you think I’m wrong about anything I said in the podcast, please let me know. I am very willing to change my mind on any issue, even my ethical framework.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Interview with vegan publishers John Yunker and Midge Raymond

John and Midge are authors and co-founders of the publishing house Ashland Creek Press, which is dedicated to animal and environmental literature.

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How and why did you become vegan?

It was a journey that predates Ashland Creek Press. We both took different journeys but arrived at the same destination. And the more we learned about animals and how they are treated, the more this affected every aspect of our lives, including our writing. Ashland Creek Press grew out of desire to see more works of literature that address animal rights issues.

How did you come to writing and publishing?

Midge: We both have journalism backgrounds, and we both worked in publishing in New York. This is when I first began writing fiction. After publishing a number of short stories, my first collection, Forgetting English, was published in 2009, and my novel, My Last Continent, was published this year by Text Publishing. Ashland Creek Press was born thanks to John’s novel, The Tourist Trail, which we published in 2010 after his agent couldn’t find a home for it. This experience made us realize that there is a lot of environmentally themed literature that isn’t finding its way into the world, so we decided to start a boutique press with that focus.

John: While Midge has a strong background in editing, my expertise is more in web, production, and marketing. After publishing The Tourist Trail, we began accepting submissions for Ashland Creek Press and were amazed by the high quality of work we received, which told us that there was definitely a need for an environmental press. We’re now in our fifth year and have published more than twenty books.

What would you suggest for an author looking to write or promote a book about animal ethics? For one, I imagine it’s difficult to write a popular and successful book about animals ethics when so few people take animal suffering seriously.

First, we’d encourage the author to keep us in mind! Second, we’d encourage any writer passionate about these issues to not give up. In many ways, writers who tackle these issues are ahead of their time — but our time will come eventually.

Regarding the writing itself, it’s important that writers understand their audience and what they’re trying to achieve with their work. Some writers are successful in writing for fellow vegans, and their work reflects this. But to write a novel that will appeal across the full spectrum of readers, one must be careful not to be heavy handed in style and voice. You want readers to share your journey, and you must always keep in mind that those who are not vegans might not take the same path that you took. The goal is to open hearts and minds toward these issues by asking important questions in a way that respects where every reader is coming from.

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

Start small and keep overhead low. We didn’t “give up the day jobs” when starting this press, and we still have other work to help make ends meet. And this gives us the financial freedom take chances on books that fall outside of the mainstream.

Also, a lot of people view publishing as an easy business to run because of the rise of self-publishing models and eBooks. But there are more than 200,000 books published every year, which makes book marketing a constant and never-ending challenge. In other words, we would not recommend that people get into publishing to make money but rather to pursue their passions. It’s definitely a labor of love.

What is it about fiction that allows a message to be communicated better than non-fiction?

Non-fiction speaks to the brain; fiction speaks to the heart. And while we find that non-fiction books have a huge impact on awareness and action (we also publish non-fiction, such as Dogland), we have special affinity for fiction. We’re readers and writers of fiction ourselves and are continually frustrated by the lack of novels that see the world the way we see the world.

What is your biggest insight on encouraging regard for animals, either in print or in person?

Empathy is the key. Most people have empathy for their family pets, and they may not realize, for example, that pigs are as intelligent as their dogs. The challenge is helping them expand their love for such pets as cats and dogs to animals that have largely been overlooked. One strategy is by giving an animal point of view in a story — not an easy feat but, done well, can be quite successful, as it was with the cockatoo Caruso in Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s Love and Ordinary Creatures. Other ways we can find empathy for animals in fiction is by authors creating unforgettable animal characters that live among humans, such as Jata in Mindy Mejia’s The Dragon Keeper. And both editions of Among Animals feature animals from dogs and cats to emus and cockroaches, all of which challenge us to view these creatures in a new light.

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

John: It’s hard to pick just one. Some of the more influential books in my life include Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy, and the story A Report to An Academy by Franz Kafka. When it comes to television, the British mini-series Edge of Darkness continues to inspire me.

Midge: I am a big fan of environmental novels like Ann Pancake’s Strange As This Weather Has Been and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves beautifully touches on important animal-rights issues. I also think film is a wonderful medium for the animal rights, especially as there are so many good films that tackle the subject from different angles, from Forks Over Knives to Earthlings to Cowspiracy.

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

We have long made the point that often widely acclaimed “environmental literature” isn’t truly environmental in that nature is exploited rather than respected. We are working hard to promote a “new environmental literature” that doesn’t glorify hunting, fishing, or any form of extraction from nature. We’ve founded the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature (www.siskiyouprize.com) specifically to highlight these works. We believe we’re due for a revolution in environmental literature.

What’s next for you?

For ACP, we’ve just published the second volume of Among Animals, an anthology of short stories that explore human-animal relationships.

We also just launched the third annual Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature.

Next year we will be publishing the novel The Crows of Beara, about Ireland, nature versus industry, and the power of landscape. We’ve also just signed a non-fiction book about wild bears of Europe. Most people aren’t aware that there are bears there, and this book sheds light on the struggles that they face, as well as the people who advocate on their behalf.

And we’re also both writing new novels.

Thanks for sharing your time! If you want more information about Ashland Creek Press, check out their website.


I’m hoping for interviews with interesting people doing interesting things will become a regular segment. If you enjoyed this and want to hear more stories, make sure to subscribe. And if you have any interesting stories/experiences/wins you’d like to share, please do get in touch so I can interview you!