What I've learned about eating animals - and what the future holds (Part Two)

This is Part Two of Two in a series about our love for food, cultural practices, nutrition, the way we treat animals, what the Torah (Bible) says about eating animals, and where I think the puck is going (Part Two is the one bit about entrepreneurship, or future forecasting what I believe will be a very lucrative opportunity for the right entrepreneurs). This is more about what I've learned about these topics over the past four years in adopting a mostly vegan diet than my typical Lucky7 posts about entrepreneurship (with the notable exception I just mentioned above). I will not be offended if you stop reading now, and you now understand the context if you continue to read this series. I want you to know what you are getting into before you proceed; I believe this series will be a Matrix-type learning for you ("take the red pill, Neo") and once you know the truth you cannot "unlearn" it. You have been warned. :) Having said all of that, this is a topic that I'm very passionate about. My drive to write this series comes from the many questions I get from people about my diet, so I'm writing this to openly share what I've learned and this will also be more efficient - and comprehensive - for me than telling bits and pieces of this learning each time in conversation. My drive also comes from losing my father to a heart attack because of his diet. He was too young to pass away, and I miss him very much. I wrote a tribute to him here - he was an amazing entrepreneur and man.

Before I begin, I would like to thank my good friend, Ryan Cush (one of our best for many years at Bazaarvoice and an executive of Food on the Table, recently acquired by The Scripps Network), for discussing and reviewing this series with me. He is a wise and good man, and I always enjoy collaborating with him.

Part Two

If you haven't read Part One, please do so first. That will give you all of the context for this last Part of the series.

Ok, so now that you have some of the learning that I do from the past four years of exploring this (sometimes sensitive) topic, what do you do if you want to make a change in your life towards a more humane diet - the original diet prescribed for us by G-d in the Garden of Eden? In this post I'll first address how to change your diet and next I'll address what the future holds, which is the entrepreneurial part of this series with the capitalist in me speaking.

First, let's talk about health. You can be an unhealthy vegan. A famous venture capitalist once told me, "You don't see any fat vegans, do you?" Well, actually, I do. Just like any diet, there are the junk-food alternatives in the category. If you haven't watched the documentary Fed Up, I highly recommend you do so. There are all types of vegan junkfoods that have high processed sugar content and will, in fact, make you fat and unhealthy if you eat them often. For the best vegan diets, I recommend you read The Engine 2 Diet or Thrive, as I mentioned in Part One. Also, there are many great Indian, Chinese, and Thai cookbooks and it is easy to eat healthy - but very tasty - vegan on those diets. When I want to splurge in Austin, I eat at restaurants like Sway, Clay Pit, Thai Fresh, and La Condesa, which all have great vegan options and are pretty healthy overall. When I want to eat really healthy vegan, I eat at Casa de Luz, which has many fantastic options. Here is a cool article on how vegetables are "becoming cool again" as according to Zagat. I recently had one of the tastiest vegan meals ever at Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco (they have a cookbook available for purchase, by the way). When I do have a craving for meat - or a recipe that is usually made with meat (such as a bolognese pasta) - I turn to the great products by Beyond Meat (carried by Whole Foods and others). Their beef and chicken products have the same protein content as the real deal and satisfy the craving for me. They are also made with minimal sodium, sugars, fats, and junky additives.

But the bottom line is - the best vegan diet is one that is a whole plant-foods diet, not processed and not using heavy oils and sugars with no offsetting fiber (again the documentary Fed Up will explain the sad processed sugar situation to you as it pertains to tantalizing our taste buds at the dire expense of our health).


Second, let's not use the word vegan. This word represents a form of extremity (similar to religious orthodoxy) that is, in my opinion, unnecessary. If the goal is to eat more humanely - while also being very healthy - then there are non-vegan options that I believe you should consider. For example, at the farmer's market you can usually buy eggs that are raised from chickens that will never be slaughtered. Some of these farmers believe - and I agree - that it is inhumane to slaughter their chickens for meat after their feed costs have exceeded their egg-laying capacity due to their older age. You can also buy eggs from Vital Farms, which treats each chicken to 108-sq. ft. of rotated pastureland. These chickens have a very good life - until they are sent off to slaughter once their feed costs exceed their egg-laying capacity. As such, I personally don't eat these eggs but, as I pointed out in Part One, it all depends on where you net out on our dominion over animals. And certainly if you eat Vital Farms eggs, you are not directly killing the chicken as you would be if you ate their meat. This is why some choose to be vegetarian over vegan (because with cheese, butter, eggs, and the like you are not directly killing the animal)- it is certainly easier but less healthful. But, for me, I mostly choose to eat eggs from chickens I know where never slaughtered. Having said that, my craving for eggs is largely gone since choosing to change my diet so significantly, and therefore I rarely eat them at all. My wife, however, loves eggs and primarily eats Vital Farms when she does. And certainly Vital Farms - or the farmer's market eggs - are going to be much healthier for you than the eggs that you buy that are "cage-free", which as you will learn in the book Eating Animals is BS marketing at its best.

If you love cheese, then I recommend Pure Luck, or a similar farm that, like the chickens, never slaughters their animals after their feed costs exceed their milk-producing capacity. Like the eggs raised in a humane environment, this type of cheese is healthier for you than most. But, again, once you stop eating cheese as I have you mostly stop craving it.

If you still choose to eat meat, then you can buy it from Whole Foods and look carefully at the ratings. You can read about the ratings here and choose meat with the rating Step 5 or 5+. I personally do not eat this meat as I've made the decision that I do not need to kill animals for the pleasure of my palate. But if you personally net out on the side of our dominion over animals and life after Noah being okay with you continuing to eat meat, you can make a choice to not support the factory farming practices that I detailed in Part One. This is where The Omnivore's Dilemma nets out, but you should read Jonathan Safran Foer's critique of it in Eating Animals.

Third, if we are going to continue to use the word vegan, then let's at least recast it so that people know the truth. There are all types of vegan celebrities and athletes; we aren't all "hippies", as the origins of the vegan movement may make you (incorrectly) think. Here is some reading for you to get educated on what the real deal is:

  1. Slaying the Protein Myth by Rich Roll, an ultra-endurance (and super-ripped) athlete
  2. Richard Branson describes why he stopped eating beef; and I would further recommend that you watch the documentary Cowspiracy to dig further into this (Branson did not go vegan but still made a choice based on his own personal learnings)
  3. Vegan Muscle & Fitness, which contains many helpful articles and you can see the results yourself on many of their readers
  4. 50 famous vegetarians, from athletes to stars, and scholars to entrepreneurs
  5. A list of famous vegans from all walks of life as detailed by Wikipedia
  6. A great video of Jim Morris, a 78-year old vegan bodybuilder
  7. Great vegan athletes - a lot of transformational stories in here

In short, if you make this change, you are not alone. This is important because the social pressures to continue to kill animals for your food are very high. As Jonathan Safran Foer pointed out in Eating Animals, eyebrows are raised when you say you eat vegan, or vegetarian for that matter, but if you say, "I'll eat anything" somehow that is more socially acceptable even though there is no humane regard as to how that food arrived on your plate. This is because there is almost nothing more social than breaking bread together and habits are hard to break. Eating meat has been a very long - and mostly celebrated - part of our culture. But it used to be very social to smoke together too. And it is still social to get drunk together and - for some - to do illegal drugs together. It all depends on what choices you want to make for yourselfand, again, for diet it comes down to your personal view on our dominion over animals and how to treat them accordingly.

Now I'm going to shift gears and talk about the future. And this may be a curveball for you given everything you've read in this series. But ultimately I believe the food industry is at the beginning of a transformation to a more humane diet in response to a more educated consumer. This transformation will start with more and more vegan alternatives and eventually evolve into vat-grown meat once the costs of producing it dramatically come down.

First, let's talk about the many vegan alternatives that are emerging. To the extent you think you are somehow choosing to be protein deficient if you choose a vegan diet, there are many great vegan protein powders to choose from. I use VegaSport in my morning smoothie recipe but there are many others. That space is becoming crowded quickly, to the benefit of consumers who want a lot of choice. Also, there are many non-animal versions of "classic" products, such as Muufri for milk, Hampton Creek's Just Mayo (read this MIT Technology Review article about Food 2.0), Beyond Meat (as I discussed earlier in the post) for chicken and beef, Daiya for cheese, and many others. The category for vegan products is exploding as you can see from this Google Trends chart, where I compare Vegan vs. South Beach vs. Paleo vs. Atkins. There is a lot of money to be made in this category. I know how well VegaSport, for example, is doing and it is pretty staggering. Even legendary venture capitalists like Vinod Khosla are jumping into this category, as this TechCrunch article points out (and the article also discusses how Evan Williams and Biz Stone, two of the co-founders of Twitter, are behind Beyond Meat).

But, second, I ultimately believe that vat-grown meat will be the long-term solution. I believe this for two reasons:

  1. As the book Eating Animals pointed out, it is very costly to produce meat if you factor in all of the costs, including the environmental impact as well as the potential for pandemics based on the close confines and the way we treat "food animals". For a recent example, listen to this NPR story about how Foster Farms is trying to solve the case of the mystery salmonella - this is really messy stuff. I believe as more of the truth becomes known, factory farms that are dramatically benefiting financially from offsetting those costs onto us - the taxpayers - will have more and more legislation imposed on them, not unlike what happened with the tobacco industry in recent decades. As a result, factory farms will look towards cheaper and safer means to continue to produce their incredibly profitable products and that is where vat-grown meat will enter the equation. It is already possible and Sergey Brin financed the first vat-grown hamburger at the hefty price tag of 250,000 euros for animal welfare reasons - and to change how we view the world (watch his video interview about it). Like all technology, the price will fall dramatically over time - and I find it interesting that this time the same leader showing the world how to evolve into artificial-intelligence based, self-driving cars is showing us how to evolve beyond the animal-screaming-on-its-way-to-its-death eating practices that are our "cultural norm". In other words, technology leaders like Sergey Brin are the "Rockefellers" of our day (a nod to the book Abundance that I reviewed here on Lucky7).
  2. As much as I like being almost entirely vegan given our current state in the food industry, especially with factory farms, veganism goes against the grain of thousands of years of human history, including millions of recipes honed to make meat taste great. Instead of using the word "vegan", I would use the word "humane" to describe my diet. Initially society will call vat-grown meat "Frankenmeat" and other derogatory terms (comparing it to GMO-strain plants for example). But ultimately it will become known as a superior product and evolve into terms like "designer-meat" because you will be able to vat-grow it in a manner that allows you to manipulate the fat, vitamin, fiber, and omega content to actually make it far healthier than the hormone-and-antibiotic laden product that describes over 99% of the meat available today. Vat-grown meat will enable you to eat meat without the guilt because you will know that an animal didn't die for it. Not all vat-grown meat will be healthy, however. For example, you will have designer-meat that is superior to Kobe A5-grade beef that high-end steak restaurants overnight from Japan, which likely means more fat content than the "real" deal. But, in any case, your children will be able to eat meat without the guilt when they are your age. They will view our barbaric practices of today as outdated as surgeons of old (and they will also view our current medical practices as barbaric too because they will have evolved way beyond them as well - look no further than the harshness of today's cancer-targeted chemotherapy as a start).

(photo from this Utopianist article, which is worth the read)

Vat-grown will also apply to animal products like leather - and that is already happening too. Read this article about Peter Thiel and his funding of Modern Meadow. And these leather products will be superior in quality as well - for the same reasons as above - and also guilt-free.

Just think about it for a moment. Would you choose to eat meat or wear leather from an animal that was once alive and went down screaming and terrified that it was about to die if there was an alternative that was vat-grown and never had a mother, brain, or any feelings whatsoever - and was of superior quality to boot?

So maybe this was where you expected this series to evolve to, or maybe it wasn't. But it is what I believe will happen, controversial or not. And I believe we will all be better off for it.

I hope you enjoyed reading it, and I encourage you to share your comments below.