Hey EA community,
My name is Karthik Sekar. I am a data scientist in the alternative food space who had a research career in bioengineering and systems biology. I recently authored a book After Meat that I think would appeal to the community. In contrast to the ethical and environmental arguments, I explain the terrible technological limits of animals: A cow takes at least nine months to grow fully, will waste more than 90 percent of what she’s fed, and cannot be innovated that much further. I explain the physics and biology of why animals are so crummy for production and unable to be redeemed. For technological reasons alone, I conclude that fermentation- and plant-based replacements will be better in every way: taste, cost, nutrition on top of the ethical and environmental benefits. It's going to be a win-win, and that's explained by the technological features.
There are some other noteworthy distinguishing characteristics of After Meat:
- I’m not terribly optimistic about in vitro meat, i.e. growing meat from animal stem cells. I think it’s akin to going back to the 19th century and trying to replace the horse with an animatronic one. In my view, the transition will occur by drowning out animal products with amazing, novel creations that just weren’t possible before, not by replacing conventional products 1 to 1. And we can do this exceedingly well with microbial fermentation and plant-based foods for technological reasons. I argue the compulsion for molecular exactness slows down the transition, and in the long run, it just won’t matter because we won't care and will have better options.
- I espouse the value of genetic modification in the transition. While I don't think this is necessary for complete transition, I emphasize that GMOs will help us get there faster. I also explain the limits of genetic engineering. These limits favor microbes versus animals for food production.
I do discuss pandemics some, and I disagree with Toby Ord’s risk assessment for engineered pandemics in The Precipice. The Precipice does not account for these limits of biology nor the limits of prediction in biology. I argue that biology will never reach the abstraction and modularity of electrical engineering. Furthermore, biology runs on chemical diffusion rather than the flow of electrons. So we can’t just crank the power to skirt limits in biology. Anyway, I discuss more in Chapter 5 and the Appendix of After Meat. If that’s a topic that you’re interested in, you’ll notice that the arguments are in general disagreement with the writing of public figures (Toby, Rob Reid) who have pegged the existential risk of engineered pandemics to appreciable percentages.
- I argue that the transition is inevitable because the technological reasons are so pronounced and compelling, even more so than the environmental and ethical reasons. But humanity can (and should) do things to accelerate the transition such as tamping down on farming subsidies.
- There are many adjacent topics that all connect, e.g. epistemology, morality, hedonism, policy, and futurology. Most readers have enjoyed these, but a few wanted to hit the animals-are-a-terrible-technology points faster. If that’s the case, feel free to proceed as follows: Introduction, Chapter 3, 4, 5 and finally 8.
This project is designed to convince and excite humanity about moving away from animal products. To further that end, 100% of the profits are being donated to the following charities:
- The Good Food Institute
- Animal Charity Evaluator’s Recommended Charity Fund
- Effective Altruism’s Animal Welfare Fund
Furthermore, digital versions are pay-what-you-want. If buying After Meat makes it harder to keep your giving pledge, then no worries and don’t pay anything :)
Links to obtain After Meat:
An audiobook version is 99.9% complete, and I expect will be released officially in the coming week. Send me a message if you want early access.
I hope that you enjoy After Meat, and I’m delighted to discuss any topics or arguments. AMA!