GreenByrdhouse

35Joined Sep 2021

Comments
5

Thanks for posting this! I think it all seems right to me. A colleague of mine put it well that while EAs often have many advantages (e.g., highly educated), they often lack institutional knowledge. That is, a sort of informal knowledge of an organisation, field, and so on that one acquires from experience. On more than one occasion I've seen the sort of attitude of "If I can't read it in a book/article/forum post then it's not important." The nuance of healthy organisational function obviously has a lot written on it, but it's also something that manifests as knowledge held by people within a field (often non-EA people). 

You point out many reasons for this (youth, the influence of start-up culture), and I think that is correct. Sometimes we as EAs think that we are exempt from the rules that other groups hold for themselves because of our commitment to EA principles. But often the follies of non-EA institutions should be taken seriously because they may act as predictions for EA, not as things we will avoid because, hey, we're EA and they're not. 

Thanks for this thought-provoking post!  

Along this axis of systemic-individual behavioral change, I think there is also a question about what, in fact, qualifies as systemic change. So, assuming we decide that indeed institutional reforms are the best way to go, we then need to be clear about what qualifies as one and what doesn't. Factory farming bans/moratoriums are very clearly systemic. But I think it is an open question if, say, cage-free pledges are indeed "systemic". They certainly don't appear to be individual, but I don't feel fully comfortable saying that they are institutional either. 
 

I think that the institutional-individual question is merely the first question needing to be answered. 

Thanks so much for posting this, George. I am a fan of this idea! As a lover of tofu dishes, I am excited to see where this goes. However, I have some significant objections to pose. In no particular order:
 

  1. Relying on social media as a method for influence I think is pretty risky. I think sometimes people assume that social media clicks are necessarily a proxy for meaningful engagement, I would argue that they are not. Social media, in my view, is obviously very important but everyone is so saturated with social media campaigns that claim to be “the next revolutionary thing” that it all sort of becomes a blur. What makes yours different from the next thing that I would see after I scroll to the next TikTok? Further, the vegan influencer world is especially saturated. What needs to be shown, ideally, is how you get from point A (lots of social media clicks) to point B (meaningful engagement and change). The two are often muddled, but they are not one and the same.
  2. Adding a new protein to the market does not necessarily mean fewer animals dying. For one, American’s can just end up eating more protein in general. For another, there is reason to be skeptical of the idea that the reduction of animals dying is so neatly correlated with price and availability of products. (relevant quote from the abstract “For every 10% reduction in price or increase in demand for plant-based meat alternatives, we estimate U.S. cattle production falls approximately 0.15%”) Indeed, often these sorts of projects, while exciting, wrongly assume that by merely getting more people to eat this product, it will necessarily lead to fewer animals dying. That is an assumption filled with its own assumptions that need to be substantiated. The realities of the supply chain are significantly more complicated than a one-to-one swap assumption, in my option. 
  3. What is your evidence that RCTs (the tofu kind, not the experiment kind!) will have more success than currently existing products, like Impossible and Beyond? Those companies, and others, seem to be doing relatively well. What reason is there to believe that this product/idea will do better? It seems possible, but I'm not sure how and curious. 
  4. I think there might be a slight contradiction that needs to be addressed. You say that RCTs appeal to a slightly different audience than other alt-proteins (foodies/chefs as opposed to convenience eaters). However, foodies and chefs are a very small part of the population, and convenience, taste, and cost are a higher priority for more consumers. So, given this, what reason is there to think that this wouldn’t  be a niche product? Niche products have their place but are obviously insufficient to be the game-changer that you imply this could be. It will need to appeal to convenience eaters if it is to be massively successful. The success of Beyond et al., seems at least in part due to the fact that those foods are not meant for foodies, but for people with a real interest in convenience. 

Thanks again George for your work on this and for seeking feedback. I don’t mean to sound overly skeptical. I’ve been working in the food world for a while, and it seems like every day there is a new product claiming it will be the new big thing. And while this idea is very different (in many good ways!) to another plant-based chicken nugget, for example, I think in order to be more confident in the possible success of this project I would need more information. 


Thanks again and keep up the great work,

-G 


 

My sense is that before we putting even a little political capital into some kind of proposal like this, we need to determine if cancel culture is actually something worth worrying about to this extent. 

Like, I 100% agree that in principle it's objectionable to "cancel" someone, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is manifesting to a degree worth caring about, or that it ever will. My intuition is that many people say and do bad things all the time and only a very, very small number of them are canceled.

This doesn't mean that it couldn't become an issue, but I wonder how much of this is something that EA should keep talking about as a serious issue, or if it's just a "Very Online" kind of thing. I often have heard otherwise brilliant people comparing cancel culture to, like,  the cultural revolution under Mao, and needless to say, that's a pretty big overreaction.

Also, my gut tells me that if cancel culture is becoming a thing, which perhaps it is, then nothing that anyone has proposed so far appears, on the face of it, to have done anything to curb the phenomena. And I have doubts that this proposal would either, for reasons people already have stated. If anything, at least in the United States, there is now a completely asinine culture war over cancellation, which then distracts from more important issues like foreign aid and refugee policy. 

I guess maybe I think that EA doesn't have the tools to "solve" or "fix" cancel culture, it's probably out of our abilities, so maybe let's focus on things we can have an impact on.

This isn't totally surprising to me, but it also strikes me as pretty big news. I've been involved in the animal welfare side of EA for a while now, including running a local chapter, and in my experience, the people interested in AW almost always are interested in cultivated meat. More importantly, they are interested in it because of the perception that it is on its way and is basically inevitable. They deserve to know that things are a bit more complicated than the hyperoptimisim of the field often implies. This news should give folks some pause, even if it's not that surprising. I don't think we should just be content with being this wrong because other fields may also often be wrong. 

I know that in my future EA syllabi I will be including this information along with more optimistic views to create a more balanced perspective.