The reorganization and line edits are done! We’re at the final stretch. Next up is the final read through, copy edit, and book design. It’s looking like late Summer or early Fall will be the official release date.
There’s also a new title, but I won’t disclose it publicly until the new cover is finished.
One of my favorite video games is 2011’s Dark Souls of the action, fantasy genre (think knights and wizards). Even though Dark Souls is regarded as one of the greatest, most influential video games of all time, it was and still is polarizing for its steep difficulty. Dark Souls demands both skill and attention. Your investment pays off in the form of intermittent dopamine rushes: you’ve cleared an area and found a new one after a long struggle. You’ve finally defeated that boss who slaughtered you for hours if not days. The combination of honing your skills, learning the enemies’ patterns, and perseverance have paid off. Now for the next area and next boss, who push your skill development even further.
I suspect that gamers that try but dislike Dark Souls tend to abandon the game early. They struggle with the first few areas/bosses, throw their hands up, and move on. In particular, they give up at the infamous Blighttown area, often described as the make or break point. In my first Dark Souls run, I got to Blighttown, put Dark Souls on hiatus, and only came back after a few months when my friend pleaded me to finish.
Blighttown is inhospitable, difficult, and unforgiving. Make the wrong move and you’ll fall off a cliff to your death, be hit with a blowdart that intoxicates you, or a ghastly monster leaps out to devour you. It’s also dark and unsightly, lacking the grandeur of other Dark Souls areas. You precariously make your way down using creaky ladders and pulley systems only to be rewarded with a poisonous cenote that you must run through while boulders hurl toward you. It’s no wonder why Blighttown is regarded as one of the worst and most deterring areas in the game.
There is something of a Blighttown currently in The Future without Animal Products with Chapter 2. This chapter argues that we can’t predict the exact future, but we can predict certain trends. When I outlined The Future without Animal Products, I saw Chapter 2 as providing foundational information for the rest of the book and the main thesis (animals make for crummy technology and accordingly will be replaced). As I put pen to paper, Chapter 2 evolved and exploded, entering topics such as fluid mechanics and quantum mechanics. It’s clear now after discussing with beta readers: Chapter 2 is too long, the most difficult chapter, and a far digression from the central thesis.
In good news, beta readers, who have finished The Future without Animal Products, have complimented the total work. Ideas and arguments are viewed as provocative, surprising, and profound. Two separate readers remarked that “I’m learning something every page.” So, there is a future for The Future without Animal Products, and I’m working to revise it toward that point.
Chapter 2 will be moved to an appendix. Unfortunately, this is a big change. Furthermore, The Future without Animal Products is still too difficult; readers with college-level science backgrounds enjoy it; whereas, others remain mum. I’m simplifying the writing with the help of an editor, striving to meet the aptitude of a well-informed non-scientist. Think a typical reader of the New York Times or The New Yorker.
So unfortunately, the official publication is delayed; I see Spring 2021 as the earliest time for release. This for the best. The Blighttown experience is sometimes viewed as a necessary hazing to appreciating Dark Souls. I disagree with that notion, especially in regards to The Future without Animal Products. I want as many people to be able to access and enjoy the book as possible without sacrificing any of the key arguments/ideas. Therefore, let’s avoid any Blighttowns.
P.S. I don’t want the “publication date” to limit access to The Future without Animal Products. If you would like to read it now, send me an email. Both digital and paperback copies are available with the understanding that it is a preliminary version.
After a long journey, spanning 2-3 years, I’m happy to announce that I’ve finished a full draft of The Future without Animal Products. It’s been difficult, humbling, provoking, and gratifying. To celebrate, I’m sharing the final cover illustrated by the talented Julia Allum.
I will pursue a few rounds of revisions. Thankfully, the hard part is done — the content and organization are solid. My focus now will be on making it more engaging and accessible. I’m striving for a Fall/Winter 2020 publication date, but stay tuned.
It’s taken about a month longer than I would have liked, but the third quarter of the book is written! I would say I’m about 85% done with the book now. Chapter 7 is about nutrition. Spoiler: we don’t need that much protein, and the value of protein derives from its structure, not chemical makeup. Chapter 8 is about hedonism and mindfulness — both affect our ability to generate knowledge and move beyond animal products. Chapter 9 is about what The Future without Animal Products looks like, expounding on and jumping off an earlier post already written here.
These were fun chapters to write, and I hope others will find profundity in the conclusions. Now for the final stretch.
Chapters 1 through 3 have been reviewed by my friend, Will Roderick, and editor Brandon at Affordable Editors. I sincerely appreciate their feedback — both of them challenged some of the ideas and help clarify/slim down the sections. The manuscript is better for having entered their hands.
A few days ago, I finished full drafts of Chapters 4 through 6, which are currently being reviewed. I’m currently writing Chapters 7 through 9 now.
Otherwise, I’m more concertedly seeking an agent for representation and a publisher. I will be querying both in the coming months. After much back and forth, I decided to attempt the traditional publishing route. I seek to broadcast these ideas as widely as possible, and that’s going to be easier traveling down the beaten path.
Finally, a small teaser: In Chapter 1, I excoriate the naturalistic fallacy — the idea that the more “natural” something is, then the inherently better it is. It’s wrongheaded, imprecise, and detrimental, but I’ll leave the full argument for the book. Here is one illustration (above) used to compare “natural” ancestral bananas versus current ones, the result of continual selective breeding (i.e. genetic modification). We want the modern banana. GMOs and selective breeding are noble and will help us rid animal products sooner.
I’m soliciting an editor for a forthcoming non-fiction book The Future without Animal Products. If you know someone interested, please send this way.
Animals are terrible technology and will be replaced. They grow slowly, require a lot of resources, and are difficult to innovate. It is simply a matter of development before newer, better technologies displace animals entirely from our food and products. Most of the discussion regarding the shift away from animal products fixates on moral and environmental issues. In this book, I will pursue a largely unexplored angle to the debate – the technological benefits of curtailing animal usage. I discuss why using animals are susceptible to disruption in the same way that companies like Netflix eviscerated Blockbuster.
I’m not satisfied to merely convey information about the inferiority of animal products. I seek to rend the readers’ notions about animal technology, and in the resulting chasm, inculcate complete derision. Using animal technology should evoke cars powered by burning wood. First, I discuss how we humanity generate new technology and knowledge. Every technology has a ceiling, especially in the case of animal technology. The most optimistic technical outcomes for animal technology fall well short of the putative replacers. By propping such terrible technology, we stave off a future promising better, healthier gastronomical options; increased wealth; less suffering; a cleaner Earth; and an improved economy. While this future is inevitable, we should want to arrive sooner than later. We, humanity, should strive for The Future without Animal Products.
I’ve rewritten over 50,000 words at this point, and I’m expecting to reach 75,000 to 100,000. If I’m a Pollyanna, the work hits the presses sometime over the next six months. But I’m an iterative writer, and I’m liable to making large scale changes that prolongs the writing. Furthermore, I’m juggling this project with a full-time job and other responsibilities. Nonetheless, it’s a suitable time to hire an editor to help progress and restructure the work if need be. If all goes to plan, we’ll have a sustained relationship over the next 6 months to 1 year for which you will be appropriately compensated.
What I’m looking for
In my view, the ideal editor is as follows:
You are excited about the project and would be interested to learn more.
You love to learn new topics and are intellectually intrepid, especially in unfamiliar, hard science territories sampling areas such as quantum physics to biological engineering.
You would be available and responsive for editing up to a year.
You don’t mind some controversy, and you value the best arguments/knowledge. Not sure how this book will fare in terms of reception, but I’m taking strong, unconventional stances (e.g. Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are a noble technology and will help us rid animal products sooner. Naturalism is a dumb, empty concept. Moral relativism is wrong and holds us back from making progress).
You have experience either conveying or helping to relate difficult, abstract ideas to a wider audience. Most importantly, the work should be clear, engaging, and educational.
You represent the target demographic well and have some-but-not-expert scientific knowledge (e.g. high school education in biology, chemistry, and physics); therefore, you help calibrate the abstract science explanations. I have the curse of knowledge. I will heavily rely on my editor’s vantage for all the pertinent topics.
You are honest, direct, and can explain how/push to make the manuscript better. Right now, I’m favoring someone who is better at development and tonal edits versus just for grammar/flow.
If you’re interested and potential budget
If you are interested, please send me a bit of your background (a portfolio website would be stellar), why you’re interested in the project, and a proposed initial financial arrangement. If I think it’s a good fit, then we would try a probationary period, which I would certainly pay for. Most likely, I’d send you a chapter or two and see how the feedback is. Happy to pursue this with multiple potential editors first.
Currently, I’m likely to self-publish the work. Though I will submit at least one book proposal, which I may have you edit too.
Over the past year or so, I’ve been working on the book The Future without Animal Products. Book writing has been proceeding. I’ve experienced lulls, where I inch forward over weeks. I’ve experienced flurries where I’m wholly entranced, only aware to the screen in front of me. I still have much more to do, but I think I will finish the book. To celebrate that realization, I am sharing the current Table of Contents for the forthcoming The Future without Animal Products book.
I hesitate to promise an exact completion date. I write iteratively: Even after having a “first draft”, I’ll pass over multiple times likely to make large-scale and organization changes. Otherwise, I intend to have a parts ready for editing and review by the end of the summer. Let me know if you’re interested in reading and providing feedback on early draft chapters.
Regarding the potential publication of the book: Currently, I’m planning to self-publish and hire an editor. I see maximum flexibility — I do not have to artificially lengthen the book (as most non-fiction is way too long), and I would not be subject to deadlines. However, I’m still open to the classical route, especially given that publishers can help with the marketing. If the topic of the book interests you, feel free to reach out to me for a formal proposal and sample chapters.
EDIT (March 17, 2019): Phaedra reached out to me to assure that reviews were not manufactured by her. I’ve struck out that point.
I acknowledge the length of time preceding this belated update. In late Spring, I had accepted a position at a startup (Spero Foods) that commenced August 1st. The startup was in the alternatives to animal product space and seemingly offered a direct opportunity to tackle the problems that I lament here – generating better animal-free options. I judiciously allocated my bandwidth toward finishing my work in Zurich and consulting for the startup, leaving nichts for this blog.
There were many issues working at Spero Foods. For important reasons, I cannot expound on my experience there. The key point is that the founder (Phaedra Anestassia Randolph) committed some egregiously unethical actions. Soon after discovering Phaedra’s infractions, I resigned. Many individuals have had issues working at Spero and with the founder, contradicting the likely solicited, if not counterfeit,reviews on Glassdoor.
Even though the Spero episode has costed me significantly in terms of time, opportunity, and my own savings, I still support the mission. I hope that Phaedra humbles her ego, accepts her deficits (esp. in people management, scientific capability, integrity, and company strategy), and finds the help needed to right ship. Unfortunately, some post-resignation actions suggest that she’s far more keen to inculpate everyone else and admit no wrongdoing.
Nonetheless, I’m glad that I took the risk and that I moved on when confronted with the reality. Since then, I applied for other positions, and I am happy to have found and accepted one at Emerald Cloud Lab (ECL) in South San Francisco. Even though ECL is not directly in the alt food space, they satisfy another strong personal passion – creating technologies that enable more rapid knowledge generation. So far, I’m quite happy at ECL, but simultaneously I still seek to advance the causes behind this blog in my free time.
Regarding this blog – I’ve decided that the content will ultimately work better as a book. My thesis is that knowledge generation is ultimately the key to supplanting animal technologies. The current zeitgeist rewards relatively untrammelled knowledge generation. Therefore, animal products will be replaced. I see the book in three broad parts: (1) how knowledge/technology generation works, (2) the dimensions of animal technology that make it ripe for disruption, and (3) the levers and subtleties to the paradigm I pose (e.g. how we can replace animal products faster).
Over the last few months, I’ve solicited feedback about publishing a book. Consistently, I hear that having a large platform (i.e. 25K+ Twitter followers, a prestigious position at a top University) is paramount for a book proposal attractive to publishers. I’m not Michelle Obama nor Steven Pinker, and I honestly eschew social media as much as possible. Nonetheless, I’m still motivated to attempt such a book irrespective of any putative book deal. I’m not sure how (e.g. self-publishing), but, for now, let’s just write the fucking thing.
Big thanks to Gidon Eshel and Beth Clevenger for helping me get started.
Thanks to Jacy Reese for some sobering and direct feedback about the process. He recently released a book, The End of Animal Farming. I devoured and finished it within a few days. It is heartening to know how far animal rights advocacy and the alt food industry have come. He greatly clarifies the challenges with the advocacy, what we’ve learned, and what works.
Thanks to Magnus Vinding for other advice. He self-publishes and releases some profound work, entirely for free. It’s a strategy that I’m chewing on.
I’m beyond ecstatic to announce that I’m joining Phaedra and Spero Foods full time within the next month! Stay tuned and/or subscribe to the Spero website for the opportunity to try a plantbased cheese and egg. Early reviews are in and already suggest that they’re tasty and nutritious!
The long term goal with Spero is to develop tractable systems to explore the Expanse of Amazing Foods comprehensively and quickly. I hope that we can overwhelm consumers with superior, resplendent animal-free options and help render animal products inferior. The cheese and eggs are hopefully just the beginning.
The good news comes with some bad. This blog will be placed on the backburner to my work with Spero. My efforts are best spent in the trenches: actually generating the foods that supplant animals. Nonetheless, I strive to promulgate knowledge that potentially catalyzes progress. There are still many areas to discuss on the topic of The Future without Animal Products. I will write when I can, though irregularly and infrequently and not until other work settles, i.e. after a long time. Furthermore, I alert you now to the potential conflict of interest. I certainly cannot be as free before, especially in anyway that undermines Spero (e.g. proposing specific research ideas/areas on the blog). Moreover, any opinion that I express is my own and does not represent Spero nor any other person/entity I’m associated with. That said, I’m excited to see what we can bring to your grocery store and restaurants!
What’s your favorite dish or food? Aside from a few mainstays (e.g. bread, cheese), the item is likely new. Maybe it’s milk chocolate. That’s about 150 years old. Perhaps, it’s a spicy tomato-based South Indian soup? Peppers and tomatoes were only introduced to India around the 15th century. How about Tiramisu? A baby. 50 years old.
Any culinary tradition that you invoke – Indian food, Mexican food, Italian food – is a newcomer in the course of human history. Humans originated roughly 200,000 years ago, but familiar dishes pervaded only in the last hundreds of years primarily due to trade and technological advancement. If we compressed human history to a day, many beloved dishes and foods only entered in the final minutes. Most of human history entailed simply surviving starvation ; sophisticated recipes indulged a rich few, and some would even disgust us today. As economies developed and more societal members ascended the human development ladder, culinary creativity and options blossomed.
We inhabit a gastronomical Enlightenment. If you live in a decent size, globally-connected city, you likely access Chinese food, Spanish food, Ethiopian food, etc. Ingredients have also proliferated. You can purchase tahini from Israel, cheese from Switzerland, or coffee from West Africa. It was not always like this, even recently. The television series Mad Men, a period piece set in the 1950s, highlighted a character bringing back oranges from Florida to his office in New York City. Ask your grandma when she first had an avocado. Assuming you’re not of Mexican/Californian/Peruvian descent, it was probably only in the second half of her life.
Given that most of our food is new, the corollary suggests that many, amazing foods are completely undiscovered. It’s as if we’re the crew leading the USS Enterprise to new, exotic planets. Humanity only knows a certain amount of space/planets and our ship is bidden to find other planets. Suppose every planet we discover is a new delicacy. Not all of them are memorable, but a few exceed the current set of food. Nonetheless, as we uncover more space/planets, our gastronomical repertoire can only exponentiate. I term this the Expanse of Amazing Foods.
If not apparent, I metaphorized the Expanse from food chemistry. We can extract components from different food substrates and combine them to generate potentially superior foods. For example, milk proteins and fat aggregate to form cheese. Could we take proteins from something else (e.g. yeast)? And fats from elsewhere (e.g. coconuts) and create something cheese-like? Perhaps it tastes better than normal cheese. Maybe it even satisfies in way superior to hamburgers. Suppose it imparts more vitamins than a bowl of spinach.
You may be wondering how this topic relates to the Future without Animal Products. Why not explore animal products? Yes, that’s tenable, but this Expanse is massive – effectively, infinite. No matter how many ships we send out or how fast they travel, we will never reach all of it. I conjecture that traversing this Expanse would actually be faster if we don’t consider animal products. Expanse exploration is tantamount to the chemistries we can apply to substrates. There are significantly more chemistries we can use on non-animal products versus animal products. One reason stems from the inherent danger of animal-based goods. One cannot safely eat raw meat; therefore, using raw meat as a substrate is too dangerous. We can use raw vegetables, nuts, and even microbes (e.g. yeast) easily though. Secondly, animal products are poor planets to explore because of the fundamental process limitations (as evinced in the Animals by the Numbers posts). For example, suppose we pinpoint a specific cow protein for a novel food. We would need too much time/resources to synthesize and separate one cow protein.
For readers who have read my other posts, you perhaps infer that I consider the animal-free industry to be too parochial. Specifically, I perceive most efforts to generate simulacrums of existing animal-based goods. I understand the logic: customers would be more willing to try something familiar even if inferior. However, consider most esteemed vegan/vegetarian dishes. What’s the quality that elicits satisfaction? I would argue that it’s because they are delectable on their own, not because they evoke feelings of animal-based dishes. I enjoy falafel wraps because they’re tasty and filling. Not because they remind me of lamb shawarma (Döner Kebab auf Deutsch). We need more awesome, non-animal dishes that drown out the animal-based ones.
To drive this point home, consider replacements to animals in other technological arenas. For example, horses dominated transportation for the better part of human history. The replacement wasn’t a robotic horse. It was a car. Even though it’s a fundamentally different design, cars exceed the useful qualities of a horse (e.g. speed, distance one can travel) and dispense the disadvantageous ones (e.g. tiredness, longevity). Likewise, we must understand the distinguishing, pervading qualities of animal products (e.g. fillingness? umami taste?) and generate more foods that exceed these parameters. As we explore the Expanse, we will find more such foods even if of fundamentally different design.
Finding new, better foods analogizes to exploring new physical space. Exploring this space will be faster and easier if we only consider non-animal sources. We should welcome novel designs that augment our culinary possibilities.
Thanks to P. Randolph for helpful discussions regarding this post.
 Harari, Y. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. 2014