In a world of abundance, to be rich is to be moderate.

I recently finished reading The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, a remarkable investigation, journey and manifesto by celebrated chef Dan Barber. The book weaves anecdotes, research, history and opinion into a compelling narrative calling for society to embrace the complexity of an integrated natural ecosystem in which humans can work hand-in-hand with nature to produce an abundance of elevated, sustainable food.

Barber persuasively makes the case that humans can strike a balance between innovation and sustainability, and while there are many memorable moments in the book there is one story that I can’t stop thinking about:

“Not so long ago I visited a highly regarded avant-garde restaurant. The menu was cutting-edge, the dishes small and exciting. After a thirty-course meal, the chef brought me back to the kitchen for a tour.

Standing at the pass, he signaled to a cook, who carried a freshly plucked chicken carcass swaddled in cheesecloth. The chicken, the chef explained, had been sent to him from a farming cooperative in France, which had raised the rare bird with the hope of preserving its superior genetics. He admitted that it was probably the best chicken he had ever tasted. But then he turned to me, almost apologetically, and said, “What the hell am I going to do with an entire chicken?”

That the chef could even ask this question is largely due to men like Frank Perdue, who found profit in breaking up the bird and taught us to cherry-pick only the most desirable parts. But it’s due also to the legacy of Fritz Haber; without the endless supply of cheap grain feed allowed by his synthetic fertilizers, our modern meat-eating ways could never have materialized.

Americans have now arrived at a point that was once unthinkable: there is no upper limit to the amount of meat we can consume.”

The chef’s inability to fully utilize the full chicken is both surprising and yet entirely predictable in today’s world in which increased output in farm fields and increased engagement in Facebook feeds are intellectual challenges to be solved. We employ the smartest engineers, scientists, financiers and economists in the world to develop creative solutions that increase efficiency and drive growth, and to optimize for productivity, yield and engagement.

There is no doubt that this system and relentless focus has produced an economy of staggering wealth that supports 7 billion people with a better average quality of life than any other time in human history; this passage from The Third Plate, however, has stuck with me because it is a perfectly articulated example of a disconnect between how we measure progress and how we define actual progress I’ve never quite been able to reconcile:

Why do we use GDP as a macro proxy for quality of life? And why is all growth and efficiency considered a net positive by default?

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An Ode to the Williamsburg Bridge

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She’s an unconventional beauty – her cool, icy exterior; her raw strength and colossal presence; her willingness to reveal her complexity and the constant burdens that weigh her down; her tattoos and her take-no-bullshit attitude.

Her functional-industrial aesthetic is born from necessity rather than design, but today fashionistas from Paris to Tokyo seek to replicate her style, clamoring for that Authentic Brooklyn look. Read More

“Clean Human” is a morally defensible addition to Restaurant menus of the future

The more interesting question: what are the second-order consequences for society?


Clean Meats — that is, animal products grown in a lab through cell culture — are morally acceptable and preferable to the status quo because they involve no unnecessary animal suffering and have orders of magnitude lower negative externalities than traditional livestock agriculture.

If you are new to the concept of Clean Meat, you can read about the basics here and see how close it is to being available in your supermarket here
While still in the early stages of development, lab-grown meat has already been developed for beef, chicken and duck. Clean Meat is a technology, and it appears to be following the incredible cost curves of the technologies of the past 50 years (semiconductors, solar panels etc…). We will probably see Clean Meat on our grocery shelves within 5 years that is tastier, healthier and cheaper than the meats we eat today, which is unquestioningly a huge positive for society.
But why stop there? The initial focus has understandably been on the most widely consumed meats, but once perfected, is there anything wrong with developing more exotic types of meat? Would you balk at the idea of “Clean Elephant”? Does Clean Tiger sound delicious? Is Clean Panda too far? To take the argument to its logical conclusion:
Is Clean Human an acceptable (albeit exotic) part of the diet of the future, or does it remain taboo?
 

There is a serious health argument to be made in favor of not eating human meat. From a 2008 article entitled “Not that I’m thinking about trying it, but is cannibalism unhealthy?”:

“Other than the social stigma of cannibalism and, you know, the murder part, there is another important reason why consuming human flesh is not a universal practice: it can be deadly.

Prion diseases, a group of uncommon and deadly brain diseases, can be spread by eating the contaminated flesh of humans or other animals. The human brain is more contaminated with prions than other body parts, though bone marrow, the spinal cord and the small intestine also contain these fatal brain-eating malformations. Prion diseases occur when the prion protein misfolds, causing a cascade of misfolding prion proteins that clump in the brain and damage or destroy nerve cells, creating sponge-like holes. Current examples include kuru and Creutzfeld-Jacob disease in humans, and mad cow disease in animals, both of which cause brain deterioration, loss of motor control and ultimately death.”
That said, it seems to me as though human meat could be lab-grown and tested for Prion diseases prior to consumption. Perhaps it could never be made truly risk-free, in which case it could possibly serve as a delicacy akin to the Fugu fish, the Japanese puffer fish whose liver contains a neurotoxin 1,000x more powerful than potassium cyanide. The fish has enticed diners for centuries, lured both by its taste and the flirtation with death.
Regardless of whether or not we ultimately eat Clean Human, I think the moral argument for doing so is valid for the exact same reason that Clean Meat is morally preferable to the status quo — no suffering would occur in the process of developing Clean Human and it would produce just as few negative environmental externalities as any other Clean Meat.

Working on the assumption that Clean Human is both feasible and morally acceptable, the more interesting question is what second-order consequences would arise as a result?
  • Animal Welfare takes a big leap forward. While Clean Meat is primarily being developed as a solution to the “big problem” of an unsustainable food supply, the improved animal welfare associated with the reduction and eventual disruption of “factory farming” is a huge secondary benefit. This is already widely touted, but the introduction of Clean Human to a menu alongside Clean Chicken, Clean Beef and Clean Turkey may fundamentally alter how humans view their position atop the food pyramid. By abstracting away the need to kill an animal in order to produce meat, while simultaneously lowering the sanctity of “human” flesh, it is possible that mankind becomes more conscious of the fact that animals are sentient beings just like us, feel pain like us, and don’t deserve to suffer because of us. This argument has been made for decades by philosophers such as Peter Singer, but Clean Human might propel the argument into the mainstream.
  • Humans may begin to disassociate themselves from their bodies. One of the wonderfully futuristic concepts in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is the evolution of David Bowman, the astronaut who successfully disconnects HAL 9000, from human to “Star Child” — an immortal being who resides in space — at the behest of a civilization who long ago progressed from biological bodies to a non-physical form altogether. Eating Clean Human is not going to get us any closer to evolving as a species, but it may loosen the sense of unity most humans currently feel between their mind and body. By showing that our bodies are made up of meat just like any other animal, we may begin to identify who we are more by our intellect, personality, and memories. This could pave the way for greater societal acceptance for lives led entirely as avatars in VR or Second Life than IRL. If Elon is as successful with Neuralink as he is with accelerating the advent of sustainable energy or enabling the spaceflight capacities necessary to make human life multiplanetary, we could be one step closer to removing the need for physical bodies altogether — the morality of which is a separate question for another time.
  • Cannibalism may see a resurgence. Despite the aforementioned risks associated with cannibalism, the proliferation of Clean Human may lower society’s intolerance to genuine cannibalism. While it would undoubtedly continue to be ruled illegal be governments throughout the world, I can envisage a black market for “Authentic” Human springing up. In fact, the extent to which this is true could actually invalidate the assumption that Clean Human is morally defensible.

The first instances of Clean Human on a menu will surely provoke a backlash in tabloids and the sensationalist wings of the media, but I will strongly support the right of anyone who wants to offer or consume Clean Human as a morally acceptable choice to make. Personally, I would try Clean Human if offered at a high end restaurant from a Chef whom I trust to do something both respectful and unique — something that isn’t just a gimmick.
As we wait for Clean Meat to hit our restaurants and grocery stores, now is the time to reevaluate our current taboos and examine how technological advances could produce secondary-order impacts on society.
Thanks for reading! Please share any additional thoughts in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this, you may be interested in my 4 part argument to myself on why I should give up beef.

Post originally published on Medium. Read it here.

The Duck with the Dimples

There’s something incredibly humbling about saying what you really, truly feel about someone you love in public. There’s a pressure to find the perfect words to describe emotions that cannot be described; to give justice to the depth and complexity of a real relationship; to not resort to clichés. No wonder most people only give their vows once.

But in articulating what it is that I love about KC after five and a half years together, I am able to step back and reflect on our relationship in its entirety, understanding what makes KC uniquely qualified to be my best friend and partner, and how I have grown and found self-actualization in tandem with my desires to be the best partner I can be.

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On November 8th, 2016 I gave up beef. Here’s why I’m challenging you to do the same.

I love beef. I love the first bite of a medium-rare cheese burger fresh off the grill, juices oozing. I love beef stroganoff so much I cooked it at my own birthday dinner party last year. But on November 8th, 2016 I gave up beef. And I’m asking you to do the same.

To be clear, I am not (and do not intend on becoming) a vegetarian; I still love meat and fish and giving those up is currently beyond my will-power. But I have come to the conclusion that the negative consequences of consuming beef are so large, and the costs of giving it up so low, that I now believe that eating beef is a morally dubious act akin to buying a gas-guzzling pickup truck.

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A Year in Review: 2016, The One Where I Ran A Lot

2016 was a roller coaster year both personally and more generally, and in all honesty I am ready to put 2016 to bed and focus on starting the new year afresh. But once again I am consciously reflecting on what has happened in the past 12 months as I did in 2014 and 2015.
I originally wrote this from my balcony overlooking the magnificent Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, so forgive the optimism, but I feel that the negative geopolitical events of 2016 will one day be looked upon as a wake-up call rather than the beginning of the end, a crisis necessary to spur people into fighting for their beliefs and for progress, rather than swimming through life on the assumption that progress just happens naturally.
2016 has certainly been a wake-up call for me. I think the key theme to my year has been proving to myself that I can live by my values and with concerted effort over time I can achieve goals that seem impossible in the near term. This lays the foundation for 2017, when I plan to build upon the positives in my personal life and take them to a broader audience, either through new side projects, one-on-one dialogue with friends and family, and even (post-11/8/16) through engagement in political activities.

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Electric Bikes, Communal Dining, & Coffeeshop+[Function]

As my thinking around my value-creation opportunities evolves, I find myself returning to the three markets that I believe match the three criteria necessary for me to commit time and resources to them; namely, a market which:

  1. aligns with my core values of living a value-creating, sustainability, community-focused life,
  2. offers me a chance to apply my existing skillset to a new discipline,
  3. is at an inflection point with exponential growth ahead of it.

Those markets are, as you may have guessed, electric bikes, communal dining, & Coffeeshop+[Function] (think Coffeeshop+Office, Coffeeshop+Florist or Coffeeshop+Bikeshop). At a glance you may think I’m crazy — those 3 markets are nothing alike (hardware, hospitality and retail?!), but I actually think there are opportunities to capitalize on changes in a changing operating environment and tweak the existing business models of each.

I’m about discuss my thought process behind each market below, but first I would like to make a request: if you know someone working in these areas, please, please, please let me know about them! It would mean a lot :)


Electric bikes as a mainstream mode of transport

There is no question that electric bicycles are experiencing a surge in popularity as battery technology improves, innovative designs are crowdfunded into existence, and cities across the Western hemisphere become more navigable/safer for urban cyclists. But in today’s environment I don’t see how the electric bike becomes anything more than a niche product for a relatively small demographic (typically males with an environmental bent and the disposable income to afford a $2,000+ bicycle).

However, I believe that we are on the verge of a revolution in personal mobility with the advent of the self-driving car that stands to reshape everything we think about urban design, and the electric bike could be one of major beneficiaries. When transportation becomes “as reliable as running water”, exponentially safer and effectively commoditized, I believe people will look to alternatives such as electric bikes to regain a sense of control and freedom in their mobility. Self-driving cars will further make cycling an attractive alternative through improved safety (no blind spots or aggressive driving from your Tesla Model 3!), and the likelihood of improved cycling infrastructure with a reduced need for vehicle parking.

Access to electric bikes is increasing, as well. Smart companies like Riide offer a monthly subscription membership at just $79/month — a bike-as-a-service so to speak — which includes theft insurance and free maintenance. As the quality of the experience increases, and the barriers to entry fall aside, I am convinced that the electric bike’s appeal will broaden and achieve mainstream status — a massive opportunity to massively improve the way we get around the cities we live in.

Communal Dining isn’t rocket science, but it’s effective

I have a separate post in the works regarding communal dining as this is the area I feel most capable of dipping my toes into in the near future before diving head first. To put it simply: 1) I think dining with interesting people from one’s neighborhood is an activity that many people would like to participate in, but currently have no outlet for doing so; 2) I believe that we can design a system to continuously host dinner parties where the diners want to stay in touch with one another after the end of the night — it can be scalable if designed intelligently; and 3) I believe that through bringing people together to break bread, we can support and bolster a community’s identity.

It’s not heart surgery, it’s not rocket science, it is just about getting people together to share a meal. And I think we need to do it more often.

(Keep an eye out for the separate post about communal dining next week).

Coffeeshop + [Function]: Why reinvent the wheel?

In 2016, there are clearly no shortages of coffeeshops. I consider myself hugely fortunate to be living in a time when cold brews and third wave lattes are dime-a-dozen, from Williamsburg to Nashville to Medellin, Colombia. I love coffeeshops and I’ve written about them here and here. And while coffeshops have multiplied like rabbits, traditional retail has struggled as more consumer dollars and attention is spent online.

The “experiential” side to retail is not a new concept, nor is the coffeeshop+[function] model. How long Coffeeshop/Bookshops existed? But I do think the model solves the biggest problems of each business type — coffeeshops need to find a way to increase the average check sizes for the foot traffic that comes through the door; retailers on the other hand just need a differentiated experience to get people in their stores.

I personally like the idea of the florist/affordable art gallery+coffeeshop: plants and artwork can provide a beautiful ambiance in which to enjoy a coffee, and plants in particular are affordable luxuries that people could purchase to bring a little piece of the coffeeshop home on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.


So, now that I’ve articulated each idea/market I’m asking for your input. Do you know anyone working on something similar? Do you know a restaurant that would be good for a 20+ person communal dinner? Please let me know!

Brooklyn Summers

Let me tell you about my weekend.

On Friday evening I walked three blocks down to the farm on the East River to watch the sunset over Manhattan. After the sky had blackened and KC had showered from her yoga class, we took a bottle of Malbec down to the Korean-French BYOB hole in the wall we were yet to try despite our one block proximity; two hours and three dishes later we were cursing ourselves for not having eaten there earlier, so delectable was the food and delightful the ambience.

On Saturday morning I ran 13 miles — across the Manhattan bridge, along the East River, by the UN plaza, and back across the Queensboro bridge. In the early afternoon KC and I headed North to Greenpoint, where our friend was having a party at the Brooklyn Barge Bar before she heads out to Grad school in Edinburgh. I initially knew ~10 people there, but by the end of the afternoon I had increased that number to 14 or 15 — we drank and we laughed with the relaxed freedom of twenty-somethings without obligations. A quick Uberpool ride back to South Williamsburg and KC and I were back at the farm, this time to attend a craft beer festival with 13 of New York’s finest local brewers: Sixpoint, Other Half and Threes Brewing were the standouts. We met KC’s director from work and her husband, recent NYC transplants from London, and enjoyed comparing cultures as the evening faded into dusk.

I tell you about my weekend not as a way to boast or brag. I have Instagram for that.

I tell you this because I am trying my best to appreciate just how amazing life is, and how fortunate I am to be living a life filled with food, friends, love and joy. While I take life in its stride, and enjoy the serendipity that comes with that, it is very easy for me to take for granted the simple pleasures I encounter every day or weekend. This post is about recognizing the little things in life:

Low key backyard BBQs on Sunday evenings. Watering the plants and seeing our Cayenne Pepper plant produce more peppers than we know what to do with. Reaching the crest of the Williamsburg bridge on a Citibike and reveling at the sight of the city skyline as the bike gathers speed for the downhill.

Mid-afternoon walks to Bryant Park from the office, stretching the legs and refreshing the mind. The first sip of a cold brew from Toby’s or Konditori. Deciding where to go for lunch with the TMT team.

Concerts in a sweaty Irving plaza. Sunset subway sets at Brooklyn Grange. The midnight walk home across the bridge from the LES.

The massive sunflowers at the farm, whose optimism is only eclipsed by Ryan and Henry, the farm’s lovable co-founders. Being teased by Kate from the Yoga studio about how often (or little) I attend class. Waking up from a nap and seeing the sun, streaming through the window, dance on KC’s restful face.

Brooklyn summers. These are the golden days.

The Coffeeshop Business Model (v1)

I love coffeeshops. Some of you probably know this about me, and some of you may even have read my blog post about my love for coffeeshops.

I (like many people) have a dream of running my own coffeeshop one day, establishing a community outpost that brightens the day for the weary, and offers a welcoming environment for every type of person imaginable.

So I did as any aspiring coffeeshop empresario with an investment banking background would do on a Friday night… I built a model!

Here it is (I recommend you actually open it in Google Sheets using the link, but you can also interact with it embedded here):

I’ll dig into some analysis/key takeaways over the weekend and next week, but there are  some important caveats:

  • I built this model on a Friday evening after 2 beers – it is far from perfect. I plan on building this out further, but if you have suggestions in the meantime, they are always welcome.
  • This model assumes that you have the full cash balance to start this today (i.e. no debt), and doesn’t take into account any ancillary/legal fees. Taking out a loan would affect the returns materially (planning to build into the model later).

Question for you:

Can I ask you to give me feedback on the assumptions I’ve made? If anyone has actual experience working in a coffeeshop that would be amazing, but even if you haven’t, do you think it’s reasonable that the average beverage check is $4? Does it make sense that less than 1 in every 4 orders involve food? What other line items am I missing?

TGIF!

Rambler-in-Chief

 

On the importance of escaping the NYC bubble

NYC is a magical place, and Williamsburg is the best home I could possibly ask for at this early stage in my career – a cosy apartment with 4 friends, a backyard for throwing BBQs, an easy commute to work, and all the bars & restaurants a 24 year old could desire.

But Logan Square in Chicago offers a comparable environment at a fraction of the price, as I discovered this past weekend. A long weekend getaway for KC’s birthday provided me with my first trip to the Windy City and a healthy reflection on what life outside the Big Apple looks like.

And just look at the pictures from the Airbnb we stayed in for $75/night:

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