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Greg_Colbourn comments on How a lazy eater went vegan - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Paul_Christiano 09 October 2014 05:42:18AM *  8 points [-]

(I apologize in advance for a downer of a comment, especially for the parts that are poorly argued.)

In general, I think the risk of important but unknown nutrient deficiencies from cutting out a whole class of foods is probably much more important than the animal welfare benefits if you are spending much of your life working on good projects. This is a concern with vegetarianism, but it seems much more severe for veganism.

I haven't looked into the literature in creatine in any depth (largely because my diet is long on creatine), but the evidence for material cognitive effects looks weighty enough that I would want to be careful before considering returning to a low-creatine vegetarian diet. It seems like this should probably get more weight, unless everyone else knows something I don't.

Based on rough estimates it seems like being a vegan is not going to be worth it on consequentialist grounds, at least for those who would e.g. be willing to pay an additional factor of 2 premium to eat meat periodically. For such people the question is: if raising an animal generates $X of economic value, can you generate a welfare offset for a small multiple of $X? It would be quite surprising to me if this weren't possible (e.g. just subsidizing the creation of a small number of more humanely raised substitutes should work, which I would guess is orders of magnitude less effective than realistic approaches). I haven't thought about this at too much length, largely because I think that the effects on animal welfare today are not too important either on contractarian grounds nor on utilitarian grounds (since they seem to have a minimal long-term impact, and the direct impacts are small compared to long-term considerations). But I do think that given the basic economic logic the burden of argument rests with the vegetarian advocate.

If it's a bad idea on consequentialist grounds, I'm not convinced it's a useful signaling exercise. Alternatives like "cut out the worst offenders," "reduce consumption by 90%," and "buy humanely produced products" seem much better both on consequentialist grounds and (consequently) also signaling grounds.

I second the recommendations for powersmoothies elsewhere (though I drink mine with milk, which I find more delicious and seems probably better health-wise).

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 09 October 2014 10:30:16AM 5 points [-]

Creatine is cheap and readily available as a supplement. Ultimately, foods are made up of chemical building blocks, and it seems arbitrary to consider the division "animal/non-animal" as especially nutritionally salient.

Also, "caring about lesser minds" is a good meme to promote, especially considering FAI, CEV etc.

Comment author: Larks 10 October 2014 12:22:49AM 4 points [-]

it seems arbitrary to consider the division "animal/non-animal" as especially nutritionally salient.

I don't think this is actually arbitrary. Humans are animals, not plants. As such, it seems prima facie plausible that animals would contain the nutrients we need, as they are presumably largely the same nutrients the animals need. Humans did not evolve to only eat plants though, so it's plausible that there are some nutrients that we need that are both absent in plants and that we are unable to metabolize from plants.

Also, "caring about lesser minds" is a good meme to promote, especially considering FAI, CEV etc.

The point about CEV is that it is extrapolated - if you have a good argument for vegetarianism, CEV would take that argument into account, whether or not you actually made the argument to anyone. So there's no need to evangelize now.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 20 December 2014 11:34:56PM 1 point [-]

Humans are animals, not plants. As such, it seems prima facie plausible that animals would contain the nutrients we need, as they are presumably largely the same nutrients the animals need.

Holding calories constant, the foods richest in micronutrients are plants, not animals.

Comment author: Paul_Christiano 09 October 2014 03:25:27PM 2 points [-]

I agree that creatine is easy to get, but given that I object to a description of how to be a vegetarian that says "if it's too much trouble don't bother."

Animals and non-animals are quite different nutritionally, and it seems quite likely that there are some things you need to supplement as a vegan, or at least that you need to be quite careful about.

The question of whether you can get by without meat at all then seems quite similar to the question of whether you can get by without any fruits or vegetables if you take all of the relevant nutrients via supplementation, for which the consensus appears to be "maybe, but don't count on it given our limited understanding of nutrition." Do you see a relevant disanalogy (other than scope, which may be somewhat larger for veggies than meat)?

Comment author: DanielFilan  (EA Profile) 12 October 2014 12:38:22PM 2 points [-]

The question of whether you can get by without meat at all then seems quite similar to the question of whether you can get by without any fruits or vegetables... Do you see a relevant disanalogy?

According to Wikipedia, the national dietitians' associations of the USA, Canada, and Australia claim that well-planned vegan diets are nutritionally adequate for everyone, while the German Society for Nutrition warns against it, especially for children, the elderly, and the pregnant. On balance, this is much more positive than I imagine their opinions would be on a carnivorous + supplementation diet.

Comment author: Ben_West  (EA Profile) 13 October 2014 12:07:19AM 1 point [-]

There are surveys about this – for example U.S. News & World Report's's annual survey of dietitians. Vegan diets are always rated as much more healthful than meat heavy diets like Paleo, and presumably paleo in turn is better than "meat + supplements".

So transitively, it seems like experts do perceive a relevant disanalogy.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 09 October 2014 04:26:54PM *  1 point [-]

I'd say B12 is the only really critical supplement needed as a vegan (and even then, lots of plant milks are fortified with it, so it's quite hard to avoid). To be on the safe side, you can take a 1 a day supplement tailored for vegans, like: https://www.vegansociety.com/shop/supplements/veg1-orange-90s Although I've recently noticed that I've gone nearly a year without this (was going to try a soylent recipe instead, and didn't, and forgot to restock!), and have not suffered any ill effects. In actual fact, I've had a pretty rubbish diet for large parts of the last year (marmite sandwiches, crisps, cereal) and have been fine. Maybe I'm pushing my luck though!

If you look at all the foods eaten in the world, the vast majority are of plant origin, so meat is narrow in scope from that view (it just seems central from a modern-day Western perspective); perhaps the scope is large enough for the analogy not to hold with fruits and vegetables together, but either fruits or vegetables might make a comparable analogy to meat.

My point was mainly that it's possible to synthesise very close analogues of animal products from plants and it's not much trouble to get them (Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek Foods are state of the art, but stuff like Fry's vegetarian is widespread and easy to get). More data is needed for things like Soylent and Power Smoothies, although people have been living for months on them now I guess.

Comment author: RyanCarey 09 October 2014 06:40:28PM *  0 points [-]

I've recently noticed that I've gone nearly a year without this (was going to try a soylent recipe instead, and didn't, and forgot to restock!), and have not suffered any ill effects.

Well, I would say you haven't suffered any noticeable ill effects. You don't actually know how healthy you would feel if you were an omnivore so it's hard to say that you have not suffered any adverse health effect.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 09 October 2014 09:38:55PM 0 points [-]

I don't remember feeling or being any more (or less) healthy when I was an omnivore (I was one up until age 2004 (age 23)). But note that I've never reached an optimal level of physical fitness as an adult - maybe one of these years I'll stick to an exercise regime for long enough!