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Should I be a vegetarian?

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Finance and fitness are nice corollaries because regular actions compound to large effects. People can also FIRE up their efforts to shorten the time. Dog walking is the ’employer match’ of the finance world.

To be heathy in waist and wallet has a cost. There’s the time it takes to educate yourself on what to do, find the best ways to do it, and work to pay the fees that allow you to do the thing you educated yourself on and optimized for. But there’s a secret to this price, sometimes it’s fun to pay!

“Buying good things can’t be the secret to success in investing. It has to be the price you pay. It’s not what you buy, it’s what you pay. There’s no asset so good it can’t become overpriced.”  – Howard Marks

This idea from Howard Marks doesn’t just apply to investing. It applies to everything.

A friend owns an RV and I asked why he chose that instead of a Hampton Inn. Well, he said, the free breakfast would be nice but he likes the campground vibe and tinkering on the RV. His price for that RV is low because he likes rewiring and upgrading the lighting.

Using this model of ‘what you pay’ the answer to vegetarianism is ‘Yes’. I like to cook, have a general idea about what to eat, and enjoy new things. It’s a low cost switch.

Another angle to answer this question is to think about the opportunity cost. Due to a medley of tendencies (née biases), we think about thing in terms of losses. Expressions like, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, address this.

Yet, we aren’t creative when it comes to thinking about further upside. Netflix does not compete with sleep but we think it does because we think sleepily. If it’s at night and someone is in bed, we think there’s only a handful of things people might do. But the list is often much much larger.

Using the model of opportunity costs, the answer is ‘Yes’, there’s probably a vegetable based upside. Just because I don’t know about it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Another angle is to consider the incentives. Do the people who promote doing X also benefit from me doing it? It could be that vegetarians prosthelytize because they love animals and not because eating plants is healthier. I do love my dogs but my motives are more selfish.

Using the model of incentives, the answer is ‘Maybe’. Incentives are conditional and a good default is that if I don’t recognize it, it’s working against me.

One final model is the idea from Nassim Taleb of Extremistan and Mediocristan. Most of social life is one of power laws. Fat Bottom Tails Make the Complex World Go Round. “For if the world is organized into a critical state,” wrote Mark Buchanan “then even the smallest forces can have tremendous effects.” 

For both health and wealth, the goal is to stick the landing within a certain range. According to Taleb, to avoid ruin look to the ancient examples of actions. For example, the best beverages are the old ones: water, tea, milk, wine. Vegetarianism fails this test, though it does raise the question how far into the past should someone go?

Using the model of complexity the answer is ‘Maybe’.

Luckily I’m a designer, luckily we all are, and we can prototype things. My plan going forward is to eat less meat; substitute peanut butter for turkey, nuts for beef jerky, and black-beans for taco meat (which I prefer anyway). All signs point toward moving away from meat, but not necessarily all the way.

Photo is of my daughter’s sixth-grade science experiment: what keeps mashed avocado green longest? Better than lemon juice was a thin layer of water which easily pours off. 

These are just a few models to filter the world through. More are in the short pay-what-you-want piece about how Tyler Cowen thinks. Cowen says that vegetables are better with some heat.

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