🌎 296: Fake meat, fake profits?
Plus: telehealth for the people
Welcome back, Shit Givers.
There's just 18 days until the US midterms, when everything's on the line — abortion rights, climate action, COVID protections, data privacy, and more. Our Action Steps today and in the coming weeks will reflect our need to get every possible human to the polls. Let's fucking go.
Last week I published "How To Give", my first Do Better Better essay in over a year. Thanks to everyone for the incredible feedback.
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Beyond Profits (?)
The news: Plant-based meat has been on quite the rollercoaster.
Beyond Meat went public in 2019 with one of the best-performing IPO's by a U.S. company since "the late 1900's" (this is how my 9 year old described the 90's, please kill me).
They (and their sexiest competitor, Impossible Foods) signed deals with Dunkin and McD's and others, improved the core product time and again, released nuggets, and helped normalize plant-based meat.
But over the past year, Beyond's stock has cratered alongside the rest of the market, and the company's going to lay off 19% of their workers soon.
Forget for a moment that Beyond's CFO recently quietly bailed, and that the COO not-so-quietly bailed after biting a dude's nose off — what does all of this say about plant-based meat as a category?
I don't think the category is a novelty any longer -- there's far more competition from major food producers, people get it. To their credit, Beyond and Impossible have made products that are often (again, arguably) indistinguishable from the real thing.
But they need to be more than that.
Keep in mind: We need the category to work. Meat drives most of worldwide deforestation, 60% of global emissions from agriculture, and together with dairy, almost 15% of total global emissions. Meat dominates land-use, water-use, antibiotics, monocrops, and more.
Options are great, and vegetarians will maybe pick a version that's more, shall we say, carrot-forward, but to convert everyone else, we need to:
...among many others. But -- most importantly -- we need look-alike and taste-alike burgers and nuggets to be flat-out better than the alternative, not unlike how Teslas, or more recently, the electric F-150 is being positioned.
We're so close, but need a better burger, full stop.
⚡️What We Can Do: Help elect progressive state and federal candidates who will shift our diets and land-use towards healthier, more sustainable food systems.
Winter is coming, the threequel
The news: As a plethora of Omicron sub-variants tangle with one another for the right to our everlasting souls, it's worth asking how far we've come.
This week biotech headlines trumpeted the claim that -- having proven the technology works and is safe -- mRNA cancer vaccines are just a few years away.
This, as less than 10% of eligible Americans have gotten the upgraded bivalent booster using the same exact tech — mostly because we simply haven't talked about the boosters enough, and/or because when we do, the talk is muddled, or a hotbed of misinformation, mostly fueled by Facebook, you should read this.
We've had successes, and even normalized them, but should keep demanding more, and better:
- mRNA shots
- At-home tests, and tied to centralized, anonymized, actionable test data
- Paid leave
- Dynamic and robust wastewater data
- Mask innovation and production
- And a "war-time" effort to establish indoor air quality standards, overhauling indoor air in every classroom, nursing home, prison, church, restaurant, and office in the country (here's how to build air purifiers for classrooms).
We've already got to electrify all of those buildings. Why not change the playing field for every virus, along the way?
I mention all of these because in order to find the opportunities available to us we have to first identify the problems. We know what we have to do.
So what's coming this winter? Well, that depends on your neighbor's poop.
Wastewater can tell us when the local viral load is climbing, and often weeks before cases begin to rise — but it can't tell us who's actually sick, and we're not really reporting cases much anymore, anyways.
Bottom line: If we're going to actually take care of each other, we need to elect people who will help do that.
⚡️What We Can Do: Check your wastewater data here or here, and then help elect candidates who will build a public health system that benefits all people, every day.
FOOD & WATER
The news: One year ago, baby formula became hard to find. A few months later, a nationwide recall made finding formula even harder.
The context remains the same: incredibly high regulation resulting in very little competition, and very few expensive factories that can actually produce the stuff.
From CNN (by way of a U.S. Census Bureau survey):
Biden and co have imported almost a billion bottles of the stuff from Europe, but 747's packed with precious baby formula like some twisted Mission: Impossible sequel isn't exactly a recipe for long-term success -- and the FDA agrees.
Having a baby in the US is dangerous and expensive enough — there's zero room for anti-competitive, nationalistic bullshit that makes kids go hungry, especially if we're going to feed all these (unexpected, much needed, and probably very adorable) work-from-home babies.
The good news: The FDA will finally allow foreign-made formula to be sold in the US, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut said she'll reveal legislation to expand the pool of US-based manufacturers.
⚡️What We Can Do: Read Helena Bottemiller Evich's deep dive into where we are, and then, if you've got extra, unopened, not-expired formula, donate it through the Free Formula Exchange. You can also get screened and donate breast milk at one of 31 regional milk banks.
TOGETHER WITH BLINKIST
HEALTH & BIO
I'll call you
The news: Fueled by COVID, abortion bans, and mental health struggles across the country, telehealth -- at one point in 2020 responsible for 69% of doctor-patient visits -- faces an uncertain future.
- A new survey showed "Most (physicians who provide opioid treatment) found telehealth to be more effective than expected (54% vs 16% who found it less effective), 85% were in favor of the temporary telehealth flexibility being permanently extended, and 77% would be likely to use telehealth after the COVID-19 pandemic, regulations permitting"
- With a nationwide Adderall shortage, many pharmacies have blocked prescriptions from ADHD-centric telehealth startups
- Abortion-pill-by-mail startups are facing fundraising complications
- Highmark started covering some cases of "software-based treatments for psychiatric and other conditions"
- NBA star Paul George partnered with BetterHelp this week and will donate $3 million for free mental health services for folks in need
- Internet access to actually use telehealth remains wildly inequitable
- The House (which may fall into further ruin next month) has said "audio only" telehealth services are the way forward, but, yeah, remains to be seen
Obvious HIPAA privacy concerns aside, and that the FDA needs to be broken up, we have to (or as I lecture my children, we get to) build an entirely new mental health support structure, among others, like remote abortion care.
Telehealth will play a key role in US healthcare, but we're still in early days.
⚡️What We Can Do: We need people in office, at every level, who understand how quickly technology is progressing, how we can use it to help people, and the infrastructure required to enable broad access. Help get them elected.
The 9000 series has a perfect operational record
The news: Speaking of data privacy -- what if you don't actually care about it?
Or, more specifically, what if you willfully shun it?
Hear me out.
I'm surrounded by a potpourri of Apple products, some of which are always-listening, always-ready for me to ask them to set a timer, or more likely, plead with them to turn off the Greatest Showman soundtrack my children left on blast in the other room.
You've probably got one or more of these devices, or more likely, some Alexa thing, a Ring doorbell, a Google Home thing, whatever.
If you're on the younger side, you've probably used the Snap Map, or if you're a human on Earth, hit "Allow All Cookies", despite the availability of browsers that outright prevent them.
Maybe you've even used an AirTag, or "just" location tracking to keep tabs on a loved one with dementia, or dropped a pin for a friend, or scanned a QR code on a menu.
You get the point.
Data privacy bills are few and far between, and Nancy recently crushed a federal one (though maybe for a good reason). But, besides hugenormous lobbying efforts against them, why haven't they succeeded?
I spent a hell of a lot of time writing about data privacy and ethics, on the willful intrusion, monitoring, storing, and brokering of our data, but there's no denying that most of the time, we invite it.
And I think that's because, despite all of the words spilled, we demand convenience, and there's just really been no day-to-day, much less life-altering implications for what Chris Gilliard calls "luxury surveillance".
And then Dobbs happened, and a collection of US states immediately put into effect abortion restrictions or bans.
What's next? Unclear. Big Tech, and particularly Amazon, want your house crawling with devices, but how will abortion and privacy laws affect not only lives, but bottom lines?
⚡️What We Can Do: GPS is great. So are electronic health records, Apple Watches, biometric border control, and powerful search. But we should make sure the companies and governments that build them only collect what they absolutely need, and transparently, and not use it against us. Help elect people who understand where the puck is going.
10 THINGS FROM MY NOTEBOOK
- Researchers found benzene and other fun toxic chemicals piped into SoCal homes
- America has a Black sperm donor problem
- 87 countries and counting have reached the fabled clean energy tipping point
- Will there by a cancer vaccine by 2030?
- How the FBI blew it on cybercrime, and how they can improve
- The IRA's great for electric cars. But it could be incredible for heavy trucks.
- The first West Coast offshore wind leases go on sale before Christmas
- The US treasury wants insurers to reveal climate exposures and well
- How to suddenly reset thousands of passwords
- Jess Wade, a physicist herself, wrote 1750 Wikipedia entries for women scientists who deserved them
Thanks for reading, and thanks for giving a shit. Have a great weekend.