The School Of Life, The Future Of Food, Barack Obama

November 26, 2020

“Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.”

- Michel de Montaigne

“In order to taste my cup of water you must first empty your cup. My friend, drop all of your preconceived fixed ideas and be neutral. Do you know why this cup is so useful? Because it is empty.”

- Bruce Lee

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


A. The School Of Life

I often look at my children’s education or think back to my own and wonder why didn’t they teach us “that” in school or why wasn’t there a course on “this” in university.

As humans we are very selective about the topics we deem it possible to educate ourselves in. Our energies are overwhelmingly directed towards material, scientific and technical subjects - and away from psychological and emotional ones.

From the introduction of the book, The School Of Life:

Much anxiety surrounds the question of how good the next generation will be at maths; very little around their abilities at marriage or kindness. We devote inordinate hours to learning about tectonic plates and cloud formations, and relatively few fathoming shame and rage.

The assumption is that emotional insight might be either unnecessary or in essence unteachable, lying beyond reason or method, an unreproducible phenomenon best abandoned to individual instinct and intuition.

We have collectively left to chance some of what it is most important to know; we have denied ourselves the opportunity to systematically transmit wisdom - reserving our belief in education to technical and managerial skills.

The goal of the School Of Life (started by Alain De Botton), both the book and the educational organisation is to help us find calm, self-understanding, resilience and connection - especially during troubled times.

If you have studied any behavioural psychology, you know that human understand is less about what actually happens and more about the stories that we tell ourselves about what is happening.

In a year like 2020, the notion of meritocracy (which has become popularised since the 1970’s) and the idea that people deserve what happens to them is clearly broken. Nobody deserves what is happening now. We find it hard to reconcile the fact that “very bad stuff happens to quite good people”.

The Ancient Greeks thought that at least half of what happens to a person was under the power of the goddess Fortuna, rather than an individual’s character or actions.

They embraced the tragedy of life – something which they believed should be approached with humility – and believed in extending great pity to those who are suffering.

Similarly, the Catholic idea of original sin holds that we can never enjoy happiness in an unproblematic way. Tragedy is encoded in what it means to be human. This belief sets grief and suffering into a wider context. In today’s world, by contrast, we are “unsympathetic to the necessary encounter with pain”, leaving us very alone when the inevitable pain hits.

This also reminded me of what Jordan Peterson said in his book: 12 Rules For Life, that we discussed here.

The most resilient philosophies have been ones that allow the darkness in and make friends with it. The enduring lesson of the Stoics is that the best way to tolerate the uncertainty of the world is to plan for the worst.

Likewise, Chinese philosophy placed great emphasis on preparing oneself for living as a recluse (having been cast out of society). We should teach kids that they can cope with bad outcomes. By fully investigating all downsides and preparing ourselves to cope with the worst that might befall us, we liberate ourselves to take risks.

The below video does a great job of summarising the book and the teachings of the School Of Life that I watched with my kids.


B. The Future of Food

We are on the cusp of the deepest, fastest, most consequential disruption in food and agricultural production since the first domestication of plants and animals ten thousand years ago. This is primarily a protein disruption driven by economics.

For the last few months, I have kept reading headlines about companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and watching Netflix documentaries like “The Game Changers”.

Clearly for a number of reasons, society is changing how we produce and consume meat.

One of the most useful things I’ve read on the subject of the revolution in Food and Agriculture industry is this RethinkX report, discussing: The Second Domestication of Plants and Animals, the Disruption of the Cow, and the Collapse of Industrial Livestock Farming

According their analysis, the cost of proteins will be five times cheaper by 2030 and 10 times cheaper by 2035 than existing animal proteins, before ultimately approaching the cost of sugar. They will also be superior in every key attribute – more nutritious, healthier, better tasting, and more convenient, with almost unimaginable variety.

This means that, by 2030, modern food products will be higher quality and cost less than half as much to produce as the animal-derived products they replace.

The impact of this disruption on industrial animal farming will be profound. By 2030, the number of cows in the U.S. will have fallen by 50% and the cattle farming industry will be all but bankrupt. All other livestock industries will suffer a similar fate, while the knock-on effects for crop farmers and businesses throughout the value chain will be severe.

This is the result of rapid advances in precision biology that have allowed us to make huge strides in precision fermentation, a process that allows us to program microorganisms to produce almost any complex organic molecule.

These advances are now being combined with an entirely new model of production we call Food-as-Software, in which individual molecules engineered by scientists are uploaded to databases – molecular cookbooks that food engineers anywhere in the world can use to design products in the same way that software developers design apps.

According to them, this model ensures constant iteration so that products improve rapidly, with each version superior and cheaper than the last. It also ensures a production system that is completely decentralized and much more stable and resilient than industrial animal agriculture, with fermentation farms located in or close to towns and cities.

My friend Jim Mellon, has a vision that within the next couple of decades world agriculture will be radically transformed by the advent of technological innovations for the creation of cultivated and plant-based proteins.

His book Moo’s Law focusses on investment opportunities in the fields of alternative proteins with an emphasis on cellular agriculture. I’m interviewing him on behalf of Pi Capital on December 9th. Email me if you’d like to join.


C. A Few Things Worth Checking Out:

1. You may have heard about a promising writer called Barack Obama  His presidential memoir has just been published, and the accompanying press tour includes an illuminating interview in The Atlantic, where Obama ruminates on America, Genghis Khan and more.

2. One of the best Tim Ferriss podcast was with Nick Kokonas in 2018. Nick was on the Invest Like The Best podcast last week discussing first principles around knowing what business you are really in.I’m going to listen to this twice.

3. One of the most useful books I’ve read is Deep Work by Cal Newport. In his latest New Yorker article, Cal talks about how we can & must systematically re-think how we work.

4. COVID is creating massive and rapid change in the healthcare industry. This is probably timely since healthcare is both complex and very large, allowing for huge investment outcomes. The team from RRE Ventures was on the Invest Like The Best podcast discussing the current landscape for healthcare investing, the variety of stakeholders, and the opportunities for investors.

5. Peter Thiel speaks with chess champion Garry Kasparov about technology, chess, human rights, and the future of the global economy. I wish there were more videos like this of two smart people hanging out and having a casual conversation, beyond the standard interview format. For a preview of the full video, I recommend this six-minute clip.

Happy Thanksgiving.


The "Course of Empire" series from Thomas Cole is one of my favorite painting composites.

It tells the story of a culture in five parts, beginning and ending in a state of nature. Cole's cyclical theory of history clashes with the linear one that's popular today.

The Savage State:

The Pastoral State:

The Consummation of Empire:

Destruction:

Desolation: