Being Vegetarian – Why and Up To What Point?

td;dr Watch Earthlings here – one of the best documentary about this topic

Why become vegetarian? Because of the impact of eating animals on animals themselves, on the environment and on humanity.

The animals

By becoming vegetarian, you stop most of the suffering you bring to animals (indirectly, for most of you). These horrible practices include:

  • Putting them in minuscule cages for their wholes lives, without them being able to move freely or even turn around (veal crates)
  • Making them live in their own shit, because of irregular cleaning and poor hygiene practices
  • Cutting the beak of chicks and chickens, which farmers do avoid “cannibalistic” pecking and feather pulling in overcrowded (normal) farms
  • Separating mothers and children, creating great anxiety and pain for both
  • Inhumane killing, which is still happens in cheap slaughterhouses. Thankfully, stunning is becoming more common, but it’s still not foolproof, because it doesn’t work every time and some animals get killed alive and suffering.

Here are a couple of examples from Animal Cruelty is the Price of Cheap Meat, a good Rolling Stone article:

You are a typical egg-laying chicken in America, and this is your life: You’re trapped in a cage with six to eight hens, each given less than a square foot of space to roost and sleep in. The cages rise five high and run thousands long in a warehouse without windows or skylights.

You see and smell nothing from the moment of your birth but the shit coming down through the open slats of the battery cages above you. It coats your feathers and becomes a second skin; by the time you’re plucked from your cage for slaughter, your bones and wings breaking in the grasp of harried workers, you look less like a hen than an oil-spill duck, blackened by years of droppings.

Your eyes tear constantly from the fumes of your own urine, you wheeze and gasp like a retired miner, and you’re beset every second of the waking day by mice and plaguelike clouds of flies.

If you’re a broiler chicken (raised specifically for meat), thanks to “meat science” and its chemical levers – growth hormones, antibiotics and genetically engineered feed – you weigh at least double what you would in the wild, but lack the muscle even to waddle, let alone fly. Like egg-laying hens – your comrades in suffering – you get sick young with late-life woes: heart disease, osteoporosis. It’s frankly a mercy you’ll be dead and processed in 45 days, yanked from your floor pen and slaughtered. The egg-layers you leave behind will grind on for another two years or so (or until they’re “spent” and can’t produce any more eggs), then they’re killed too.

You’re a typical milk cow in America, and this is your life. You are raised, like pigs, on a concrete slab in a stall barely bigger than your body. There, you never touch grass or see sun till the day you’re herded to slaughter. A cocktail of drugs, combined with breeding decisions, has grossly distended the size of your udder such that you’d trip over it if allowed to graze, which of course you’re not.

Your hooves have rotted black from standing in your own shit, your teats are scarred, swollen and leaking pus – infected by mastitis – and you’re sick to the verge of total collapse from giving nearly 22,000 pounds of milk a year. (That’s more than double what your forebears produced just 40 years ago.) By the time they’ve used you up (typically at four years of age), your bones are so brittle that they often snap beneath you and leave you unable to get off the ground on your own power.

The planet’s life

The Stockholm Resilience Center says it best:

Intensive factory farming has grown to become the biggest threat to the global environment through the loss of ecosystem services and global warming.

The best page I’ve found describing the impact of animal farming is this one: Facts on Animal Farming and the Environment. Here’s the main content:

Fossil Fuels

  • More than a third of all raw materials and fossil fuels consumed in the United States are used in animal production (Ecological Cooking” by Joanne Stepaniak and Kathy Hecker)
  • The production of one calorie of animal protein requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein. (The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)
  • Producing a single hamburger uses enough fuel to drive 20 miles and causes the loss of five times its weight in topsoil. (The Food Revolution” by John Robbins)

Water

  • Nearly half of all the water used in the United States goes to raising animals for food (The Food Revolution” by John Robbins). It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat and only 25 gallons to produce one pound of wheat (Water Inputs in California Food Production” by Marcia Kreith)
  • To produce a day’s food for one meat-eater takes over 4,000 gallons; for a lacto-ovo vegetarian, only 1200 gallons; for a vegan, only 300 gallons (The Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook)
  • Animals raised for food produce approximately 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population and animal farms pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. Run-offs of animal waste, pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics are contributing to dead zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reef and health problems. (The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

Land

  • Raising animals for food (including land used for grazing and land used to grow feed crops) now uses a staggering 30% of the Earth’s land mass. (Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, a 2006 report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization)
  • Seven football fields’ worth of land is bulldozed every minute to create more room for farmed animals and the crops that feed them. (The Smithsonian Institution)
  • Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., 80% is used to raise animals for food and grow grain to feed them—that’s almost half the total land mass of the lower 48 states (Major Uses of Land in the United States” by Marlow Vesterby and Kenneth S. Krupa)

Air

  • The massive amounts of excrement produced by livestock farms emit toxic gases such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia into the air. Roughly 80% of ammonia emissions in the U.S. come from animal waste (The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
  • When the cesspools holding tons of urine and feces get full, factory farms will frequently get around water pollution limits by spraying liquid manure into the air, creating mists that are carried away by the wind. (Neighbors of Vast Hog Farms Say Foul Air Endangers Their Health,” by Jennifer Lee, The New York Times 11 May 2003)
  • Air pollutants generated by animal farms can cause respiratory illness, lung inflammation, and increase vulnerability to respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Emissions of reactive organics and ammonia from animal farming can play a role in the formation of ozone (smog) and air pollution (The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Food

  • In the U.S., 70% of the grain grown is fed to animals on feedlots (Plants, Genes, and Agriculture” by  Jones and Bartlet)
  • It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat. (The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat by Mark Gold and Jonathon Porritt). Fish on fish farms must be fed 5 pounds of wild-caught fish to produce one pound of farmed fish flesh (The Food Revolution” by John Robbins)
  • The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people—more than the entire human population on Earth (The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat” by Mark Gold and Jonathon Porritt)

Climate Change

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases world-wide (this is more than all the cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined)  (Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, a 2006 report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization)
  • Livestock account for an estimated 9% of global CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) emissions, estimated 35-40% of global CH4 (Methane) emissions and 65% of NO2 (Nitrous Oxide) emissions (Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, a 2006 report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization)
  • By replacing your “regular car” with a Toyota Prius the average person can prevent the emission of about 1 tonne of CO2 into the atmosphere, By replacing an omnivorous diet with a vegan diet the average person can prevent the emission of about 1.5 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. That’s 50% more CO2 saved! (It’s better to green your diet than your car”, The New Scientist, December 17, 2005.)

In addition to all of the above, let’s not forget that the expansion of livestock farming is one of the key factors leading to deforestation in parts of the world such as Latin America and posing a significant threat of the Earth’s biodiversity. Our Oceans are not being spared either and over-fishing is having a devastating impact on our marine ecosystems.

This is not just a problem that impacts our planet, it’s a humanitarian crisis. Our demand for animal based products is diverting precious resources like land, water and fossil fuels to produce farmed animals instead of feeding the estimated billion + people that are malnourished in the world

 

Consequences: The forests are shrinking, the soils are getting over-exploited and degraded, many species are disappearing. And this is not a slow process, that only your great-grandchildren will notice.

For example, “Earth’s population of wild vertebrates — all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish — declined 58 percent from 1970 to 2012.”

Humanity

Many people in the world don’t have enough quality food or water.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016. Almost all the hungry people, 780 million, live in developing countries, representing 12.9 percent, or one in eight, of the population of developing counties. (…)

Children are the most visible victims of undernutrition. Black et. al. (2013) estimate that undernutrition in the aggregate—including fetal growth restriction, stunting, wasting, and deficiencies of vitamin A and zinc along with suboptimum breastfeeding—is a cause of 3·1 million child deaths annually or 45% of all child deaths in 2011

This is absurd. According to One Green Planet (and the United Nations):

We currently produce enough calories to feed 10-11 billion people worldwide, however, the majority of this food goes to feed livestock, not hungry people.

After feed for livestock is produced, additional land, water, and energy resources are required to house and raise the animals and dispose of their waste. Eventually, even more energy is required to transport these animals to slaughter and process their bodies.

To give you can idea of how this all breaks down, it is estimated that people who eat beef use 160 times more land, water and fuel resources to sustain their diets than their plant-based counterparts.

And this is just the beginning. “Worldwide, an estimated 2 billion people live primarily on a meat-based diet, while an estimated 4 billion live primarily on a plant-based diet.” If the trend towards meat continued, all the problems on this article would only accelerate.

Opposing views

Let’s read some opposing views to see whether some good counter arguments exists. The New York Times once challenged their readers to make an ethical case for eating meat. Here are the top responses.

Wikipedia also has a “Criticisms and responses” section on its Ethics of Meat Eating page. Read it here.

Personally, I don’t find them very convincing.

Ok, so what should we eat?

Here are my simple rules of thumb:

  • All plants are OK: vegetables, fruits, cereals, beans, nuts, …
  • Very simple organisms are OK: oysters, mussels
  • Meat replacements: veggie meats, tofu, beans

This is the ideal. Here are the non-ideal thing, from less-worst to worst:

  • Shrimp and prawns
  • Fish
  • Eggs, dairy and cheese: they look innocent, but they’re often among the worst crimes we do to animals (make sure to buy as ethical as you can. Cheap often means cruel)
  • Meat

I prefer ethically shrimp over meat, because there’s less evidence that they can feel pain. If they can feel pain, they’re grown in less painful environments than meat.

My diet

I follow my guidelines, with one exception: I still eat eggs, dairy and cheese. I’m not especially happy about this, so I’ll probably replace them with something else over the next year.

Learn more about this

Europe: a quick overview of the economy

I recently discovered Eurostat, the EU’s statistic website, which is a goldmine of great graphics and good data. It has tons of interesting information, and I’m going to share a couple of the most interesting parts.

How much do EU governments (and the EU) spend?

On average, governments expenses are about 47% of the GDP. The European Union, on the other hand, has expenses of about 1% of Europe’s GDP. In a rough approximation, the EU represents about 2% of a government’s expenses, which is (to me) surprisingly low.

Governments expenses by country (by % of GDP) Maroon > 55%, red 50-55%, orange 45-50%, yellow 40-45%, green 35-40%, blue 30-35%

European countries are generally among the highest taxed countries in the world, though they also generally have the best social protection in the world.

Government spending (by %GDP)

Where does the money go?

Evolution of total government spending
Evolution of total government spending

The biggest spending area is clearly social protection, accounting for around 40% of expenses. Then come, health (15%), education (10%) and general public services (13%).

One of the biggest surprises was that some areas were receiving a lot less money than I expected. For example, defense only accounts for 3% of expenses, public order and safety for around 4% and recreation, culture, and religion for 2.2%.

If you want to see expenses in more detail, there’s a great interactive page for that: Spending infographs.

Eu spending tool
Eu spending tool

It’s interesting to compare the EU with the US, and the huge differences in spending. Here’s the equivalent chart for the US spending.

US Government spending by area
US Government spending by area

A few differences are almost immediate:

  1. The US spends 13% more than the EU on health
  2. The US spends 15% less than the EU on social security (e.g. social protection)
  3. The US spends 5 times more on defense than the EU (16% of the budget for the US, 3% for the EU)
  4. The US spends 3 times less on education than the EU (3% of the budget for the US, 10% for the EU)

What about the European Union?

European spending
European spending

 

The biggest fraction of the pie goes to the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), which subsidizes farmer to try to ensure enough production and a good living standard for farmers. It’s a controversial policy.

Then comes regional support, which means money that goes out to specific regions to reduce disparities between the poorer and richer parts of Europe. Rich countries still receive money, but less than poorer countries.

Internal policies are all the things the EU does inside the Union (R&D, youth, culture, environment, energy, consumer protection) and external action all the things outside the EU (development aid, peace keeping and security work, election observers).

6% of the money is spend on running the organization.

 

How good are the EU’s and government’s finances?

Every single European country has debt, with the EU average being 85.0 % of GDP, or about 170% of annual expenses. There are huge differences between different countries: Estonia’s has only debt is only 10% of GDP, while Greece’s is 175% of GDP.

EU countries must keep their debt below 60% of GDP and their deficit below 3% of GDP, otherwise the “Excessive Deficit Procedure” is triggered. This entails several steps (WHAT?) – sometimes sanctions – to encourage the country to take measures to fix the situation. Currently, 11 of the 28 EU countries are subject to the procedure.

 

Government debt (% of GDP)
Government debt (% of GDP)

We can also see that most countries keep borrowing. In the EU there are only a handful of countries than lend more money than they borrow: Luxembourg, Germany, Estonia and generally Sweden.

In 2015, the average for the EU was 2.5% of GDP being borrowed: the average expenses are 44.9 % of GDP, while the earnings were 47.3 % of GDP.

 

Net lending (+) or borrowing (-) (% of GDP)
Net lending (+) or borrowing (-) (% of GDP)

In absolute terms, the EU debt is 12 477 billion €, while the EU deficit for 2015 is-351 billion €.  Astounding numbers, aren’t they?

Which economies are the most important?

EU's GDP constitution
EU’s GDP constitution

 

Sources:

Source: OECD Data: General Government Spending
Source: Eurostat: Government financial statistics
Source: Wikipedia: Government spending

Source (EU): Government expenditure by function
Source (US chart): Politifact (at the bottom)

Source: Government finance statistics – Eurostat
Source: Provision of deficit and debt data for 2015 – Eurostat

Source: Economy of the European Union – Wikipedia

Cheap vegetarian recipes that taste good

Here’s my personal list of vegetarian recipes are easy to make, cheap and don’t taste like rubber.

Notice: I’m still figuring this out. I’m sure this isn’t optimal nutrition, but I can’t do everything at once. Once I’m used to fully vegetarian mode, where it doesn’t require much thinking anymore, then I’ll research and make to make sure there are no oversights in my nutrition.

Quiche with tofu and vegetables

Ingredients (2 or 3 portions, depending on the person):
 1 shortcut pastry (pate brisée)
 2 eggs
 200 ml of cream
 200-250 g of tofu
 70-100 g de grated cheese
 1/2 onion (optional)
 Whatever vegetables you like (I like using frozen bell peppers)
Recipe:
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200° C.
  2. Put oil into pan, heat it up. Put tofu and let it brown for a little. Pro-tip: dry the tofu before hand with paper towel. Add vegetables.
  3. Meanwhile, mix eggs, cream and cheese.
  4. Put pastry over quiche mold. When vegetables and tofu are ready, add them to quiche, then add eggs-cream-cheese mix on top of it, spreading evenly.
  5. Put in oven for 45-50 minutes.
  6. Profit.

Note: I still suck at giving taste to tofu, so this recipe is almost certainly non-optimal. Once I learn tricks to give it good taste, I’ll update this.

Based on this non-vegetarian version.

Pasta with vegetable/basilic sauce

Ingredients (1 portion):
 1 cup of pasta
 200g of vegetable/basilic sauce
Recipe:
  1. Heat up water in a saucepan until it boils. Add some salt.
  2. Put pasta in the boiling water, and wait until it’s cooked to your taste.
  3. Meanwhile, heat up basilic sauce in another small saucepan.
  4. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it.
  5. Wait until basilic sauce is hot (may happen before step 4), then turn off the heat.
  6. Eat pasta and basilic together.
  7. Profit.

Mujadarra

Taken from Budget Bytes

Ingredient (2 people)

 4 yellow onions
 1 cup long grain white rice (or jasmine)
 1 cup brown lentils
 Olive oil
 Spices: cumin, allspice
 Vegetable broth (I use the cube things that dissolve in water)

Recipe:

  1. Thinly slice the onions and add them to a large pot with the olive oil. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently for one hour, or until they are deeply golden brown, sticky, and caramelized. Remove half of the onions and set them aside to top the pilaf after cooking
  2. Add the cumin, allspice, and cloves (optional) to the pot with the remaining onions. Sauté for about one minute to lightly toast the spices. Add the vegetable broth and stir the pot well to dissolve any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.
  3. Add the rice and lentils to the pot. Cover the pot with a lid and turn the heat up to high. Allow the contents to come up to a boil. As soon as it reaches a full boil, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. After 30 minutes, turn the heat off and let it rest for 10 minutes without removing the lid. Finally, remove the lid, fluff with a spoon or fork, then top with the reserved caramelized onions. Serve warm.

Pasta with veggie meatballs and sauce

Note: I had this idea a while back, but still haven’t tried it, though it seems good. I’ll update when I do.

Note 2: I was surprised to discover that veggie meat is often cheaper than real meat.

Ingredients (2 portions):

 2 cups of pasta
 200g of veggie meatballs
 A can of crushed tomatoes
 Whatever herbs you like (I suck at herbs; I never know which ones to add)
 Onion (optional)
 Garlic (optional)

Recipe:

  1. Cook pasta: heat water until it boils, add pasta, wait for about 8 minutes (see pasta box)
  2. Cook meatballs in a pan, and “adjust the heat so the meatballs sizzle but don’t burn and cook undisturbed until they’re lightly browned on the bottom, 5 to 6 minutes.”
  3. (Optional) Cut onions and add them to meatball pan.
  4. (Optional) Same thing with garlic.
  5. (Optional) Season with your favorite herbs. Don’t ask me, I have no idea.
  6. Add tomatoes to meatball sauce pan. Let it cook until the meatballs are cooked through (about 8 minutes, according to Mark Bittman)
  7. Drain pasta, then add everything together.
  8. Profit.

Inspired from this NYT recipe by Mark Bittman

 

 

 

Archived recipes:

Rice with vegetables, white beans and tomato sauce

Archived because: I’m not a fan of the taste of white beans, so I replaced this recipe by Mujadarra.

Ingredients (2 portions, extremely good at killing hunger):

 125g of rice
 100-150g of whatever vegetables you like (I like using frozen bell peppers)
 400g of white beans in tomato sauce

Recipe:

  1. Cook rice. (Put water to boil. Add rice. Wait for about 10 minutes (see rice box))
  2. Meanwhile, cook vegetables at a low temperature. Once it’s good, about 5 minutes, put fire to minimum or turn it off.
  3. When rice is cooked, add it to the vegetables.
  4. Use the now-unused rice saucepan to heat up the white beans in tomate sauce.
  5. Once hot, add it to your rice with vegetables.
  6. Profit.

How to make cheap, tasty, healthy meals – even if you’re lazy

 

Eating well isn’t trivial, and most people don’t do it. In this guide, you’ll learn how to cook tasty healthy meals, even if you have little experience and don’t know where to start.

The basics of health

If you want to treat your body (and yourself) well, there are 3 essentials things you need to do:

  1. Eat well
  2. Exercise or do some kind of sport
  3. Sleep enough
Eat, sleep, exercise
The 3 essentials

How to eat well

Eating well isn’t that easy. Why? For me, it’s simple: I’m lazy, not a fan of cooking, and a student with limited budget.

To actually make sure I’ll cook well, I have 4 requirements. Cooking needs to be:

1. Cheap: students aren’t known for their huge budget.
2. Fast and Easy: the shorter and simpler, the better. If a dish requires 7 pans, 2 hours and fancy kitchen tools, my laziness will win and I’ll just make pasta.
3. Healthy: let’s avoid eating things that slowly kill us.
4. Tasty: if it tastes good, I’ll be motivated to do it and I’ll eat more of it.

First, let’s get something out of the way. If you think that healthy food just doesn’t taste as good as “normal” food, you have a world of good food to discover. Healthy food can be delicious, you just need to know cook it. A well-made meal is often delicious, beating any kind of fast food/ready-made dish.

3 rules for making it a habit

1) Prepare before you go in the kitchen or (especially) the supermarket

Changing the way you eat isn’t easy. It takes months and discipline.

You shouldn’t figure out what to buy at the supermarket. They’re engineered to make you buy, just like Facebook is engineered to distract you and keep you browsing. Resist your impulses and your laziness by being prepared.

For example, eating a bit before going to the supermarket is often a really simple way to resist food temptations. People survive with 2$ a day, so you don’t need most of what they sell.

You shouldn’t figure out what to cook in the kitchen. Same principle: you want to watch a movie or be with your spouse, not search the Internet for 30 minutes before starting to cook. You’ll get tired of it and revert back to your usual dishes.

To avoid this, plan ahead. The less you need to think, the more you’ll stick to it and actually do it.

When you’re at the supermarket, have a grocery list ready, buy everything on it and leave. Simple and fast. In the kitchen, have the recipe ready and follow it. Again, no need to think.

Don’t underestimate the effort of finding recipes and adding ingredients to your grocery list. It seems easy, but if you’re in the supermarket without a clear idea of what you want, you’ll probably go back to your old habits.

Don’t fool yourself.

2) Do it gradually

This is a long-term process, so don’t be in a rush. You want to create a life-long habit, so go slow and make sure you stick to it. Otherwise, you’ll quickly go back to the old, unhealthy recipes (or ready-made) dishes you know.

Once every week, do a new recipe. Put the ingredients on your grocery list and then cook it. I’ll repeat, only once a week.

Go one step at the time.
Go one step at the time.

3) You make things cheap and healthy at the supermarket. You make things fast, easy and tasty in the kitchen.

At the supermarket

If you want to eat cheap and healthy, you need to buy the right ingredients. Double-cheese pizza and Lucky Charms won’t make it. Here’s an overview of most food groups and cheap examples:

When you’ll find recipes (which we’ll see next), follow these guidelines.

I’ll repeat to make sure you got it, have a grocery list ready.

You after 2 hours of trying to invent recipes in the supermarket.
Don’t be this guy.

It can be anything, from the good ol’ piece of paper, to Evernote or any of the grocery list apps available. It’s simpler, and if you don’t have to recall the ingredients, you won’t forget anything, so you’ll have the ingredients to do the recipes.

In the kitchen

Once you’re back from the store, you need to cook what you bought. Home made food is generally better than food made in a factory (apart from expensive high-end stuff). Why?

  1. Food quality: you know what’s in your meal and the quality of the ingredients
  2. Portion size: you can precisely choose how much you want (less over-eating)
  3. Balance: You can adapt to the recipe to your taste and desires (more or less fat, sugar, salt, more spicy, less cooked or more cooked, …)

So, how do you make great meals? The key is having the right recipes. A good recipe is both convenient (easy and fast) and produces a delicious meal you’ll have enjoy every time.

I’ve scoured the web, and found surprisingly few good resources. There were tons of recipes, but most were too complicated 9. However, some good people have created gems for us, the lazy.

The best ressources I’ve found

I only have 2 recommendations, which I find really useful.

The great Mark Bittman.
Mark Bittman know his shit.

Both are books. The first is called How to Cook Everything Fast, by Mark Bittman. This book has everything.

It has hundreds of fast and easy recipes (with variations and tips, so that you can do it even if you don’t have every ingredient)

You don’t waste any time, because he keeps you busy. Instead of being idle while something cooks, you’re already preparing the next thing or cleaning up. No need to think – the order is laid out for you.

You also learn the best techniques for cutting, chopping, cooking, frying and more. After you learn good technique, you’ll go faster.

Most importantly, it teaches you to cook (not simply recipes) – after making a lot of these recipes, you can start to improvise and try new things yourself.

If you’re just starting out and want to learn the basics, you can try instead How to Cook Everything: The Basics, again by Mark Bittman (the guy is amazing).

Get one of those books. Flip through it. Once every week, pick a new recipe you like, add the ingredients to your grocery list, buy the ingredients and cook them. Do that for a year and you’ll learn 52 recipes. Vastly more than enough.

How to use this advice: a step-by-step plan

  1. Answer this question: “Am I eating healthy?” Look at what’s in your fridge and the usual meals you have to judge. If not, you’ve done the first step already – acknowledging it.
  2. Answer this question “Why do I want to eat healthy? Why will I stick to it? Why will it become a habit instead of just a 2-week attempt?”
  3. Once a week (not all at once!), find a good, simple recipe you like. How to Cook Everything Fast is a great source of inspiration. If you want, you can also look on the Internet, but it’s more frustrating and you’ll have to sift through many recipes until you find a good one.
  4. Read the recipe and put the ingredients you don’t have on your grocery list (a piece of paper, Evernote, an app on your phone, …).
  5. Once you have them, do the recipe on a night when you have time. The first time you do a recipe, it’s harder than usual, so take your time.
  6. If you like it, add it to your good-recipes list. Otherwise, forget it and continue next week.
  7. Repeat until you have enough good recipes and know how to cook them.

Kindness and compassion are trainable skills

For most of my life, I viewed kindness and empathy as a fixed character trait. Sarah was kind. Jim was not. That’s just who they were. It wouldn’t change.

I slowly realized that this idea was profoundly stupid. There is no reason why we can’t become kinder. If we’re willing to train, we can have more empathy, more compassion, more generosity. Will is the only requirement.

Kindness isn’t a fixed character trait. Kindness is a trainable skill.

So is compassion. So is empathy. So is respect for others.

This is basically the growth mindset applied to compassion/empathy/kindness instead of intelligence. (Note: if you don’t know the fixed mindset vs growth mindset idea, read Derek Sivers’ great post. It’s only 5 minutes of reading, but it’s really worth it)

If it applies to intelligence, why wouldn't it apply to compassion?
If it applies to intelligence, why wouldn’t it apply to compassion?

Like all skills, you need to train every week to become better. Giving 5$ to a homeless person once doesn’t make you a generous person. If you can’t remember a kind act you’ve done last month, your kindness muscles are really weak and flabby.

True compassion is a habit.

Aside from regular training, set up deliberate practice – train your kindness in situations at the limits of our current abilities. Answer these 2 questions:

  1. When do you have a hard time being kind?
  2. When do you forget to have empathy and compassion?

You need to train and prepare yourself for those danger zones.

It’s easy to be kind to your best friends during a wonderful day. It’s considerably harder to be kind after a shitty day with some rude stranger. It’s human nature. Let’s recognize it, be pragmatic and prepare ourselves.

Examples of when we can lack these skills:

  • If you’re only compassionate if the day is sunny, your boss complimented you on your good work and you got a promotion, you suck at compassion.
  • If you get angry at a cashier because she took too long, you suck at kindness.
  • If you’re rude to a stranger bumped you on the street (not on purpose), you suck at forgiveness and respect of others.

But how do you improve?

Prepare for a lifelong journey.

First, let’s state the obvious: some people are naturally more kind than others. But this is not an inescapable fate. Despite these different starting points, all of us can improve.

Over time, I realized there’s an even better way of picturing kindness (and similar qualities):

Kindness is like fitness – it’s more than a skill, it’s more than a habit, it’s a lifestyle.

If you’re unhealthy, becoming fit means you’ll start approaching food and exercise differently – eating well and doing sports stops being this abstract ideal, and becomes a daily part of your life.

Kindness is similar. Like fitness, becoming kinder requires that you become conscious of the choices you had forgotten you had, and take start taking different decisions. It’s a change that permeates your life. It’s a decision you take every day of your life.

It will take time and effort. You will need discipline. You will need to create reward and stakes. You will need to find the right cues. But it’s possible to improve.

Like most behavior changes, long-lasting change requires preparation.

  1. Do it gradually. You don’t start to lift 100 kg/250 lbs the first time you go to the gym. Similarly, you don’t vouch to smile to everyone for 1 week straight. It takes time. Make a list of small steps, and go through each one progressively.
  2. Identify what you want to improve. Being kinder is a praiseworthy goal, but it’s too vague. Ideal goals are SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. In positive language, explain precisely:
    • What you want to do
    • How you’re going to measure your success/failure
    • Why this is a realistic and attainable goal
    • By when will you have done this
  3. Set up stakes and rewards. If you fail, bad thing X will happen (lose money, be embarrassed publicly, friend mocks you, donate to an organization you dislike). If you succeed, good thing Y happens (hot cup of chocolate milk, a bath, a movie, a night out with friends, …)
  4. Don’t do it alone. I know it’s scary, but getting a partner to do it with you helps a lot. Many people are afraid to ask for help (me included), but it helps a lot (obviously). You can also join a community that practices and embodies these skills.

A roadmap to kindness, generosity and compassion

Here are a series of habits you can adopt in your life to become kinder, more generous, loving and compassionate:

  • Do 1 good act a week to a family member or friend you love. At first, 1 week will prove challenging enough. With time, you can increase the frequency or size of the generous act. Examples:
  • Look at the situations where you lack kindness and compassion. Next time, make an effort to curb your habits. You probably won’t be able to stop cold-turkey, but you can be a little less angry, a little less rude, a lit less indifferent. Examples:
  • Consider being vegetarian for 1 week. The animals you eat spend their lives being stuck in a tight, crowded, uncomfortable place, until they’re meaty enough to be killed. They’re not animals anymore, they’re meat machines – where is the kindness, the respect of other’s lives? Watch Earthlings if you’re not sure of what happens in farm factories and slaughterhouses.
  • Donate anonymously to a charity. I recommend GiveWell’s top charities, which have an excellent track record of fantastic cost-effectiveness and transparency. If you donate to show off, your intentions aren’t very pure. If you need praise to be kind, you won’t be kind very often.
  • Do work for a charity. Find an organization you are care about and help them once. Repeat it as often as you want or like, but at least try once. It’s very rare to regret spending time helping others.
  • Thinking of someone who has helped, guided or loved you during your life and thank them. Send a gift. Visit them. Write them a note. Call them. See how their life is going, and talk about the past. Repay their love with your own. It means a lot more than you expect.
  • Take 5 minutes regularly to think of 3 things you’re grateful of. Remember the good, lucky and kind things that have happened to you. Don’t forget the essentials: being alive, being safe, having enough, being healthy, being warm, having a family, having friends, … The things we forget are often gems we don’t treasure enough.
  • Help someone at something you’re good at. Everyone is good at something, and there’s always someone trying to become good at it too. Meet and teach them. It doesn’t need to be formal. Run with someone else. Help some write or draw. Invite someone out and share your wisdom (if they want it).
  • Learn about the Effective Altruism movement. To quote them,”Effective altruism is about answering one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most?Rather than just doing what feels right, we use evidence and careful analysis to find the very best causes to work on.But it’s no use answering the question unless you act on it. Effective altruism is about following through. It’s about being generous with your time and your money to do the most good you can.”

How to wake up early and sleep well

Why get up earlier?

The main is reason is that you’ll have a lot more time to do things that are more interesting than sleeping.

The other reason is that the morning is a good time to work. It’s quiet, you can do whatever you want in peace and you’ll do interesting things undisturbed.

You can change your habits to not only sleep better 10 2, but also wake up earlier.

Waking up ealier doesn’t mean sleeping less. It means changing your habits. 

If you don’t sleep enough, you’ll be more tired and do worse work. Sleep has also a strong effect on your mood 3 :  your day is better if you’ve slept enough.

The wrong way to getting up earlier

If you want to fail, here’s a great way: try using your conscious willpower to get yourself out of bed each morning. Once in a while, that might work, but let’s be realistic – we’re not robots with perfect discipline, especially just after waking up in a warm bed.

When you get up, you won’t be thinking straight right away. You’ll experience a kind of fog of the brain. You’ll find reasons to stay in bed just for a minute, or you’ll just abandon that day’s attempt and go back to sleep.

What happens when you rely only on willpower.

You can’t really trust yourself to take intelligent, disciplined decisions in the morning… nor should you. Recognize that and adapt.

Instead, you should set up things when you actually have some discipline – the night before. You need to set up everything so that you’ll maximize your chances of getting up. Let’s see how to do that.

Changing your sleep patterns

Don’t make drastic changes. Don’t go from 8 AM to 6 AM on your first day – it won’t work. After a week, you bet you’ll have already abandoned – which is normal. Instead, you should do it gradually: 10-15 minutes earlier for 3-4 days, until you’re used to it, then repeat. So, on your first days you should go from 8AM to 7.45 AM. Then, after about 4 days, switch to 7:30 AM, and so on.

Continue reading How to wake up early and sleep well

How to increase your energy, time and focus to get things done

Predicting how much you’ll get done is hard. Unless you know exactly what you’re going to do and how much time each task takes, it’s only a rough approximation.

It depends on 3 things: the tasks you have to do, your environment and your internal state. How could we improve each of these?

The tasks: the most important thing is to do the right things. If you’re an employee, you don’t have a lot of control, but for the self-employed it’s a priority.

Ponder over Peter Thiel’s question: “How can you achieve your 10 year plan in the next 6 months?”. Even if you don’t know the answer, thinking about it will open perspectives and force you to think differently. Its eliminates lots of options and forces you to look somewhere else.

Being really good at the wrong things is a bad choice. It’s better to find the important ones, then invest everything in that.

Your environment: if you’re trying to focus, being near a colleague that doesn’t stop talking isn’t going to help. If there’s some interrupting you every 10 minutes, how effective can you be? If most of your time is spent in meetings, when will you have time to work?

Here the key is to remove distractions and leave yourself no other option besides work.

Your internal state: sometimes the stars align and you’re just in the right conditions to do good work: you have energy, you’re interested, you can focus in peace, … But how do you get to that internal state? This is a longer topic which will be covered later in the post.

Getting more things done is harder than it seems

Having energy alone isn’t enough.
Having time alone isn’t enough.
Having focus alone isn’t enough.

You need to have the 3 to consistently do hard work.

Time + Energy – Focus: you’re going to be distracted all the time (going on Facebook, your smartphone, …), so you won’t be able to work.
Time + Focus – Energy: you are able to work, but you’re going to be slow and drag your feet all day. Not productive.
Focus + Energy – Time: you have the potential to do good work, you won’t be able to schedule productive time and work.

Continue reading How to increase your energy, time and focus to get things done