Benny Smith

Project Manager @ Allied Scholars for Animal Protection
351 karmaJoined Working (0-5 years)

Bio

Participation
1

I manage operations, research, publishing and grantwriting at Allied Scholars for Animal Protection, a startup nonprofit building a unified infrastructure for campus animal advocacy. 

Philosophy and science fiction nerd.

Comments
41

Yeah I think this is a good point! Donor-advised funds seem like a good way to benefit from compound interest (and tax deductions) while avoiding the risk of value drift.

Thanks Vasco! 

Another finding I’ve seen is that widespread adoption of a plant-based diet would save ~3.3% of global GDP per year due to healthcare savings. That study also suggest a 6-10% reduction in global mortality, though I think these types of findings are necessarily pretty speculative and contingent on assumptions.

Animal Charity Evaluators estimates that a plant-based diet spares 105 vertebrates per year. So if you’re vegan for 50 years, that comes out to 5,250 animals saved. If you put even 10% credence in the ACE number, where the counterfactual is zero impact, you’d still be helping over 500 animals in expectation.

I’m donating 10% this year, probably all towards nonhuman animal welfare via the ACE Recommended Charity Fund.

  • Animal issues seem much more neglected than global health & poverty.
  • X-risk seems much less funding-constrained than animal stuff.

If there were an obvious way to support longermist animal stuff, I’d probably allocate something towards that. In particular, I think someone should be lobbying AI companies to take animal welfare more seriously and to get their models to not tacitly support factory farming. I also think digital sentience seems important and neglected, but I basically trust OpenPhil to do a good job funding that type of research.

Bioavailability stuff is pretty technical and I’m not an expert, but here’s the upshot according to me:

Bioavailability is sometimes slightly lower in plants but not enough to matter. For example, a recent review stated:

There is very little evidence at present regarding a marked difference in protein digestibility in humans. The more precise data collected so far in humans, assessing real (specific) oro-ileal nitrogen digestibility, has shown that the differences in the digestibility between plant and animal protein sources are only a few percent, contrary to historical findings in rats or determinations using less precise methods in humans. For soy protein isolate, pea protein flour or isolate, wheat flour and lupine flour, the figures were 89–92%, similar to those found for eggs (91%) or meat (90–94%), and slightly lower than those reported for milk protein (95%).

Additionally, combining multiple plant sources in one meal (e.g. soy and potato) often achieves bioavailability competitive with meat (I think this is one reason why many vegan protein powders combine multiple ingredients, e.g. rice & pea protein). So the generic vegan advice of “eat a variety of foods and supplement B12” has this covered.

In the rich world, we get way more protein than we need, so vegans are very unlikely to end up protein deficient due to bioavailability issues.

And if you’re an athlete or trying to bulk up, I think it’s generally advisable to err on the side of overshooting your protein intake targets, even if you’re eating meat. Slightly overshooting your protein target should more than compensate for any bioavailability gap.

We can also measure protein synthesis and muscle strength and mass directly instead of using bioavailability as a proxy, and such studies don’t find downsides to plant protein. Germany’s strongest man can confirm.

This is a common misconception!

  • Several plants, including soy and quinoa, are complete proteins.
  • Vegan protein powders contain all the amino acids in appropriate ratios – just check the label of any pea protein powder next time you’re at the store. Pea protein powder is nutritionally identical to whey for all intents and purposes.
  • If you eat enough calories and a variety of legumes and grains as a vegan, it’s basically impossible to be deficient in any amino acid. It’s true that plant foods have amino acids in varying amounts, but they complement each other such that you easily get all of the amino acids, unless you’re on a black beans-only diet or something. For example, a peanut butter sandwich is a complete protein. I’d encourage you to check out this article for more info on vegan protein.

Nutritionfacts.org, veganhealth.org, and the vegan.com guide are all great resources, I recommend looking into it!

I’ve been vegan for three years, and I’m in good health. Years ago I would have said that being vegan sounded impossible, but it’s much easier than I would have expected. Happy to set up a call to chat about vegan nutrition if you’re ever interested.

There’s nothing magical about “animal protein.” Plants and plant-based protein powders provide the same nutrients, minus the moral atrocity.

Insect sentience is debated, but I’m not sure why we’d take the risk when we can just go vegan.

I’m highly skeptical that farmed crickets would live “undisturbed” lives, given the historical track record of how animals are treated when we optimize their lives for meat production rather than their own welfare. Generally, we should treat sentient beings as an end in themselves, not as a means to an end.

Yeah, I think this caveat is important.

At the same time, GiveWell will continue to work on global poverty regardless of what OP does, right?

if I could persuade just ten people either to become vegan or to donate to effective animal charities, I’d prioritize the latter

On the other hand, if I could persuade ten people to donate to effective animal charities or one to devote their career to helping animals, I’d probably prioritize the latter. 

IMO one Karen Davis, Bruce Friedrich, or Khaled Alwaleed is probably >>10x more valuable than one person donating 10 percent. So I think there’s a solid hits-based argument for vegan outreach, especially in communities where people tend to be unusually agentic & capable (e.g. EA).

There’s no Wikipedia article on Leah Garcés. This problem seems pretty tractable.

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