‘How a Vegan Ends Up With Leather in Her Portfolio’

Ron Lieber with an interesting piece about investing and it’s relationship to veganism for the NYTimes:

First, the US Vegan Climate ETF. It is an index of sorts, with 268 American stocks, and it begins with subtraction: removing companies, and even whole industries, that it considers animal unfriendly. Pharmaceuticals? Poof, because of all the animal testing. Companies that extract and refine fossil fuels are gone, too. After all, animals are outdoors more than we tend to be, so climate change threatens many of them even more than us.

The Karner Blue Animal Impact Fund, named for the endangered butterfly, takes a different approach. It is an actively managed mutual fund, with fewer than half the number of stocks in the Vegan ETF, including companies not based in the United States.

Another big difference: It employs so-called positive screening, picking best-of-breed companies in as many industries as it can stomach.

“We are not animal avoidant,” said Vicki L. Benjamin, president of Karner Blue Capital. “We are animal engagement.”

This gets tricky rather quickly, and it may mean something like the following when it comes to the raising of meat, according to Ms. Benjamin, who is not a vegan but tends to stray from a plant-based diet mostly in the piscine direction: People are going to eat animal flesh for a good long while, so why not treat the animals better?

Do that, and it becomes more expensive to raise animals, since you’re doing so humanely, which is a good thing. The cash cost of eating meat will go up, people will eat less, and emissions will fall.

That’s how Karner Blue ends up with Chipotle in its portfolio: It likes the chain’s animal welfare efforts (its continuing food safety questions aside). But the parent of Burger King didn’t make the cut, even though it has a vegetarian Whopper with an Impossible Burger patty these days. That’s because the parent, Restaurant Brands International, also owns Popeyes, which only recently agreeed to take a big step to improve its treatment of chickens.

Any edge cases reflect the kinds of compromises that nearly any kind of investment may require for most consumers. Because of its desire to direct capital to above-average companies in as many industries as possible, Karner Blue sometimes ends up in a situation where it’s effectively buying the best house in a bad neighborhood.

Investing while trying to ‘Do The Right Thing™’ is a wild game. If you want to support change, investment is one of the easiest ways to do it. I mean if we’re putting tofu and Impossible burgers and tempeh in it… we might as well put our money where our mouth is too.

It is confusing and it makes sense that we are starting to see multiple offerings that are trying to find a way to navigate this tricky space.

‘The Alphabet Soup of Responsible Investing Needs a Good Stir’

Mark Gilbert for Bloomberg Opinion about the shortcomings of responsible investment opportunities:

Investors continue to pour funds into passive investment products that aim to replicate the performance of benchmark indexes. They’re also increasingly keen that their money gets used to influence corporations to stop damaging the planet and improve social inclusiveness. Unfortunately, many of the products designed to achieve both objectives currently fall short on the goal of responsible investing.

The shift in emphasizing environmental, social and governance issues puts pressure on the index providers to come up with benchmarks that more accurately reflect the concerns investors are attempting to express by allocating capital to ESG investment products. Currently, though, even dedicated ESG indexes have shortcomings that many investors are probably unaware of.

The U.S. Vegan Climate exchange-traded fund, for example, tracks a $124 billion index created by Beyond Investing that excludes companies engaged in a laundry list of potentially harmful activities, including animal exploitation, human rights abuses and fossil fuels extraction. While the $14 million ETF’s top five holdings — Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Facebook Inc., Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. — may all meet those criteria, they’re hardly the first names that spring to mind when thinking about the words vegan or climate. And there are many other examples.

But Gilbert sees a way out:

There are two main routes whereby ETF providers can meet the implicit demands of clients allocating money to passively managed ESG products. The first is to use their collective muscle to prompt index providers to increase the granularity of the benchmarks used to shape asset allocations. Improving the discrimination of ESG indexes would go a long way to ensuring investors aren’t being hoodwinked into products that aren’t as green or socially savvy as they first appear.

The second is trickier. Excluding companies deemed to be damaging the environment or being socially irresponsibly isn’t enough to move the needle. Engaging with the boards of those firms and using the clout of a shareholding to force them to change their ways is much more effective.

After BlackRock announced last week that it would try to shift its focus to try to reflect its values, I hope we continue to push this discussion into wider forums. Voting with cash is the strongest vote we have.

Our Favorite Meals & Stories of 2019; Jesse’s Family-Altering Experience with The Game Changers

Episode 9 of the Vegan-Carne Alliance podcast is live.

For our ninth episode, C. W. Moss is joined by Jesse Mullenix and Alex Irit. Jesse talks about his gripping experience with the documentary Game Changers and how it effected him and his family. Next, they talk about their favorite stories (18:40) and meals (55:02) from 2019.

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‘How to Eat Less Meat in 2020’

A NYTimes video from Melissa Clark on how to use less meat in your cooking. Great for anyone interested in more plant-based eating.

‘The Meat-Lover’s Guide to Eating Less Meat’

Mellissa Clark for the NYTimes:

Becoming vegan would be the most planet-friendly way to go, followed by going vegetarian. In my case, those diets would be a professional liability, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t know that I’ve got the willpower to stick to either one. I love meat and dairy too much to give them up entirely. But eating less of them — that I can do.

On the upside, eating less meat and dairy means there is more room on my plate for other delectable things: really good sourdough bread slathered with tahini and homemade marmalade, mushroom Bourguignon over a mound of noodles, and all those speckled heirloom beans I keep meaning to order online.

She has 6 good tips for people who are starting to dip their toes into the plant-based world.

‘Unjust Deserts: Cities move to ban dollar stores, blaming them for residents’ poor diets’

Steven Malanga for City Journal continues the conversation about what Dollar stores are doing to America:

Recent research undermines the argument that a lack of fresh, healthy food is to blame for unhealthy diets. In a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, three economists chart grocery purchases in 10,000 households located in former food deserts, where new supermarkets have since opened. They found that people didn’t buy healthier food when they started shopping at a new local supermarket. “We can statistically conclude that the effect on healthy eating from opening new supermarkets was negligible at best,” they wrote. In other words, the food-desert narrative—which suggests that better food choices motivate people to eat better—is fundamentally incorrect. “In the modern economy, stores have become amazingly good at selling us exactly the kinds of things we want to buy,” the researchers write. In other words, “lower demand for healthy food is what causes the lack of supply.”

Combatting the ill effects of a bad diet involves educating people to change their eating habits. That’s a more complicated project than banning dollar stores. Subsidizing the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables through the federal food-stamp program and working harder to encourage kids to eat better—as Michelle Obama tried to do with her Let’s Move! campaign—are among the economists’ suggestions for improving the nation’s diet. That’s not the kind of thing that generates sensational headlines. But it makes a lot more sense than banning dollar stores.

I do believe America is looking for a scapegoat. Trying to blame the Dollar stores is an easy out to a dizzyingly complex topic.

Plant Based Food Association Labeling Standards

There write-up is a solid start to a problem.

My dream involves a small ‘V’ placed in a circle at the bottom right of all foods that are vegan. I want to do the Supermarket Twist™ a little less as I pirouette every item to my face trying to read the ingredients list.

And although these aren’t explicitly vegan ideas, I’d also love to see foods state their water-usage, carbon footprint, and… something more complicated: I want something that essentially on a 1 to 10 scale scores that general detriment of a product, like if it’s high on salt or saturated fat or sugar it would be low on the scale while dehydrated vegetables with nothing added to them would be 9s or 10s.

‘Every Ridiculous Food Trend Predicted for 2020’

Eater has put up a beautiful (and long) list that culls what many major food publications predict for 2020 with food. Many are vegan or vegan-adjacent, and I’m not going to list them all but these are some of the things I’m excited about too:

  • Aronia berries
  • Ube
  • Spreads and butters like macadamia nut butter and watermelon seed butter
  • Zero-waste
  • CRISPR crops
  • “Less focus on the center of the plate more on the outskirts”
  • “Mexican cuisine will be more recognized as complex and layered – rather than always spicy and heavy”
  • Family-style tasting menus, family-style dining 
  • “Technically illegal” tonka beans (!)

Zero waste really needs to pop-off. As food delivery pushes into a larger and larger portion of how most Americans are consuming their meals, this deserves more focus and energy.

Japan’s Vegan Olympic Dreams and Intimate Dumpling Dinner Parties with Chef Kajsa Alger

Episode 7 of the Vegan-Carne Alliance podcast is live.

For our seventh episode, vegan-food lover C.W. Moss talks with Chef Kajsa Alger. We hear about her life and work directing culinary at places like Veggie Grill, and how she’s helping Japan get vegan-friendly for the 2020 Olympic games through the Gunma Vegan Project (15:01), the joy of Mad Misha’s intimate dumpling dinner parties (38:05), and how novels sometimes help menus take shape (52:43).

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