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The Next, Episode #30
Information diets, why healthcare is broken, and making it easier to have kids
Hi there, and welcome to The Next - my take on health, wellness, and brand building.
In the last 4 years I’ve founded 3 health brands (Kettle & Fire, Perfect Keto, Surely), which each do tens of millions in revenue. I’ve raised ~$20mm to build Kettle & Fire, gotten into 10k+ retail stores, bootstrapped Perfect Keto, launched 80+ SKUs… and have a small portfolio of Shopify apps I run on the side. Previously, I worked in tech and had no experience in CPG, DTC, or any other 3-letter industries.
🆕 What’s new
Several years ago I read a Tim Ferriss article about his “information diet”. To a productivity-obsessed young Justin, this was a novel concept: like I watched what I ate, I supposed, it made sense to watch the information I consume each day.
Today, I’m convinced that the combination of a 24/7 media landscape and social media platforms designed to engage at all costs is literally toxic. Mainstream media thrives on anger-inducing partisan reporting, intrigue, and the political drama of the day.
The business model is to enrage and engage: put out something that’s so triggering, it forces engagement and sharing… which drives more advertising impressions and thus more revenue for Big Media Corp.
I can’t help but see parallels to our food system. Like the Dorito was scientifically engineered to be both delicious and leave your tastebuds wanting more, media
soundbites are made to maximize engagement, regardless of harm to your mental health. 50 years into our experiment with cheap, addictive calories and we have record levels of chronic disease, obesity, illness, and prescription drug use. I see no signs that our information diet will lead to any better outcomes.
After enduring 25 months of experts being actively, harmfully incorrect on a myriad of topics, I think our sense-making organs are very broken. In fact, the most damaging kinds of “misinformation” the past two years have come from media corporations that bundle untruths with credibility: masks don’t work, it’s just the flu, inflation is transitory, Hunter Biden’s laptop is Russian disinformation (but now it’s not)…
Almost certainly, the “masks don’t work” and other narratives pushed by mainstream media early in the days of COVID have done faaaar more harm than any misinformed Q-anon Facebook post. After And things are only going to get worse on this front, as countries increasingly make bids for power and control speech under the guise of “safety” (looking at you, UK Online Safety Bill, or the 1980-sounding “Disinformation Governance Board”).
The solution? Honestly, I’m not sure there is one. Like our food system, our (social +) media environments are really, really messed up. In the short term, I think the best thing to do is go on a Media-Corporation fast. I can almost guarantee doing it for a few weeks would leave you mentally healthier and saner while we collectively develop cultural antibodies to today’s insane and hostile media environment.
In the long run, I suspect younger generations have a lot of work ahead. It’s becoming more and more obvious that it’s time to build. Time to build new media organizations (Substack, Urbit, maybe a privately-held Twitter) that are open to alternative opinions and freedom of speech. Time to build a food system that makes humans healthy, not sick. Time to build an education system that educates, not indoctrinates. Time to rebuild our institutions that have succumbed to very obvious rot and dysfunction, and focus on building new and amazing things. And time to opt-out of systems and structures that are making us unhealthy, unhappy, and unwell.
💪 Health stuff
I’ve talked a million times about just how broken our food and healthcare systems are. Rates of chronic diseases are exploding, our food is less nutrient-dense than 50 years ago, topsoil is eroding, and 80%+ of healthcare spend is for chronic conditions. Conditions that are almost certainly caused by poor diet and nutrition.
As Calley has mentioned, the reality is that healthcare is broken because the system makes money when patients are sick and loses money when patients are healthy: so the invisible hand of the system is incentivized to ensure there are more sick patients for longer periods of time (which has brought us chronic disease crisis).
Why exactly are both our food and healthcare systems so broken? In my view, the biggest reason is bad incentives. Healthcare players (pharma companies, hospitals, doctors, etc) can be good individual actors, but the system-level incentives are at odds with the end consumer.
A handy thought exercise I like to use when thinking about incentives is ask myself, “who is the ideal customer in this system”?
In the case of pharma or other institutional players in the healthcare industry, from a pure profit standpoint their ideal customer is someone who has multiple chronic conditions, relies on extensive medical care to function, is on multiple drugs (SSRIs, anti-inflammatories, etc) for decades, and pays a hospital or doctor many times a year to keep them “healthy”. In short, healthcare’s ideal customer is one who is just sick enough that they spend a lot on “healthcare”, but not sick enough to die (and stop paying the system).
We can apply this ideal customer thinking to players in the food system as well. The ideal Coca-Cola customer is one who drinks their sugary, addictive product multiple times a day, health consequences be damned. Thus, Coca-Cola’s incentives are not to create a product that leads to healthier customers: it’s to create the most addictive, cheapest, best-tasting product that doesn’t kill their customers. At least, doesn’t kill them quickly.
These separate incentives create the crisis we see today. Players in our food system are incentivized to create the cheapest, most addictive products possible, ignoring any potentially negative impact on consumer health and wellness. Thus, you see an explosion of chemical additives, highly processed “food”, sugar, vegetable oils, and corn syrup added to nearly everything.
In healthcare, you see the same. Almost no money (2.9% in fact!) spent on preventative health or staving off chronic disease. Almost every dollar in western medicine is focused on treating symptoms, not addressing underlying conditions. And thus you have millions of people getting treatment after treatment, pill after pill, looking for a solution the system is structurally not incentivized to provide.
Our food system makes people sicker, and doesn’t talk to the healthcare system. And our healthcare system manages sick people, but doesn’t make them well, nor do they interface with the food system.
How to fix all this? I’m not 100% sure - it’s an incredibly thorny problem after all, and there’s good work being done by Kaiser, Discovery Health in South Africa, and by Virgin Health in the US.
Though I’m not sure how to fix it, I do know that aligning incentives would make a world of difference. Possibly by creating a new kind of health insurer that’s invested in the long-term health and wellness of their patients, and invested to spend more money on preventative care and paying food system players to improve their food quality. Maybe it’s making food reimbursable by health plans, or intervening on the city level and creating community health initiatives that span the food + healthcare systems.
I’m not sure, but very open to hearing alternative hypotheses. This is an area I deeply care about and continue to think is the biggest under-discussed problem of our time, and something that’s likely driving many of the social problems we see today.
🤑 Biz stuff
I’ve talked before about the 50% decline in male testosterone levels (and dogs!) we’ve seen in the last few decades, and covered the concerning fertility issues now common in the western world. Unfortunately, there are many biological reasons humans are struggling to conceive: obesity, inflammation, environmental contamination, and chronic illness chief among them.
However important, these biological factors are likely just a piece of the overall puzzle of “why are people having fewer kids”? Sure, biology is a contributing factor (and likely a big one at that). But to state the obvious, people are also probably not having kids because… having kids is just straight-up difficult.
If you live in one of the most economically productive areas in the US (ie a major city), there’s almost nothing about your life that gets easier, more convenient, or cheaper when you have kids.
You pay up for more housing. You pay more for food. Education, transit, and healthcare costs all go up. Not to mention the squeeze on your time and attention.
Alternatively, you can move to the suburbs and endure a soul-crushing commute that will make you about as unhappy as if you got $20k knocked off your salary (talking about most people here, not necessarily remote-first tech workers).
For many American couples in the have-a-kid time of their lives, they’re saddled with record levels of college debt, face the highest housing prices on record, and are both working jobs while trying to parent. Where families used to have help, community, or family nearby to ease the burden of raising kids, that’s no longer true. I’d venture to say that it’s possibly harder today than ever before to have kids (and lots of them).
Really, your options are not good, and society has created ample incentives to not have kids. In fact, looking at how the deck is stacked against wannabe parents, it’s amazing people are having kids at all!
This is dumb: society hugely benefits as we have more kids and as the population grows. So, if society wants more kids, society should make it easy to have more kids!
That’s why I’d love to see the US (or a startup) launch something like kids as a service: a program that made the path to having kids and raising a family just a little bit easier. Rather than stack the deck against wannabe parents, make it just a little bit easier to support those who choose to build families and create the next generation.
This definitely looks like removing regulations that make housing and education so darn expensive, but there’s more that could be done. Maybe a bond that paid one partner to stay home with the kids (and matures at a low interest rate 18 years later) to ease the financial burden, more tax writeoffs for childcare, cheaper access to healthy food for parents, cash transfers to new parents… I could go on. But at a high level, there’s just so much opportunity to look at what makes raising kids HARD, and figure out how to make it eas(ier).
Make starting a family almost as easy as starting a website. How cool would that be?
😌 Dope stuff on the internet
Some of my favorite things since the last newsletter (note: I don’t get paid to recommend anything here):
📰 Article - I’ve talked about Bitcoin a good bit here, but if I had to choose just 1 investment to make over the next decade, there’s a good chance it’d be the one. This article from Arthur Hayes outlines why. In short: the Russian SWIFT sanctions likely have woken other nations to the fact that their monetary policy (and foreign reserves) are no longer theirs if such heavy-handed sanctions can happen overnight. And what’s likely to happen in response is nations will start building strategic reserves of gold, commodities, and Bitcoin. Highly recommend, and Arthur is always an entertaining read.
📚 Book rec - I’ve recently been struggling to be productive: been pulled into emails, Twitter, the 10,000,000 different things that are tiny drags on my attention. It’s not been fun. Picking up The War of Art - one of my favorite books that I re-read every year - has helped. It’s a succinct reminder that this shit is supposed to be hard. Anytime your “job” is creating something (a business, a newsletter, music, art, whatever), it’s hard. It’s emotional, scary, all the things. Just re-reading the book has been a good reminder of that fact, and helped me get out of a bit of a rut.
⌚ Cool product - I’ve long wanted to get better at cooking. After cooking like 12 times in 2019, I cooked almost every evening of 2020 and have really come to enjoy doing it (especially with friends). I’ve also found very few paths to getting better at cooking. So when my buddy Myles recently launched his cooking club, it was a no-brainer for me to sign up. I’ve already used one of his recipes to make bomb homemade duck fat tortillas, and am excited to upgrade my cooking game over the coming year.
🎵 Music - Once a quarter, Lane 8 drops his seasonal mix and I recommend it to friends. Well, this is that quarter, and his Spring 2022 set is possibly my favorite set of his so far. Enjoy!
🏀 Random - I’ve recently started hosting topical dinners in Austin with another friend. Our 1st one centered around education, and our next one is on the topic of masculinity. If you’d like to be included in future Jeffersonian dinners we host in Austin, just fill out this form and I’ll let y’all know about future ones!
That’s all I got for you this month! As always, if you have anything interesting you’d like me to write about, just reply to this email and let me know. Otherwise, I’ll catch you in 30 👋