Free Speech apps, meat alternatives, and the problem with politically motivated products
Both free-speech platforms and meat alternatives are premised on leverging politics to gain market share — which while meaningful for their adherents — eventually falls short of making tangible, wide-ranging effects.
Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, purchasing the “patriot economy” app Parler is one of the top headlines this week. Beyond Ye’s star power, the move means that he is the latest billionaire to hitch his wagon to a free-speech social media.
The recent growth of free-speech apps is not coincidental — as companies like Meta, Youtube, and Twitter are revving up censorship of “extremist views.” Moreover– as evidenced by Ye’s recent ban from both Twitter and Meta platforms– prominent voices are losing their ability to share thoughts online. However, despite the present popularity of free-speech platforms, a problem lingers– one that another once fast-growing space, the alternative meat industry, is facing.
While it may seem like free-speech platforms and meat alternatives are two fundamentally different businesses, they are in fact analogous.
Both industries are market-based solutions to political grievances. In one case fighting censorship of free speech, in the other ameliorating the steep environmental costs of climate change. Both spaces have grown tremendously due to the growing popularity surrounding their political cause. Both solutions aim to mimic something they’ll never be rather than create something new and meaningful. Thus both will fall short in creating the necessary broad-market appeal to effect meaningful change to their political problem.
The problem with meat alternatives
My brother‘s been a vegetarian by choice since he was five years old. Back then there the public knew little about the environmental costs of meat production and even less about just how dire our climate situation is. This is to say that my brother became a vegetarian, not due to politics, but simply in not like the taste of meat.
So, as meat alternative products started to grow in popularity, he wasn’t necessarily a fan. He summarized his critical thoughts on the phenomena aptly: “they focus too much on making something that tastes like meat, rather than something vegetarian that is tasty in its own right.” As a meat eater, I totally agree.
Meat alternatives feel political. In a way, you’re supposed to be eating it — and such it’ll always feel forced on me. This sentiment is shared by many others as the popularity of Beyond Meat has withered recently. CNBC reports that Beyond Meat reports lower revenue and the company had to recently cut staff.
Interestingly, meat alternative companies pride themselves on the fact that vegetarians/vegans aren’t their main set of customers. The founder of Beyond Meat, Ethan Brown, actually highlighted that 93% of his customers weren’t vegan in an interview with CNBC.
This sentiment is further reflected in the mission statements of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
Beyond Meat reads: “Our mission is to create nutritious plant-based meats that taste delicious and deliver a consumer experience indistinguishable from that provided by animal-based meats.” They continue, “By shifting from animal to plant-based meat, we can positively affect the planet, the environment, the climate, and even ourselves.”
Similarly, Impossible Foods states: “We’re Impossible Foods, and we make meat, dairy, and fish from plants. Our mission is to make the global food system truly sustainable by eliminating the need to make food from animals.”
How good can a meat alternative be in comparison to the meat itself? Why compete in a lane that you can never succeed in?
See, we come from an Indian family, and — for the uninitiated — Indians make some awesome vegetarian food! Dishes like dosa, paneers, channas, kofta, and dhal are all popular not because they are vegetarian, but because they are tasty in their own right. Even I, a rabid meat eater, enjoy vegetarian Indian cuisine and often choose it over non-vegetarian options.
The meat alternative industry’s problems are analogous to those of the now burgeoning free-speech social media apps.
The problem with free speech platforms
As Axios’ Sara Fisher pointed out in a viral Tweet: following Ye’s purchase of Parler, four prominent social media companies are owned by prominent conservatives; the other three are Twitter (recently acquired by Elon Musk), Rumble (funded by Peter Thiel), and Truth Social (created by Donald Trump).
In other words, the market is saturated with companies vying to build a platform for users disaffected by traditional media platforms due to their censorship.
This overcrowding is tricky in and of itself, but a much larger issue exists with the overarching premise: The “problem” these platforms aim to solve is too political.
Much like meat alternatives, anti-censorship platforms are political responses to a political grievance. Thus, they attract a specific demographic of users — those who share the political beliefs behind the idea. As Yahoo points out, this creates problems for social media platforms as it creates eco chamber effects.
Another issue that the political nature of free-speech platforms is that they will inherently become overly political communities, and this takes away from the joy of social media. Social spaces on the internet, similar to other entertainment mediums, are supposed to be an escape from our normal lives. Creating platforms centered around political ideas means creating boring places to be. What makes social media fun is the random joy of cat videos, gaming, instructional videos, and so on. While politics plays an important role in the content we consume — it cannot be the sole thing one centers their life around.
Similar to how Indian vegetarian cuisine is so good that it gets meat eaters to opt against meat, free speech believers need to build a network that is first and foremost interesting. The network that will provide “free speech” will not win because it aligns itself with a political agenda, but rather because it is a fun place to hang out.
Both free-speech platforms and meat alternatives are important solutions to pressing problems in modern society. However, as long as they over-rely on their political narrative — rather than making superior products, they will be seen as inherently gimmicky.
Note: This essay wasn’t written to critique the merits of either the political problem that meat alternatives or free-speech platforms aim to ameliorate. Rather, the purpose is to point out that both industries are over-political, and such will continue to isolate potential users and fail to gain necessary mainstream adoption.