I have an in-person interview today with Fernando Pujalt, a resident of Spain with a crazy background ranging from Peru to South Africa over to the US. With a degree and a corporate job, and now an entrepreneur here in Spain.
Welcome, Fernando. How do you pronounce your last name?
It’s called Pujalt, a Catalan last name, and a pretty old one too. It dates back to about the year 900, something that in Catalonia is well-taken. You’ve got Catalan last names, many of them being derivative from a French last name or a Castilian last name or derivative from another language. Then you’ve got the old last names, your parents’ last names, or the ones that end in T tend to be pretty old. My last name comes from Puig Alt, which means high point, and you can actually go to a town that is less than an hour away and has one of the observatories of Catalonia. The area is called the Anoia, and the town is called Pujalt, spelled verbatim as my last name.
It has a very strong connection in my family. My dad’s side has Catalan descent, even though none of us spoke Catalan, and on my mom’s side, Italians from Genoa. So I’ve got these two very high, very strong, very proud, very productive self-sustained cultures, which are very alike. People from Genoa are called the Italian Catalans, and the people from Catalonia are called the Genevese Spaniards. They’re a little more centered, more conservative, hard workers, more serious, than, when you go to Andalucia and, or to Naples, or to Sicily; it’s a party. You know, people are having fun in the south. So, it’s funny that I have a family from two very different sides that are so
Speaking of that, I know you’re based now in Spain, in Sitges, but you’re from Peru, and you lived a long time in the US. Can you elaborate on those for us?
Right, and in the middle, I grew up in Southern Africa, in Swaziland and Mozambique where I stayed there for about eight years.
How did you find those places?
I didn’t, my father took me there. I was a child, and when he first told me I was going to Mozambique, I had to look it up on a map. It was very exciting, starting to travel at the age of eight. I always tell people I got on the plane at the age of eight, and I never got off. I got more miles than most pilots, and it kind of started there, but I’m Peruvian born. I was born in Jesus Maria, Lima, in the hospital El Empleado, which was kind of the people’s hospital in 1979. So I really grew up in Lima but I would spend three to four months a year in a beach town called Punta Hermosa, which is where most of my family from my mom’s side lives today.
Then, when I was eight years old, my father got a really good job in the United Nations International Labor Office, and we moved to Mozambique. We flew through Brazil to get to Southern Africa, from there we got to Mozambique. We arrived there in 1988, so there was still Apartheid, you know, when they would separate the people. It was legal segregation. Southern Africa went through legal segregation until the early nineties when Nelson Mandela got elected. War was declared, there was a lot of pressure from the world, something very similar to what’s happening to Russia today. It just did not become sustainable for Southern Africa, but they pulled that change, and lived through all that.
That was an interesting paradigm in my life, and it changed me very quickly. When I arrived there, I felt I was coming to another world, another planet, a totally different culture, but with time, I realized that we’re not that different after all. Some kid growing up in Peru and some kid growing up in Southern Africa, we’re very similar, we’re 98% similar, and 2% ego.
That’s a good way to put it. Do you have much diversity in places like Peru, or is it less than it would be in places like Sitges?
Well, Sitges is a special place, it’s an anomaly of the world. I would say in Peru you have a lot of European embedded culture, a lot of Spanis, Northern Italian as well. Of course, it was a Spanish colony. Most of the population is Mestizo, a Native-American mixed with a white would be the higher percentage of the population, some more than others. In my case, I am about 10% Native-American. Then you do have some African culture in Peru. Still, it’s a small population, mostly located in certain areas, like Chincha, an area in Peru that descents very strongly from African-Americans, slaves in the16th, 17th, 18th centuries.
Peru also has a big Japanese culture, big Chinese culture, they came over for the fishing, the railroads, and so on, just like they did in many countries. So there is an international presence of people, but the culture is very much Peruvian centered. We love food, and that’s because it’s such a fertile country, things grow in Peru that don’t grow anywhere else in the world. We’re very proud of that. There’s a lot of folklore, the Incas are mostly from Peru, and of course, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia in a smaller facet part. So you do have a lot of international influence, but I would say the highest percentage of the population will be Mestizo.
Well, at this point in the world, the way that everything’s going, an international influence is kind of hard to kick out.
Exactly, when people call me a globalist I think, “I’m sorry, I did not know the world came with borders.” Suppose the world did come with borders, then every single house, and within every house, every room should have a border, because we can break down the individual. So, that’s one of the things that I do see myself as a born globalist. It just makes no sense, when there is not that fun competition like the world cup or sports, or the guys playing against the girls on a monopoly game or some fun. If you’re not happy, if there’s competition and no fun, then you’re just walking backward.
So you’re saying that you like things like the world cup, right?
I love the world cup, because we’re having fun, and if your team is winning is pretty fun.
Ok. I’m wondering you have some perspective with the Romanian situation as you just got back from there. Did you hear what was going on over there?
Yeah. I’ve been following it. I’m a history buff. Part of what I studied was geopolitics and political science, and understanding the history of Ukraine and Russia you have to go back to when the initial Vikings -actually called the Rus Vikings- moved into Kyiv, then you’ve got the Cossacks, and the Tatars, and the Mongols, and it’s just all this diverse group of people. Most people think of Russia as a monogenic type of people, but they’re not, they’re very different. You have Mongolian looking Russians, blonde, blue eyes; you’ve got the Chechen Muslims, brown hair, dark skin, brown eyes. So when you understand the collective of what the Russian states were, you understand a little bit better what’s going on.
If you look at Ukraine, which name means “the border state”, it’s a mixture between the Polish Lithuanian, with the Cossacks and the Tatars, as well as some other Russian tribes. So, anything that somebody could say about Ukraine, most probably, in one way or another, they’re right. Like when Putin says, “let’s go in there to take care of neo-Nazis,” that doesn’t make sense, but if you read about Barrera, who was a nationalist from World War II, he allied with the Nazis, to be arrested by the Nazis later on, of course; he allied to generate more Ukrainian nationalism. Then you’ve got the partisans, they were mostly connected with the Russians, with the Soviet Union at the time. Then you had the more moderate side, connected with the Polish, the Lithuanians, more of the Western Orthodox religious; even though the Orthodox religion in Ukraine is the only Orthodox church that is aligned with the Vatican.
So you’ve got lots of different groups of people, lots of different philosophies. You could say they’re Catholics, they’re Nazis, they’re communists, and I’m sure you’ll find them, but when you look at the party, the actual national neo-Nazi so called party, they want two parliament seats; in 2015 that’s a joke, it’s like saying that the guys that rated the white house on January 6th, that’s most Americans.
Yeah, when you were just saying that, I was thinking, the more that I travel and go around, the more I see that no government is really the face of the people. All governments don’t even remotely incorporate what the people of their country are like. They try, and some are better than others, but for example, Putin can’t just say, “There’s Nazis over there. We gotta take care of the problem.” Because you could say the same thing with the US, but if you go to California as opposed to a deep Arkansas, and you’re going to get a bit of a different demographic.
Absolutely, and a different philosophy, and you’ve got people that tend to incline more liberal, more conservative, more religious, less religious, they go for the Knicks or the Lakers, and it’s very tribalistic, and that’s the problem, that politics today have become a professional sport. People thinks, “This is my team, and no matter how wrong they are, I’ll stick with them. I know that he did murder the child, but that kid was pretty bad.”
So they tie up their livelihood in it not just like a government in which you volunteer or give back out of the goodness of your heart. It becomes your livelihood, life, career, money, and status. So when you get that ingrained, if you get in a situation where you’re running up for reelection, and think you’re about to be out of a job and out of all this other stuff, well, I guess you can’t blame them, but you can, because that’s what their position is. Also it blows my mind that it’s called public office, yet they’re the most like private, and you’re not allowed to see what’s going on with them.
Anyways, before we haven’t even really dove in yet, we were talking about how this friend of mine just got back from Romania and how he was asked to join the army because there was a drone that was down. Russia was wondering if Romania did that as Romania is a NATO, and militias were going crazy. So, being a world citizen could you share your thoughts about all of this?
This is a proxy war. Unfortunately, when a proxy war is in a country so close to us, we connect much more. If this would have happened 40 years ago, nobody would be talking about it. It’d be on page number three of the New York times, but now war is seen as a sickness. It always has been, but now we know about it, e hear about it, we’re living that war. If somebody comes with some bullshit statement that it’s not happening, we’re just not buying it. So I think that’s what’s happening is that we are just being as cautious as possible, and it’s a good time to be cautious. I think Romania, just like every other border country of Ukraine, is thinking we already have to prepare ourselves for one of the biggest humanitarian crises since WWII, it’s much bigger than what happened in Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, and Croatia, at the time with Yugoslavia in its moment, because we are talking to a much larger population. It’s also affecting the world economy and world trade a lot more, so I think it’s more about cautiousness. It’s more about letting Russia know that the world is watching and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If somebody tells me this is unprecedented, I would say it’s unexpected but not something that had no possibility of happening. This has been brewing since Russia took Crimea. They also did that to Georgia. They went into Chechnya as well, and the world didn’t react. The world said, “bad Putin,” and there were some light sanctions. Now, companies are shutting down for public relations, trust me, McDonald’s doesn’t really care about people’s health; it’s just being in Russia right now is a really bad public relations disaster, and I think it’s the right response. I think the consumer has the power, not the people, the consumer, for example, babies, no power, the parents of the babies, big power, they buy diapers, they buy formula, they buy toilet paper, they buy baby wipes, that’s power, the power of purchasing.
Today consumer power is so important that companies want to get out of Russia because it’s a public relations nightmare, and it could actually boost the company’s reputation. It’s that cold, companies make money, lose money, and there’s no morality in growing a business and feeding your stakeholder. On the other hand, getting out quickly and being the first to get out is like a pat on the back. Sure, it sounds hypocritical; none of them stopped selling stuff because of the Iraq war. So, it depends on the temperature of the world, and right now Romania, Lithuania, Poland, Moldavia are reacting; you’re going to see a lot of the countries surrounding Ukraine being very cautious about the days to come.
Speaking of that corporate lifestyle, I know you have a great entrepreneurial background as of today. You grew up in Southern Africa, Peru, but then you got educated in a university in the US; you’ve read more than 30 encyclopedias about presidents and other stuff. Can you tell us about your background and the US side of things?
I arrived in Miami. My father was a great member of the United Nations, but not the greatest entrepreneur. Good heart, bad pocket. So we tried to open a business in Miami. When I was 16 years old, we moved there, and I started at a small Catholic university called St. Thomas university. I always loved history; I wanted to be a history teacher, but me being also a math fan, and when I saw how much they pay, I also did a degree in computer engineering and computer information system. So I did that, and I started history. Then, later on, I changed my major from history to sociology, but just because I couldn’t be a history teacher, it didn’t mean that I couldn’t know history. So I added as many history classes as I could, but it was really a passion for me. I was passionate about the anthropology of human behavior. If you look at sociology, it’s really the anthropology of human behavior. It’s very hard to understand sociology if you don’t understand history. Like math is the basis of science, history is the basis of social science.
Do you think that history affects not only sociology? How much do you think our history has been either changed or rewritten? How important is it to try to gather all sources? It’s a famous quote that history is written by the winners, but is that something you see a lot in your studies, especially considering it’s a passion?
I was just curious. When I learn about history, I try to avoid winners and losers. The best history is the one you get from archeologists and anthropologists because they tell you how people lived. Somebody tells you there was a huge war here, and thousands of people died, and then a guy tells you they scanned the whole ground and there was no war. Because we know where wars happened and we leave marks, like with dinosaurs and fossils. So, history and science are kind of mixed together. I really focus a lot on that.
Today we have DNA tests, carbon dating, it just confirms the history so we can hear a story. Most of the history that I studied in the eighties is wrong. I took a whole freaking class on the Saxon invasion of England, and they told this whole story about the Saxon invasion, and when analyses of the land were made, well, where are the battles? Now they say maybe it wasn’t an invasion, maybe it was a migration. It’s very different, having somebody breaking into your home and stealing your TV versus a friend walking in your house and watching the game with you. That’s what we’re talking about.
So, I was very passionate about history because whenever somebody told me something like mangoes are good for you, I’d ask where’s the study, and people would just have gotten the information from Instagram. If someone told me Brazilian nuts are good for you, lower heart disease, and help with cholesterol control. We can talk about that; there was actually an article in a study done on 32,000 people for over 17 years. You could read the study if you have the time, you could read the 378-pages study or take my word for it, but I will give you the study. What I’m saying is that you actually have to have a follow-up question when somebody tells you things like these. Where do you get that information from?
Dude you belong in the “show me state,” which is Missouri. You know how every state in the US has its state motto, like “a sunshine state” belongs to Florida. Well, Missouri is the “show me state,” and it essentially means that you can say whatever you want, but show me because and I’m not going to believe you until you show me.
Absolutely, I want to understand, and I don’t come from a skeptic point of view. If you want to know where things come from, ask. It doesn’t come from a bad place; it’s the opposite. If a person tells me, “Hey, I was able to slice a tomato with a spoon,” I ask, “how were you able to do that?” I want some details. So if I have no interest about something, I will not ask questions, because I’m not trying to ridicule anyone, which I did in the past. I used that to hurt people, just to embarrass them or do things like that, but as you grow, as you mature, I’m really interested in what you have to say. I think there’s a valid point in what you’re saying, I just want to get a little more details on it. So it comes from a good place to question.
Yeah. I’ll be out at a bar, and I will just get lost in as many conversations as possible; I’ll find the most unique, odd people in the bar and just ask them a thousand questions just because I’m just curious. I just love to find information in more perspectives from as many people as possible because I think if they say something that I think is wrong, I just wanna know why they think that. That causes growth, and on top of that, at what point did we get from not trusting anything on the internet and verifying everything, to believing that if it’s on Instagram and Facebook it’s gotta be true. At what point did that flip? Because it flipped.
It’s terrifying, but that’s because people don’t know history.
Exactly, and full circled. I love history too, and I’m not saying I have your knowledge.
Still, it’s like watching Star Wars, or Lord of the rings. I have friends that are psychos; they will tell you the story of a story of a story of shit that was invented. I find that fascinating; I’m a non-fiction freak. I only care about non-fiction except when it comes to a Lord of the Rings, there’s a story behind the story. It’s pretty fascinating how a human can dedicate his life to creating such a fantastic story within a story, within a story. I think that’s the beauty of creativity, which I personally do not have. I know where I’m good at, and I’m very clear at areas that I am not, and I stick to what I’m good at because if not, I’m not doing a service to the world.
I could not agree more, man. So, reeling back in. You’ve talked a bit about foods, and I wanted to highlight what you’re trying to do in the entrepreneurial game, which is creating this natural food delivery. What is the entrepreneurial startup you’re going through here in Spain?
When I was in the United States, I quickly realized there are healthy foods and unhealthy foods. That’s easy. Now, figuring out the balance and how much and what it gives you is very difficult. So I get back to the anthropology of things, and one of the things that I say when somebody throws something at me, is, did we eat it 30,000 years ago? Because human evolution did not start to consume high fructose corn syrup until the early sixties, mid-seventies, and it started to increase and increase, and here we are today. Our bodies don’t understand that consumption of sugar. We started consuming sugar in the 17th, 18th, 19th century, and then in the 20th century and 21st century, that peaked.
As humans, homo-sapiens, we’ve been walking the earth for over 200,000 years. I’d say it’s a fully evolved precedence, and what have we been eating? Well, 99% of those years, we ate pretty basic shit. We had fruit and berries, and we did have some animals, not a lot because we did not have refrigeration. So we couldn’t have cattle because you kill the cow, then what are you going to the whole damn cow? That came to salting around 8,000, maybe 9,000 years ago, maybe a little more. So you were able to preserve some foods. We did beef jerky and so on, but that’s the latter part of human existence. Our digestive systems did not evolve in 50 years or in a hundred years; our digestive systems evolved in 200, 300, 4,000 years.
I went through history, understanding the anthropological part of the human body, and I asked myself, what do we need? What do we need to perform properly? What do we need for our bodies to go well? So you go back to some of the answers that we know; we have a pretty good idea of how many vitamins we have to consume, how many minerals we have to consume, and what phytochemicals are good for you. For that, we have done a lot of scientific research on food. Before they come up with a particular pill, every pharmaceutical study has researched some based product plant-based products or mineral products. Then arrived the medicine, so we have so much study on minerals, on vitamins and on plants.
I thought, if we need all these different things, why can’t we just build a diet that covers those things? Why don’t we have a diet where you eat your vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals every day? For many years, I started eating that way while not stopping drinking. It’s my sin. Still, I started noticing skin changes, inflammation, body, energy, and stress levels. I feel better 10 years later. I feel better at 42 than I did at 32. I look better; my skin tone’s better; I look fitter; I sleep better; I have more energy when I walk around; I have less pain in my body. That’s not supposed to happen; it’s supposed to work the other way. I did see the benefits of that.
I call this concept of eating: multitarian, a plant-based diet, mostly vegetarian, but it does include some animal foods, like eggs, which could be anti-inflammatory; fish, extremely high in nutrients; yogurt. It’s anti-inflammatory animal food, and it’s 10 to 15% of the recommendation of the diet itself, but you do require that to have your basic needs from natural foods. So I don’t know where vegans will get their vitamin B12 from. They can take pills, but you can tell me that 30,000 years ago, some guy was taking pills. I’m not anti-vegan; I think vegan diets are great. I think you can take B12, no problem. It’s a choice of life that you are trying, but if you look at the complete anthropological history of the human body, something is missing, even in small amounts. We did have a small amount of animal consumption in our diets.
So, the business is I’m going to put it all together for you, and I’m going to sell it to you in packages that you can put in your fridge for the next seven, eight days. Every day you could eat like a multitarian, and sometimes you might skip it; you can do it five times a week or four. It’s better to do it once a week than not do it at all. Anytime you consume these, you’re building, you’re doing something good for the body. That’s the idea I came up with about developing this, and I chose Sitges because it’s a melting pot of cultures, ideas; the rich, the poor, the well-educated, the undereducated -as Trump would say-. It’s a melting pot of social standing, languages, and foods. I thought, if I want to do a focus group of this type of product, Sitges would be the perfect place.
So, I know you talk about colors and foods being a big thing, that magnesium is essential to pick up calcium in general. In other words, if you consume calcium, you have to consume magnesium because otherwise, your body doesn’t take it. That was mind-blowing to me. You can drink as much calcium as you want, but unless you have magnesium, it doesn’t work. How do you get magnesium?
Throw it an element in there, have some dark chocolate.
What do you think about almond milk and stuff like that?
Okay. No, because it wasn’t around 30,000 years ago, I’m getting it. So speaking of that entrepreneurial product in Spain, I know you’re in that MVP stage. You’ve had your restaurant, Niji Bar in Spain, which is a gluten-free restaurant.
…and sugar-free. In sushi, people incorporate a lot of sugar. There are three white powders that I don’t recommend, from worst to best, sugar flour and cocaine. That’s from worst to better; that’s how bad sugar and flour are. They’re fillers; they mask things, things to lower costs. They’re the disguise. They make everything taste better. They’re things to add preservation, and they’re bad for you, just like anything out there to disguise something that’s not good. You grab a very bad alcohol, you throw some sugar in it, and it’s drinkable. The worst the alcohol is, the more sugar you throw in.
That’s so true. On top of the restaurant, you’ve had vast expertise in sales and corporate life. You tried to get away from that when you moved over to Spain, but you’re still flirting with it. How has the launch? Can you explain, for all the entrepreneur wannabes out there, the NVP process of getting that minimum viable product to what your end goal will be? Then, explain how that process has gone? What have your thoughts been on that product to launch?
Doing business in Spain is very difficult. I, first of all, got the signs, got the products. So we know which products would be required to put the product together, but it has to be something different. If I were cooking the product, I’m sure I’ll get a few people to eat it for a while, and they’ll be bored. I’m not a chef. I don’t know how to cook to a level for other people’s taste buds. I want to make sure that it’s something that generates joy while you’re eating the product. So I do have a partner here, a local chef in Spain who’s fantastic. You have to line up who the players are and then go to the lowest common denominator. Do not complicate yourself because you have too many expenses when you go too big. When you make too much of an investment, you want to recuperate that investment as fast as possible, and it kicks away the philosophy you started this with.
Most Starbucks, didn’t start to be what it is today. Amazon didn’t start to be what it is today. A lot of this started with the concept of making things better, and in the end, it became overly corporate. Right now, a lot of these businesses are doing more harm than good to society. To me, it depends on why you’re doing it. Are you doing it for money? Are you doing it to create more well-being around the world? I think that’s one thing that I want to do this project. This is not just a business. It needs to be sustainable. If this ain’t making any money, people will just discard it all. They’ll change it all. They’ll do whatever they have to do for the business to survive. So it needs to be sustainable, but at the same time not breaking its core essence of well-being. I wake up every morning and think, what do I have to do today to generate well-being or, worst-case scenario, just be neutral and under no case create negative vibes, or bad feelings, or walk in a room and make people feel uncomfortable. It’s about that to me.
When I built this thing, I said there were three steps in the circle of life to me: the physical, the psychological, and the sociological, and a big part of the physical includes the fuel and the movement. So if you provide yourself with the right nutrients, your body will respond properly, and then you have to move that body with physical activity. I don’t call it exercise. I’m not telling people to do CrossFit or climb mountains, but I’m saying you need that physical activity for your body to perform. That’s the physical side, the correct nutrients, and the right movement. When you prepare your body to physically achieve what your brain wants, you feel good, and feeling good is as contagious as feeling bad. So the more people feel good, the better the world is.
When people wake up in the morning and think there’s nothing they can do to change the world, they’re wrong. Because if you wake up and tell yourself in a minimum factor, you’ll generate some well-being today, it’s just a smile. It’s seeing some garbage on the floor, picking it up, and putting it in the bin. Even in your own home, all those young people who still live with their parents and are worried about climate change, they should start with the basics, which is cleaning their rooms. Start with that. Your socks on the floor are not going to help the environment. Little things generate well-being. Start with the inner part, start with your significant other, start with your partner and how you generate well-being with that person, then go to your family members, your friends, and your community.
We all can generate well-being. We all have that ability just by not being an asshole automatically. So if you can take it, but you don’t take care of the physical, there’s no way you’re going to generate well-being. Because the second you wake up, you’re going on downhill. So what’s the essence of generating well-being? It starts with the physical, when people says, “my mind is not ready to eat better, my mind is not ready to stop smoking, my mind is not ready to cut drinking, my mind is not ready to be more physically active,” it’s the opposite. Be physically active, eat better, stop putting toxins in your body; then, your mind can be better. You can’t walk backward for a very long time. If I find a smoker, I’m not gonna convince them to stop smoking. I might make a dent, ask them how much they spend per pack and give them the math. They’re spending 400, 500, $600 a month on cigarettes. They cut that in half, and they save $300. So mathematics might be able to help that person cut down, but instead of doing that, I suggest they improve their lungs and kidneys by eating better. Funny enough, when people start eating better and feeling better, they smoke less.
Well, that was one of the things you were saying to me, being a drinker; you’re saying, “just eat my diet. I’m not saying you have to stop drinking. I’m saying that when you’re drinking, eat the right foods to make sure your liver doesn’t just implode.” Can you talk about drinking specifically?
I’ll give you the example of a motorbike. Suppose you find a guy who loves driving fast on a motorbike, who likes to jump things. You don’t tell him to stop riding a bike but to put on a helmet and some pads on his shoulders and knees. The probability when he falls is a lot better than if he doesn’t have it. I tell people to eat a lot of spinach, or beet, or kale, or chards; cruciferous greens can protect your liver. There are other phytochemicals that protect your kidneys as well. So what I tell people is, why don’t we focus on protecting what you have so you can enjoy what you enjoy? Let’s start with that, and with time, you start focusing more on feeling good, than trying to cover those cravings. So, I don’t want to twist your arm and tell you to quit smoking. You lose the narrative; people come back and say, “I know my grandfather; he lived until he was 98, and he smoked like a goddamn chimney.” Still, out of one 98-year-old grandpa like that, there are about 1.4 million that are the opposite.
So speaking about health, I’m really interested in what you think about things like Beyond Meat, not for the investing side of things, but the health side of things.
Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat is goo. They’re trying to substitute a feeling with a chemical process of making you think you’re eating meat. Do you remember the sugar? The flour? Well, Beyond Meat is just trying to substitute sugar and flour with another sugar or flour. I believe their approach is trying to make people think they’re eating healthier, but they’re not. A lot of it is fillers. A lot of it is chemicals and sauces that are not naturally builder-made. On the other hand, I see companies like Heura, in Catalonia, doing something very similar to Beyond Meat, but only using natural products.
Can you elaborate on that?
You could actually go and flip the product and look at Beyond Meat ingredients, and you would have to have a PhD in chemistry to know what the hell is in there. If you grab Heura and you flip it around, all you would have to know is vegetables, seeds, fruits, and legumes, because they were able to use those products and create a fantastic product. It’s more expensive. Beyond Meat is cheaper in Catalonia than Heura, and Heura is made in Catalonia. In my sushi, we have vegan meat and vegan chicken, and we use this company. I got no connection, no relation, with the company at all, but they make a healthy product and it tastes pretty darn good. Still, because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Flour’s vegan, sugar is vegan, cocaine is vegan, heroin is vegan, sawdust is vegan. I’m saying that I believe that these companies will succeed if they focus on health, and it’s not just a substitute for their products.
Would I invest in Beyond Meat? No. I did invest in Beyond Meat in the past, but when I realized what they did, I moved away, not because of my moral compass. My money does not discriminate; I do buy pharmaceutical companies that make pales for diabetics, but on the other hand, I thought it’s just not smart. I think many people who will turn to veganism, especially today, are turning because they’re looking for healthier options, and very quickly, they’re starting to realize that veganism is not for them, but it’s a great start.
One of the things that we have in the restaurant is a menu of vegan sushi, and trust me, we dedicate a lot of time making it taste good. It’s a lot harder to make vegan products taste as good as other products. I think we did a pretty darn good job. We actually have vegan Thursdays.
Still, not only are you trying to make vegan stuff, you’re making vegan, non-gluten, non-sugar food. That’s so much harder.
Exactly. How do you make something vegan without adding flour and without adding sugar? Because that’s what vegans do; just throw a bunch of sugar, and eat it, or pile it with sodium or salt. So you need to mask the tastes, and we didn’t have to do that. As I said, I’m not a good chef, but others are, luckily, and I know them. That was one way of making the vegan product line, not only quite tasteful and fulfilling but also popular. It’s actually one of our most popular products.
Moving on to the thing that I’m most interested in: the entrepreneurial environment here in Spain. I know you traveled back to the US quite often, you have contacts, and you worked there and lived there for a long time, so what made you want to start and launch your product here in Catalonia?
Mostly selfish reasons. I love this place. When my wife and I came here in 2011, we fell in love with the town. We bought an apartment in 2013; a small place, quite cozy, and we used to come here all the time. It became our happy place. In 2018, I told my wife why don’t we just leave the US? Twenty-five years later. All because, look at the typical American family, they’ve got a mortgage, two kids, two cars, a 401k, they’re paying into social security. They have good credit, so it’s easy for them, at least some of them, but talking about the guys, people have made it. One’s a doctor; the other is a business owner, a director, or a vice-president in a company.
Still, you look around, and there are no assets, the kids are in the house watching TV all day long, and my wife and I have to go through trenches to be able to be in a place where we enjoy each other. It’s a struggle; why is it so hard? We always have to worry about so many things; logistics is a nightmare.
In the US? Comparatively?
Yeah. You need a car to go everywhere.
Oh! I was thinking logistics in regards to delivery services.
No, don’t get me wrong. You’ve got logistics. Do you want people to take shit to your house? Amazon has on the same day deliveries, you go to a bank, and you feel like a god; it’s so easy because America loves money. Anything that has to do about making money, saving money, you have a credit card that gives you 3% on every time you go and spend, then, of course, pay very high interest if you don’t pay it on time. Then there was a moment when I thought maybe my wife and I wouldn’t have come here if we didn’t have kids, but I wanted my kids to walk free on the street without me worrying.
Still, we wanted to change our lifestyle, and it was a very personal decision, not an entrepreneurial decision. The Spanish government is the opposite of the United States. They want all your money; you come here, you’re going to pay for the bank, you’re going to pay fees up to your asshole because they don’t trust the people, which is very different from the United States.
So, it just comes down to the mindset of the governments. Where is that lack of trust? Why is that lack of trust already there?
I think there’s a historical factor here in Spain of extreme fear from when it was a dictatorial state to the aftermath when that dictatorial state stopped. People got rid of that fear, and you can’t really send soldiers to people’s houses. I think it’s not just a systemic problem in Spain; it is in Portugal, Italy, Greece. People that live near the beach and have a lot of sun tend to be a little laxer, and there is this sense of people looking for shortcuts. I think the government just assumes that everyone is going to take a shortcut.
How do you fix that? How do you get the general populace to think it’d be better for everyone to stop taking shortcuts together?
That’s a very American thing, and you’re absolutely right, but everybody will say yes, and then 50% will do the opposite, and the other 50% won’t do it either after they realize that the initial 50% didn’t do it. It’s a cultural issue. Spain would need to find ways of generating income that doesn’t come from the general population.
In other words, the people who pay the most taxes in Spain are not the big corporations; it’s the autonomous, the self-employed that open their own businesses and carry the country’s weight on their back. You could be working 40, 50, 60 hours and coming home with €1,400 a month, and rent is €900. So I think that Spain will have to change because it’s not a sustainable system; it will eat up their economy.
I thought that changing towards credit cards would have more income represented, and Spain would get more taxes from its purchases, but they did the opposite. They raised the charge for the autonomous. It’s about politicians taking care of politicians. It’s not about the people, which repeats around the world; it’s not specific in Spain. You find it a lot in Southern Europe.
Still, how do you work around it? Don’t do things without understanding what you’re doing. Number one, get a good accountant, a lawyer. Number two, understand your immigration status. If you become a resident, you have to pay for everything you have. So the first thing is to understand what rules you’re playing with. Secondly, I recommend every single person to follow the Mitt Romney strategy.
What is Mitt Romney’s strategy?
“Corporations are people, my friend.” So if you’re an American and you want to come to Spain, you must not exist. You must become a corporation. Do not charge anybody for any service. It’s your name, LLC, that charges people for things because Spain will ask for your personal wealth.
So you’re saying that if you come to Spain, have a corporation outside of Spain in charge.
I’m over here right now, and I’m an American, and I’m going through a partner visa to get citizenship here. I wanted to open up a business here, but that’s the last thing I want to do now because it’s 40% across the board, making it nearly impossible to run a business unless you want a hemorrhage of money. Considering in the US it takes two to five years to even turn a profit, even when they’re not taxing you 40%, and you have all the tax system on your side. Can we highlight why Spain is actively doing this to itself?
It’s a great question. I think there are multiple factors: one is just plain laziness, and changing the laws is complicated. The other thing is, do you think they would let Americans come over here and, for example, open a bar and pay no taxes, whereas the locals have been struggling with it for decades? No! They’ve been screwing the Spanish people for a long time.
Still, I guess the Spanish populace isn’t as actively involved, are they? This comes from an outsider’s opinion on politics.
I think it is very social. You’re going to find that Spaniards are very involved in politics regarding social issues, protesting about women’s equality, gay rights, fascism, or protesting… fill the blank of social issue. Now, when it comes to corporate decisions by the government, they’re not. If I were an autonomous here, I’d be protesting. What they’re doing to the self-employed is self-destructive.
Well, rights are one thing, because you can obviously give rights to everyone, that costs no money, but social programs, are paid for by a good entrepreneurial class, no?
A lot of them are paid by the autonomous, and big companies, like Zara or Repsol, have agreements with the government. They pay less. The United States does charge taxes, but not to small businesses. They say, “I’m not going to charge you taxes. Play your game. I’m gonna let you grow. I know out of a hundred, two are gonna make it, but the two that are gonna make it are going to make it big, and we’re going to make money of those big businesses.”
Exactly. They’re employing a bunch of people, paying for a bunch of things, and they’re still paying taxes.
They’re paying taxes, they’re paying social security, they’re going out there, they’re feeding the circle, and you trust them. IRS says, “it’s all right, just don’t fuck with me. I’m going to be cool with you, but you’re going to jail if you’re not cool with me.” Not a lot of people are in jail in Spain for not paying taxes. They say they’re going to go to jail. The judge says they’re going to go to jail, but nobody goes to jail. In the United States, you don’t pay taxes, and your ass is in jail. So I do think they’re very different systems. The system in the United States is, “we know you’re going to pay taxes because you’re not stupid,” in Spain is, “we know you will not pay taxes because you’re not stupid.” So, it’s the opposite.
Now, if you like living here, you have to find a way to simplify. Don’t over-complicate. If you’re going to open a business here in Spain, it needs to be a business to generate sustainability, but your growth needs to come from somewhere else. Let the company in the United States make the money, and the company in Spain sustain the life, and once in a while, the business in the United States lends money to the business in Spain.
I guess that circles back to your sustainability with your sushi business and your multitarian entrepreneurship. What’s it called?
We’re still developing it, but it’s going to be called CanVida.
So, why do you think that the launch can be held here? Is it just because of the love for the culture?
Initially, I’m here, and I’m going to be the number one customer. Do you know how hard it is to cook a multitarian meal? I’m talking about maybe 25 to 30 different vegetables, fruits, and seeds. It’s a pain in the ass, and I do it every day. I spend about an hour prepping food, and I would love for a company just to sell it to me. Every time I tell somebody about being a multitarian, they’re in, but I’m losing them as I’m explaining what they have to do. They start saying, “So, I have to cut the broccoli? Seeds also? What? Which seed? All of them? Do I have to buy all of the seeds? I only know one seed. I’ll have to look that online.” It’s a lot of mixed vegetables; it’s all good for you. It’s things that people can trust, not health gurus blabber about kale, or açai, or lombarda.
Well, at the same time, this is a really good place to have it because the Latin-European culture isn’t much into microwave meals. Obviously, that’s not what you’re about, but sometimes when I cook, I just want to put something in the microwave and be done.
The microwave is not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong; the problem is that the food that you’re buying tends to be 80% flour. It tends to be most probably something with pasta or hot pockets. You could go with other types; you could go with buckwheat or lentils. There are so many good-quality kinds of pasta out there today. The problem is the flour’s the product that they’re using to make the pasta, and flour has never been a very highly nutritious product since its beginning, since its inception. It helps from starvation, that’s about it.
You’re very familiar with history. Before WWI or WWII, I’m not exactly sure; there was a big talk about how the population would starve, and there was a food crisis. The scientific community realized that we needed to start developing food and different ways to produce for the population. Obviously, the population from WWI is vastly larger now.
How much of that has carried over into why we produce foods in the way we do now? Do you think it’s sustainable? Do you think we can go back to a time or a place which allows eating proper foods?
It was something that happened after WWI. We had a soil problem in the United States and around the world; we were destroying fertile land because of farming. This was being plotted incorrectly. It was the same product, but new equipment was introduced, and it would just hit the layer; it wasn’t breaking the ground, it wasn’t breathing the land, the soil. So, the land started becoming arid, and there was a huge program in the United States to change all that. Ideas like how do we make wheat stronger? How do we make soybean stronger? How do we make things go better so pests don’t eat them?
So yes, there was this famine fear around the world. In the 20s, 30s, 40s, millions of people were dying of famine. Today not so much. Today more people are dying of heart attacks. Obesity right now is most probably the biggest human threat in the world. The problem is that they saw the need for new ways and changed wheat’s genetics. Today, the wheat that we grow has changed; the wheat we grew in the 50s is not the wheat we grow today. It grows a lot faster; it grows everywhere. It’s biologically changed, and it’s bad because there’s no more wild wheat anymore. I know that most of the wheat we eat today is genetically modified from the past.
We changed to be able to grow everywhere, and that was the idea in the past to solve the population crisis, and people wanted to keep growing to feed the world. The preoccupation wasn’t: how do we stop growing? This is not by creating a disease in a lab that will kill 90%, 80% of the population. It doesn’t work that way. How do you stop a world population? That’s the problem; the world was going to have too many people. One factor stopped population growth: women’s education. The more women are educated, the more they decide not to have babies; they want to have careers. If you look at the literacy rate of women in the 1950s and the literacy rate today, you’re talking about a 40, 50, 60% factor difference.
Yet the population is growing exponentially.
Still, it’s curving. Even China’s population is already declining. Japan’s and Russia’s have been declining for years. Who told the communists to teach their women how to read? I say that facetiously; I’m saying that the higher education women have in third-world countries, the lower the population you’re going to have. I do believe that there’s going to be a curve down. I don’t know how fast it’s going to be, but based on some research that I’ve seen, we’re going to peak out in the in 2050, maybe to 10 billion people, but then it will start coming down.
Spain will have a negative population, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and the United States. If it wasn’t for immigration, the United States would have lower levels of population. People have to understand that they want a better quality of life. So the spans per capital are actually going to increase. That’s good news. We’re going to have fewer people, but each person is going to consume more, is going to spend more money. It will be a more productive population. I’m an optimist.
Radu, our amazing bartender in GinTub right now, just mentioned that Elon Musk actually said the opposite: “people should be having more babies.”
Yes. Musk is afraid that the world population is going to decline too fast, that it’s going to peak down. He understands that because people are not having any children. Elon Musk should be having more babies. He can pay for them. He could have 8,000 kids, and they’ll be fine. So, instead of telling people to have more children, he should just go to Iraq, Palestine, Ukraine, Somalia, and just adopt a bunch of little children and set them out to space.
It’s funny though; we say this is the worst time in the world. When it’s not a bad time to live, we have energy, air-con, and amazing things, but maybe if we are patient, educated, and communicate with one another, everything will be alright. What do you think about that?
We live in the best of times, but our minds are in the worst of times. We’ve got two universes, the real universe, and the meta-universe, the last one being: everybody feeling anxious, everybody feeling stressed.
It comes down to the fact that’s how it has been designed because it’s not been designed around your pleasure. It’s been designed to explore you and sell you to the highest bidder; it’s been created specifically and purposefully to go into your mind, figure out your weaknesses and then use them to create thoughts.
For example, these horrible situations happening in Ukraine. People want to connect the issue they’re fighting for with Ukraine. You can see people from the right saying, “They took the government from Russia, it used to have a government, and then they started a government, and it’s a regime that wasn’t supposed to be there.” On the other side, people from the left are saying, “it’s about transgender rights and gay rights.” I always say, “no, it’s not about you.” People today are just generating anxiety because we’re so connected. It’s a beautiful thing to be connected, but it’s exhausting. If anybody now doesn’t feel exhausted about what’s happening in Ukraine, and they’re not physically or psychologically affected, good for them because most of us are.
I wake up in the morning, and I don’t watch American news; I watch German news. They tend to be pretty straightforward, ever since 1945. They put it out there, and they give you different perspectives. They have a German-English channel, and it is the best news channel because they’re connected with the people. It’s not some guy making €12 million a year, it’s a guy making maybe €65,000 a year after taxes, but there is genuineness behind a lot of the news.
Anyways, there is this anxiety that there’s going to be a crisis, something’s going to happen around the world, people are gonna freak out. Also, we are trying to overprotect society from the bad. The other day, somebody told me they wished schools prohibited bullies. What? Well, as a child, I was bullied.
I was bullied; I was a bully, depending on the day.
Exactly. Sometimes you were the bully, sometimes you were bullied, which was part of the learning lesson. It’s good to have to learn to deal with bullies, and it’s good to feel regret from those you bullied. To tell the truth, I keep more in my head the few moments that I bullied someone. I know the moment, I know where it was, and I bullied him, and I know that. That is stapled in me; it’s a tattoo that I can’t get rid of. So it wasn’t a learning experience just from being bullied and being the victim, but also victimizing other kids. If I would ever come across them, I would apologize, and I can assure you, they will tell me it made them better. The bully remembers more than the bullied.
I would agree. To wrap it up, we talked about how social media and, to an extent, how today’s technology can go into you, and there are many negative things. If it’s implemented appropriately, great; with Ukraine, we are seeing the benefits if it’s implemented properly. Social media has put us now at this stage where we see the absolute best scenario, which is people having an eye on Putin, acknowledging that he’s murdering many people, that the soldiers under him aren’t okay. This is one of the better outcomes of social media, and it can hold stress on us, but we know one dude’s murdering thousands to hundreds of thousands of people at the moment.
Absolutely. Social media is just a very loud microphone that can be used for good or bad. You can have a guy like Donald Trump go out there and promote horrible, xenophobic, dog-whistling statements just so he can get some likes. On the other hand, we can find and communicate with people we didn’t know existed three minutes ago. So yes, this is a good side of social media, but nobody talks about it. Nobody goes out there and thanks to social media. Because thanks to it, we’re so much more connected with an area that in the past would have been absolutely isolated and ignored. Us being connected has a good side and a bad side, but in the end, it’s progress.
I really think it comes down to the developers; they have to realize that the way they create this technology is crucial. The meaning, the algorithms, the way that they mind for user data needs to be changed, but that’s me thinking of the mental damage.
Anyways, Fernando, this has been amazing. I’m so happy to have you on to speak about Spain, your entrepreneurial journey, and you being a world citizen. I always ask all of my desks one question at the end of the day. If you could take all of your life experiences, turn around, and give all of those experiences into one piece of advice. What would that piece of advice be?
I don’t want to throw too much of a cliche, but I go back to the second you wake up in the morning and ask yourself: am I going to generate well-being or not? That’s what I tell people because well-being is a self-reflection because when you generate well-being, it is the definition of happiness. You make yourself happy, and you just have to share that happiness with others, and it generates well-being. That’s all you have to do. So be happy, genuinely.
I love that. One more thing, if anybody is in Barcelona, it’s a quick train ride down to Sitges. You have the Niji Bar here. If they’re interested in CanVida, how can people get in contact with you?
They can go to multitarian.org and send me an email through there, or they can come to Sitges, go to Niji Bar, ask for Fernando, and I am literally 28 seconds away. So any person that wants to come and have a conversation, I’m more than happy to entertain.
Fernando. Thank you so much, man.