Why the hell would anyone want to live on Soylent?

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Soylent has become a mainstream topic, mostly thanks to a recent feature article in The New Yorker.

For those who don’t know about it, Soylent is a nutritionally complete drink invented by Rob Rhinehart, a Bay-Area engineer and entrepreneur. It comes as a powder you mix with water and oil. Theoretically, it contains everything the body needs to thrive, without much of anything else.

Rob announced his invention in a blog post a year ago, entitled How I Stopped Eating Food, claiming that he had not eaten a bite of food in 30 days and felt better than ever.

After a lot of experimenting and refining, Soylent is officially on the market now, and customers are now experimenting with it. It’s early, but their results seem generally positive.

I first heard about it late last year from a friend of mine, who’s different from most of us in that she often finds eating to be a chore. She doesn’t particularly like preparing food for herself (although she does like preparing it for others) and usually only eats for sustenance. So to her Soylent sounded like a dream come true, and she’s been following its progress ever since.

When she told me about it, my reaction was, “That’s neat, but no thanks. I like food.” In fact, I like food so much that I want more opportunities to eat it, not fewer. Why would I want to waste a chance to eat by filling myself with an engineered bio-fuel, when I could be making a curry or fresh bread? Later I would find some compelling reasons.

The most hated beverage on the internet

After reading the New Yorker article, I spent quite a while on the web reading people’s opinions of Soylent. They seem to be mostly negative (although the accounts of early users are mostly positive.)

In the gloves-off world of internet “discussion,” most of the criticisms were, predictably, empty ad hominems directed at Rhinehart and the people who like his idea — “Too lazy to cook,” “Hate life so much they detest even food,” “Self-loathing hipsters who would give up their last remaining joy to find 90 more minutes a day to work on their iPhone app,” and even, “Just eat. Stop normalizing anorexia.” 

Over the past week I’ve read every article on Soylent I could find, and their mostly-venomous comment sections. I was looking for the smartest arguments on both sides, but I couldn’t find a lot of anti-Soylent commentary that didn’t amount to flippant and fallacious remarks — appeals to tradition and nature.

Soylent is made from a long list of ingredients with long names, which I’ve been taught is “bad” but I’m not sure I have a clear reason to think that.

The typical dismissal of Soylent amounts to something like this: “real food” is what humans should be eating and that’s just the way it is.

I’m now more skeptical of this attitude than I am of Soylent. A lot of people claimed what we call “real food” is crucial, but few of them could be specific about how they’re certain of that. As one supporter on Soylent’s official forum wrote, all objections to the product seem to be a form of one of six arguments:

  • “It’s a liquid diet, human beings require solid food, we have to chew,” etc.
  • “It’s not natural, it’s synthetic chemicals, you don’t know what’s in that stuff,” etc.
  • “It’s going to destroy society and culture, it’s the end of food,” etc.
  • “We don’t know enough about nutrition to possibly create something that is safe, therefore it’s not,” etc.
  • “Humans have been eating “real food” for thousands of years, don’t mess with what works,” etc.
  • “It has the look and consistency of semen, is absolutely disgusting tasteless slurry, nobody sane would touch that stuff,” etc.

None of these seem to worry most of Soylent’s supporters, and in my reading I didn’t find any convincing versions of these objections. A long-term liquid diet doesn’t sound appealing to me, but most users (including Rhinehart) still eat solid meals at least a few times a week anyway, and that seems to be the product’s value for most people — it allows you to not make a big deal out of most of your feedings, if you don’t want to.

The name itself might be the most common point of criticism, because of its association with cannibalism in the movie Soylent Green. This was a conscious choice by Rhinehart, and probably a brilliant marketing decision.

The appeal of “Real”

“Michael Pollan’s ‘real foods’ are like Sarah Palin’s ‘real Americans,'” says Rhinehart in a blog post, and I agree with what he’s getting at. Many of our “real” foods are unrecognizable from their wild origins. Nature did not make strawberries the size of golf balls, or corn cobs larger than your pinky, and certainly didn’t create the kinds of flours, dairy products and domesticated meats that many people consider to be good old fashioned real food. Nature, even prior to our modifications, includes toxins and carcinogens too, and there’s no reason to presume that anything “natural” is categorically good for us (or that the reverse is true.)

The “Stay away, this isn’t natural!” sentiment seems to be convincing enough to many people. But it’s exactly this vagueness and fundamentalism that makes me believe the boys behind Soylent are onto something, at least in their doubts about our conventional beliefs about food.

Not all the criticisms are mindless though. People are asking reasonable questions, particularly the question of how a person would fare over the long term on a 100% Soylent diet. I suppose a lot of the unknowns about the physiological effects of Soylent are inevitably going to become known over the next year. I understand not wanting to be a test subject, as Soylent’s current customers effectively are, although you could say the same for a lot of human-made products we are currently eating, using or living with.

It has also been pointed out that Rhinehart is an engineer, not a scientist. Outside the last year or so he has no background in food science, although in the mean time he seems to have done the necessary homework, and has enlisted help from doctors and other advisors.

It’s also true that our knowledge of nutrition is famously murky — we don’t know everything about the body’s needs, and so something important could be getting overlooked. Soylent is supposed to contain all nutrients known to be needed by the human body, but some say there may be certain phytochemicals in plants that we need but don’t yet know we need.

The big question: Why?

Aside from the mindless flaming, the most common reactions to the idea seem to be, “Why the hell would anyone want to eat that stuff instead of actual food?” and “Don’t we already have meal replacement shakes?” (As one commenter said, “Congrats bro, you just invented Slim-Fast.”)

“Why?” is a totally reasonable question, and as someone who does find Soylent appealing, I’ll try to answer it.

One recurring criticism of Soylent (which is actually its purpose) is that it only attempts to address the nutritional side of eating. We all know there are many other reasons we eat — social, cultural, emotional, and recreational reasons, and other practical reasons not related to nutrition. It seems to be healthy to take a break from work at certain intervals, and regular mealtimes provide that. Some meals are a convenient chance to bond with people.

But these other reasons also make our relationship to food quite complicated, and often troublesome. In particular, our nutritional motives for eating are often at odds with our recreational motives. For many of us, food is something we relate to primarily as a pleasure object, but which also happens to be how we get our nutrition. There’s a certain vigilance we need to exercise in order not to eat too much (or at least too much of the wrong things) and to eat foods that contain the things we’re not getting enough of (even if we don’t like them.)

Balancing the pleasure we seek in food with our needs to take certain substances in and keep others out can be a stressful and difficult task for many people. For many it’s a lifelong struggle. Even though we need food to live, we often regard the food in our lives as posing a certain ever-present danger, and often it does.

If you’ve ever found it difficult to reduce the number of calories you consume, or reduce your sodium intake, or to optimize your fatty acids ratio, or to get enough iron or calcium, consider that it may be a lot easier to do those things when most of your meals aren’t simultaneously counted on to be entertaining. There’s no reason every meal needs to be beautiful, or fun, or social or otherwise gratifying.

Trying to balance nutrition with the gratifying element of eating may have never been a problem for you, but it has been for me and probably hundreds of millions of others, even if they’ve never thought of it that way.

This is the main reason why I’m so interested to experiment with Soylent. I like the idea of separating the occasions when I eat for pleasure from the occasions when I eat for nourishment. I don’t need to be entertained by my food every time I eat, and I suspect it’s healthier not to be.

The option of a simple, balanced, culinarily uninteresting staple — that isn’t relied on as a source of entertainment, or an emotional refuge — could reduce or eliminate a lot of the troubles many of us have with food. If most of my meals were just utilitarian refuellings, then the times that I eat normal food, I could make it all about the social and sensory pleasures, without ever courting the gratification/nutrition tightrope at all.

There’s also the simple factor of time saved. Occasional breaks from activity are probably healthy, but I don’t always want to spend them chopping, frying, baking or eating something. I spend a couple hours a day on food currently, and over a lifetime that constitutes years that I might have found a better use for.

We make a big deal about the social value of eating, but the reality is that many or most of our meals are completely forgettable and unsocial, and depending on your values and interests, might not provide any benefit other than the intake of nutrients.

Your lifestyle might be totally different than mine, and standard meal breaks might serve you perfectly well. But there are certainly many of us who, if given the option, might choose not to make eating a ceremonial, day-splitting event, at least most of the time.

I want to see, in a Soylent trial, what I learn about these complicated relationships to food. They’ve been invisible to me most of my life because I had taken for granted that every meal must have these multiple, and sometimes conflicting, purposes.

“Congrats bro, you’ve invented Slim-Fast”

As many have pointed out, meal replacement powders and shakes have been around for decades. So why aren’t people already living on Slim-Fast and Ensure?

Rhinehart is well aware of the fact that Soylent isn’t the first beverage designed to replace meals. He considered using Ensure for his initial no-eating experiment, but found it much too expensive, too sugary, too unpalatable, and sub-optimal in its ingredient make-up.

The differentiating factor seems to be in the intended purpose. Meal-replacement shakes have never been presented as a food — something that you could (or might want to) live on for an extended period. The existing products are marketed as supplements for people with medical issues preventing solid food intake, or who want to lose weight by consuming a low-calorie drink instead of their usual solid meal.

The existing drinks are a lot more expensive per calorie than most people’s food, and probably too sweet for most people to tolerate for long. Soylent is meant to be drinkable but neutral-tasting, so that you don’t get sick of it. Reactions to the taste are mixed, skewing towards the “not great, but pleasantly surprised” side.

I will do a proper experiment whenever I get a chance — it’s not available in Canada yet. I’m following the experiences of early customers on their blogs and Youtube videos. I want to see not just the effects on their health, but also on their routines, their expenses, their social lives, and their beliefs about food.

I have no idea whether it will change the world or be a huge flop, or something in between. Maybe it will help a lot of people. Or maybe it’s overlooked something crucial. Perhaps it won’t be viable for some reason we haven’t thought of — some property of the human body we’re about to discover.

The big-picture implications are also interesting. Rob Rhinehart definitely has grand ambitions for this product and hopes it will play a role in alleviating hunger. Widespread adoption of something like Soylent could have world-changing effects on agriculture, ecology, social norms, and economics, and it’s hard to know whether it would make things better or worse.

In the mean time, it’s just another product on the market, and I completely understand that most people will have no interest in using it. But from what I’ve been seeing, non-supporters generally aren’t uninterested, they’re irate. If you read some of the discussions on the web about Soylent, you’ll notice it seems to inspire unusual amounts of hostility and ridicule, even for the internet.

This reaction only makes me more interested. This idea is so offensive to some people, and so appealing to others, that I can’t help but think we’re about to make some very revealing discoveries about the nature of nutrition and our beliefs about food.

What do you think? Does Soylent excite you? Worry you? Why?

UPDATE: I’ve started my experiment. I’m consuming a home-made DIY soylent recipe for about 70% of my daily calories. It’s already very interesting. I’m logging my experience here.

***

 

Photo by Francis Storr


Aaron Pinkston May 19, 2014 at 5:42 pm

For decades many of us have been giving our dogs and cats a single manufactured food as their sole source of nutrition. Most of us haven’t given it a second thought.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Heh… this is one of many things I thought about for the first time after having discussions about Soylent.

Len May 21, 2014 at 9:16 am

Yes, and look at all the health problems that modern pets have developed since!

Amanda T May 19, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Really fascinating to see your take on Soylent! I was just doing the same thing to read up about it, and find I share a lot of the same ideas. I find it fascinating, but am cautious. I agree with what a lot is said (like, we don’t know if we get the right nutritional amounts etc. whether we eat Soylent or not).

I think what has bothered me is less about Soylent itself, and more about Rhinehart’s attitude towards food and agriculture in particular. In that NY Time article, he made reference to agriculture being dirty, hard work, and questioned why anyone would do it… while at the same time, Soylent itself is primarily oats (I think?). Where does he think all of his ingredients come from? Maybe I’m biased growing up on the prairies around agriculture, but I also question the far reaching cultural aspects of trying to ‘dismiss’ agriculture, the culture of agriculture, and the culture of food production too. The role that food plays in so much of the world. You touch on that a bit in your article. I also found his cost breakdown over-estimating how much it costs to feed yourself/making your own nutritious meals at home (time not included, albeit), but that might just be me comparing it to what I know.

I found myself questioning whether enjoying food is really a luxury, when so many aren’t getting the food and calories they need, let alone the nutrients they need. I’d love to see where the ingredients are being sourced from (maybe I missed it?), and would be interested to see a lifecycle and carbon footprint analysis of what is required to make Soylent, and then compare it to something like an ‘average’ diet. Also, is people not knowing how to cheaply make their own meals at home (his referring to living off ramen etc.) a product of our society?

I know I find so much joy in making food, to eat and for others, that I struggle with people wanting to eliminate it completely from their life. I want others to be able to find that too. Again though, I know it is a luxury. I can see it being useful, but it also sounds like something out of science fiction for sure.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:40 pm

These are all good questions, and as the discussion broadens we’ll know more. I can’t imagine Soylent production’s per-calorie footprint isn’t significantly smaller than that of a diet that includes meat, but I don’t have any numbers for you. From what I’ve read Rob Rhinehart is very much interested in future possibilities, and his visions probably don’t sit well with everyone. He seems to be a very opinionated man and isn’t trying to please everyone.

Stuart May 19, 2014 at 7:25 pm

A bonus plus point that many nay-sayers have missed is that after consuming soylent for awhile, solid food actually tastes better when you do choose to have it. The blandness of soylent “resets” your taste buds, and you actually become more sensitive to high sugar/ highly processed food, so in effect, your enjoyment of healthier food increases!

I’ve just started having soylent, and when I tried some steamed broccoli after 2 days on it… Bliss. I’m looking forward to a great steak this weekend after a few more days on soylent!

To paraphrase the NYT article:
There are times I live to eat, and times when I eat to live. Soylent replaces only one of it.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:44 pm

I saw this in one of the video diaries on discourse.soylent.me and I’m hoping his experience is typical.

Sally May 19, 2014 at 8:17 pm

It’s good to have choices, including this choice. I think there would be many less healthy choices you could make.

For those who dislike the time and effort in cooking though, there are so many things you can put together in five minutes that are healthy. You don’t have to use recipes or get complicated if you don’t want to. Simple salads, sandwiches, eggs or stirfries can take next to no time. That’s my choice, for now (vegetarian versions). I’ve been doing this for a while and I feel and look very healthy.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:46 pm

That’s all it is really, another choice. It may not be perfect but it’s definitely better than most of the competitors in the convenience food market.

AD May 19, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Am I a believer and did I place an order? Yes! However, this isn’t for the budget conscience person. For 21 meals at $70 (auto) to $85 (one time), it is more than double what I try to average my meals out to be. To some that may sound ridiculously low (think about all the minimum wagers not taking SNAP), but the price will keep a lot of users at bay. I am prudent enough to take into account that this price includes shipping. Win. Obviously, auto renew takes the average per meal cost down. Another win. What is also so appealing to me???? As you stated, the times when I simply don’t want to put in the time and effort to cook a balanced meal and the times when I forgot to thaw something out. Nice read!

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 12:27 pm

The cost is more than what I’d pay for groceries, but as you say there are other benefits.

Enid May 19, 2014 at 9:33 pm

I’m excited about it. My partner is autistic and has food aversion. He doesn’t enjoy 90% of the food that he eats. It’s like sensory overload and not at all enjoyable. Add type 1 diabetes, tracking food, blood sugar checks, insulin shots and suddenly there is not any enjoyment relative to the amount of work eating food. That’s with him not even preparing his food. If he could find a bland, always consistent carb/sugar/protein ratio, it would make life so much easier.

I am slightly concerned that it wouldn’t contain every vitamin, mineral and phyto-nutrient that we currently know supplies the body what we need. Things like lutein for the eyes and lycopene for the prostate but most people don’t choose what goes on their plate for those reasons.

I, on the other hand, enjoy food. I derive pleasure from the creativity of cooking, eating and preparing food for other people. I do consumer quite a few quest bars weekly, just to satiate hunger and still meet my own keto dietary needs.

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 12:30 pm

A reliable alternative would be a godsend for people with all kinds of difficulties with traditional food formats. I hope you find it helpful.

Sophia May 19, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Actually, Soylent ISN’T the first: there is a product called Modulen which serves as a food replacement for people who have Crohn’s disease (perhaps other diseases too, but that’s how I came to know it). I’ve lived off Modulen for periods of 6 weeks several times. I know anecdotally of people who have decided to live off it for decades and seem to do okay.

The problem with Modulen is that it’s rather expensive unless you’re not getting it through socialised healthcare (I think it cost three or four hundred euros per month without a prescription). I also found it to taste almost intolerably horrible, but I was a minority in that; some even liked it.

I’d like to try Soylent. Modulen was traumatic for me, but I guess the context would be rather different.

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Yeah, it’s definitely not being hailed as the first food replacement, but it seems to be the first to try competing with groceries.

theFIREstarter May 20, 2014 at 3:18 am

Hi David. Very interesting subject, I too heard about this months ago but have forgotten about it until reading your article.

One thing I would like to know (haven’t done much research… so hoping you can answer my question as I’m being lazy) is that if Rhinehart is arguing that farms are very “innefficient factories” then where do they actually get the ingredients for Soylent from? Unless I am missing something not quite so obvious then all or at least some of those nutrients will at some point have come from a plant or animal? You don’t mine protein out of the ground for example?

If this is the case then I don’t see how eating Soylent is any more efficient than normal food, apart from making efficient use of our own time. If anything I would have thought to extract the ingredients, process them, then mix them back together in the correct amounts actually uses up even more energy than just sending veggies and animals to the grocery store?

Also the cost (ok, it’s a new ‘technology’ so will no doubt come down in price) seems quite high at $3.50-$4.00 per serving from what I gathered, I could easily make a nutritionally balanced and great tasting meal for that. Yes, yes… I know it takes time but I like cooking, so that is just my own point of view.

Apart from those points, I think it is a really good idea, and has lot’s of practical benefits not least for sending out food supplies to areas of famine or any other type of aid. And also obviously for people genuinely interested in eating it, although I am not one of them at the moment :)

claire May 20, 2014 at 5:53 am

hey yes, david responded something like this to me too (above) and i have the same kind of resulting question, about the ingredients and agriculture. :)

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 12:35 pm

I imagine that producing the ingredients of soylent is more efficient per calorie than producing the components of a regular diet, but I don’t have any numbers for you. They have probably discussed it on http://discourse.soylent.me

At the moment, it is more expensive than most people’s groceries, so you would be paying for the non-nutritive benefits (convenience, time, etc.)

theFIREstarter May 22, 2014 at 9:40 am

Did a small bit of digging and haven’t found much to be honest apart from this tweet:

https://twitter.com/robrhinehart/status/321993402528960513

“Many soylent ingredients come from mining, not farming. For example, Potassium is in Sylvite as well as bananas.”

I guess that is fair enough but not all of them will be. And further down the thread:

Rob Rhinehart ‏@robrhinehart 10 Apr 2013
@gerwitz cost, bioavailability, time to spoil, sustainability, taste, roughly in that order.

I don’t see how getting rice and grinding it down to powder is more efficient than just shipping whole grain rice but I’m no expert either. I’ll keep my eye out for any detailed analysis but can’t see any on the discourse/forum either.

Sid May 22, 2014 at 11:49 am

You say you “imagine” Solyent is more efficient. Why, pray, do you imagine that?

And as for paying for convenience etc (your point above), I say we are being asked to pay for Rheinhardt’s profit.

Let me say it plainly, David. I find your staunch and unwavering support of everything about Solyent distinctly odd. It’s like someone in the PR of that company doggedly fielding contrary questions, emphasizing the positives, and trying to put a spin on the negatives!

Are you prepared to unequivocally declare that you are not profiting from Solyent, nor planning to do so in future, either directly or indirectly? Are you prepared to do that?

A disappointed reader May 20, 2014 at 4:34 am

David, have you ganged up with this drink’s makers to “sell” this product to us?

Touching on a trivial new product, as change of pace from your deeper articles, that I understand. But your rather desperate attempts here to counter every argument here against this Soya-whatsitsname is quite, well, striking.

Not quite the tone we’ve come to expect from your excellent blog.

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 12:26 pm

The implications for our food and cultural beliefs are hardly trivial. Did you even read the article?

If you’re trying to insinuate that I’m a paid stooge for Soylent, then you don’t know anything about me. I think this is a fascinating topic. If you don’t, well sorry, I can’t please everyone.

That disappointed reader May 20, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Trivial, I meant, compared to the far weightier things you generally discuss, and which draw me here.

Paid stooge? Your words, not mine. But I did suspect it, and hoped my suspicions were wrong. That would have spoilt the blog for me.

Of course I don’t know you. Nor you me. Never met! But I know you from your blog, hence my interest.

Since you say (or at least imply) you aren’t, I believe you.

I do beg your pardon. In my defence, though, just read this piece yourself, all of it, how you do battle with whoever speaks against this product, and smilingly thank those who say will use it (some of them). I found it cringe-making.

I’m saying all this only because I am so invested in your blog, no other reason. Again, sorry if that was out of line. But you are a bit of a public figure, at least your blog persona is. Many tell you how much they like what you say. I have myself. Perhaps you will not mind my telling you what I did not like as well?

Peace. Not a word/comment more from me on this topic. I love your blog, though not this piece–at least not your extreme emphasis on the good points of this product.

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 1:03 pm

If you read the comment section of pretty much any issue-related post, you’ll see I’m a very opinionated person and I like debating things. The discussion around this product is compelling to me because it reveals how flimsy a lot of our long-held beliefs are. I also think the idea of a viable meal replacement is personally very exciting.

I guess you are always welcome to announce that you don’t approve of a given topic, and throw in a personal insult if you like, but I’m glad most readers don’t do that. There are certainly a lot of people who aren’t interested in mindfulness, or productivity, or writer’s block, or getting over shyness, but I assume they just find something else to read.

That reader May 20, 2014 at 1:29 pm

“welcome to throw in an insult”? You still say that, after reading my apology/defense?

I hadn’t insinuated, nor intended to insult. I directly asked, enquired.

You seem miffed. All right, henceforth if I don’t like something here, I won’t talk about it.

Peace, friend. I love your blog. I have already apologized twice, so I won’t again. You write great, and if perchance I don’t like one or two pieces here, I’ll pass silently over them.

James May 22, 2014 at 4:03 pm

I came away with that sense too. I think it’s because Soylent seems so obviously antithetical to human health. So at odds with the very spirit of the blog.

On one hand, I’ve got Soylent: a Silicon Valley meal replacement product that will further entrench its toxic culture of work = life, with its denigration of human needs as universal as food and sleep (think of the general attitude toward sleep–that it’s “unproductive” or “for the weak”). Maybe it’s better for you during constant overtime coding than, say, pizza, but the real problem in those situations is not what you’re eating. On the other hand I’ve got this blog, which I’ve very often found insightful and have taken a number of positive suggestions from. The disparity is hard to reconcile.

Raymond May 20, 2014 at 8:50 am

Hello David,

I think that nutrition has a mechanical (getting enough nutrients) and an emotional (anticipation, social gathering, pleasurable to the senses, discovery of aromas, celebration, etc.) aspects.

I have no problem considering only the mechanical aspect, especially when I’m in a hurry, although I think we must find time for the emotional aspect.

Soylent seems to be better than fast food and carbonated sugary drinks as a source of energy, when one doesn’t want to take time for a real meal.

One health aspect which doesn’t seem to have been mentioned but seems very important to me is that, although a substance contains all the nutrients that we need, there still is 90% of “us” that isn’t “us”.

I’m talking about the gut microbiome, with different kinds of bacteria, yeasts and phages, partly inherited from birth, from fermented foods, from soil, etc.

I think that there can be healty and unhealty gut populations, which can help our immune defenses or harm them, and by voluntarily starving our gut biome, it might be easier for pathogens to colonize it.

It has already been shown that gut biome evolves quickly, and they often feed on parts of our food that we couldn’t digest. Different food shall change populations in our gut, not necessarily for the better. So although a food can prodive all the nutriments the human body requires, we can’t forget our tiny friends.

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 12:41 pm

There has been a fair bit of talk about gut bacteria but I don’t know much about it. I’m not interested in consuming Soylent 100% of the time so I haven’t looked into it yet. I’m sure there are threads about it on discourse.soylent.me, the official forum.

George2 May 20, 2014 at 10:09 am

Really interesting to follow discussion above.

Viewing Soylent simply as a well-researched nutritionally balanced convenience/energy food with an open-source angle, it is a really appealing idea. Someone’s done all the work for you; you can use the recipe or buy it pre-made; great.

I think much of the controversy comes from Reinhardt’s rather full on, Steve-Jobs-ish evangelical style, with his grand world-transforming plans. There’s something that suggests to people that it’s a bit more hard-edged than just product/invention enthusiasm; it feels almost like a political vision. He aspires to a transformation of the way we live by the back door!

I think this gives people pause for caution, warranted or not. They fear this might become a big thing, a cultural disrupter, because food and sleep are ours; it feels like a personal attack. Soylent on a drip plus an invention that applies a ‘flash-sleep’ periodically, and we need never leave work again.

(Personally, I think it’s just “start-up-guy buzz”. But “where it goes, nobody knows” after that…)

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Yes, this is true. Rhinehart is very opinionated and has grand plans, and rubs a lot of people the wrong way. This may be fueling a lot of the hysteria about dystopian consequences to what is really just a meal replacement.

George2 May 20, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Indeed (my other reply above). The product in itself is fine, it’s the guy himself who is perhaps unwittingly encouraging this line of thinking. Life-hacking is fine, but this guy gives the impression he wants to hack your life for you, perhaps by stealth!

Plus calling it “Soylent” – which is quite amusing, but also has lots of dystopian population-suppression connotations! (Even in the cannabalism-free original book, rather than the it’s-people movie.)

Roger May 20, 2014 at 11:49 am

It seems to me that this would be effective only for those who are strong-willed. Otherwise I see people (including myself) using it–and then continuing to eat all of the pleasurable ‘junk food’ that they currently eat. I’m on the side of eating and exercising intelligently while adding my voice to the ‘unnatural’ production and processing of foods (ie: pesticides, hormones, genetic engineering…)
There’s an aspect of this discussion that I haven’t seen addressed yet (please forgive me if I missed it), and that concerns ‘global hunger’. A product like this would be excellent for starving people all over the world if logistics, shelf life and cost could be controlled. It would be great to see this, and future endeavors, aimed at that very real issue instead of adding yet another ‘miracle product’ to our bloated diet control/supplement options.

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 12:45 pm

That is another factor I’ve been thinking about. I like the idea of having a pre-rationed, non-entertaining meal for breakfast and lunch, but I have no idea whether how it will affect my relationship to real food. I’m sure it’s different for everybody, and I wonder if I would have cravings, or be more attracted to junk food, or less, I don’t know.

Some have said that it made their taste buds more sensitive, so that makes me think that I’d be less attracted to overly salty or sweet foods. But who knows.

Ira Roth May 20, 2014 at 2:59 pm

I’m a bit disappointed that all the news coverage focuses primarily on the official Soylent blend and mostly ignores the large DIY soylent community that’s been thriving for the past year. The official product is only a small portion of the overall soylent vision. Rob and all the other folks at Rosa Labs have been absolutely supportive of the DIY community, despite DIY’ers potentially cutting into sales of their product. Really, though, the official blend & the DIY community are two sides of the same coin; early development versions of the official blend inspired the first DIY recipes, feedback from the DIY community has influenced the development of the official blend, and this sharing of information continues to this day.

In my opinion, DIY is superior to the official product for anyone who’s price-conscious. DIY can be done for $2 – $3 per day, compared to about $10 for the official product. The level of customization is also much higher: every aspect of the recipe can be tailed to your individual nutritional needs, taste preferences, etc. There’s a bit of up-front cost and effort involved, since it makes the most sense to purchase ingredients in bulk, but after that the amount of work involved is minimal: mixing enough for two weeks takes me about an hour, averaging out to less than 5 minutes per day.

DIY May 20, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Thanx for the input, Ira.

Keeps well, does it, sans airtight packaging? How d’you store it, plain refrigeration?

David Cain May 21, 2014 at 10:35 am

Which DIY recipe do you use?

DIY May 20, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Thanx for the input, Ira.

Keeps well, does it, sans airtight packaging? How d’you store it, plain refrigeration?

Joanna May 20, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I’m really impressed by the comments here! You have a thoughtful community, David. What an interesting discussion. A lot to think about.

David Cain May 21, 2014 at 10:33 am

It is a great batch of people here :)

chacha1 May 20, 2014 at 4:55 pm

This was interesting. Even the comments were mostly interesting. :-) I plan to ask my husband if he’s read anything about Soylent before … he is a health services professional and reads a lot of “alternative” nutrition, fitness, etc news.

For myself, as The Wife with a full-time job, I am good and tired of cooking dinner every day and a reasonably-complete meal replacement sounds like wish fulfillment. However, given that dinner is the one meal a day that we routinely share (even on weekends; my husband is self-employed which means he works when his clients want him, which is almost always on Saturdays and sometimes on Sundays), the time-and-motion benefits would, I think, be torpedoed by the reduction in time spent together. The nutritional component might be fulfilled by Soylent, but I suspect handing the man a meal he could drink at his desk while checking email would not be a net good for the marriage.

If follow-up reports continue to be positive, though, I might consider trying it for my own use during the workday. I usually bring my own lunch anyway.

David Cain May 21, 2014 at 10:34 am

I’m watching customer reports pretty carefully, for problems but also for interesting uses and unexpected upsides. There will be a lot more feedback now that they’ve started shipping the stuff.

Melissa May 20, 2014 at 10:26 pm

I take heaps of pleasure in food, especially of the “real” variety, whatever that means, but I can think of plenty of uses for Soylent. I doubt many people would choose to live on Soylent exclusively. Chances are, most people who consumed it would do it part of the time. And I can think of plenty of opportunities for this. A sampling of them:

-When you work a job so busy you don’t have time to even pee, let alone eat a snack or even dream of eating a meal. Line cooking is a good example of this, and I’m sure there’s dozens more.

-A 12-hour flight. Some soylent might be better than dropping $30 on a totally unsatisfying airport meal, or some combination of pretzels/snacks/fast food/etc.

– When it’s extremely hot outside and you have no appetite but the body needs fuel.

– When you’ve had dental surgery… or other surgery and you’re pretty out to it.

-On a long road trip. Especially if you’re doing it for work, regularly or semi-regularly. There are few things worse than your guts when subsisting truck-stop breakfast sandwiches.

-Hiking/camping/ physical pursuits in general – when you need all your nutrients, and preferably in a lightweight form.

I myself would prefer a sizzling burger or a killer veg wrap to soylent in any of this situations, but seriously, how ofte do we find ourselves in situations where we are desperately trying to find some fuel for the body and everything else about the situation is suboptimal? (As in – being ripped of for food, finding only stuff that is likely to make you feel worse for the wear, etc)

David Cain May 21, 2014 at 10:32 am

It would be nice to never have to depend on airport food again :)

Sid May 21, 2014 at 1:39 am

If the DIY cost is only a quarter of the price of the product, then you have to wonder why they’re charging so much.

Not enough to say they’ll bring down prices when they scale up. If the motive behind this is remotely altruistic, then they should halve prices already, and slash prices even further when economies of scale kick in.

I submit that this is just another gimmick whose sole purpose is to get the promoters rich. True, it may be generally beneficial as well (or not — time will tell). Capitalism’s invisible hand for good, if that : no more.

The DIY friendly moves are just a gimmick.

I say, if these people wanted primarily to make a difference, they would have kept a much smaller operating margin. Kept prices less than half current levels, and lower them further when they scale up.

If it is just another product, as it appears to be, then the novelty alone does not warrant our support/interest.

Yes the world changes with new products in the market. Iphones did that. So many examples out there. So many ways our world is different from 100 years ago.

No need to get our knickers in a twist about just another clever product.

David Cain May 21, 2014 at 10:29 am

It’s a business. They want to make a profit. Their customers obviously think it’s a fair price. What’s the problem?

Sid May 23, 2014 at 4:55 am

What’s the problem?

I’ll tell you what’s the problem:

1. It’s pretending to be a panacea for world hunger, while pricing it beyond the reach of many, just so they can pocket profits.

2. It’s pretending to offer better nutrition than reasl food (not all real food, but much de facto real food), when that has not been proved, and can’t be proved before years of clinical trial.

3. It is pretending to lower consumption per calorie when that has not been proved at all.

4. It’s using all these claims to get free publicity and free support for what is, as you rightly say, a business which wants to earn a profit.

It’s not the first of its kind, nor the last. Whether this particular product will click or not the market will decide. Surely it is a matter of complete indifference to us.

This product is like your first camera phone, the first internet-enabled phone, or the first watch phone. Sure, new product category. Perhaps this one will succeed, perhaps some other company, perhaps te whole thing will sink. Who gives a rat’s ass? If it is proved to work, we’ll benefit from it (and Rheinhardt will make a packet of money). If it doesn’t work, we’ll forget it, and Rheinhardt will have to brush up his CV again. Big deal!

To simply speak about a funky new product is fine. To so forcefully support EVERYTHING about it sounds like a sales job.

These putative social angles to this product, none of which have been proved, are being whipped for all they’re worth to drum up free publicity for this purely commercial product, for this business.

That is the problem.

A commercial venture, a business, a pure and simple seeker of profits is making these unproved claims to get free support. And the ones who are playing such a big and earnest role in helping them are either knaves or fools.

That is what the problem is.

Yes, it is a business. Made with profit motive. Like iphones and instsant coffee and a gazillion other things. Nothing more. If there is any larger social impact here, it will happen. Rheinhardt, or others who follow him in making me-too products, will be adequately rewarded by the market, or not.

This is just consumerist hype under the guise of social evangelicalism.

Tobi May 21, 2014 at 3:07 am

David, a one months supply of Soylent for one person is $300. A family of 4 would pay $1,200, 5 children and 2 parents would pay $2,100 a month for food alone. Now I’m sure they’re not selling poison by any measure, but money seems to be in mind, not just innovation and nutrition. To me that is a big red flag. It’s out of reach to a lot of the people who could use it most.

Sid May 21, 2014 at 3:57 am

Give me Bill Gates or Steve Jobs any day over this Reddit or whatever his name is.

Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs changed our world. But they did it to get rich, and did not pretend otherwise. They were honest about their motives. Any broader good they did was incidental.

This Reddit chap, who thought up this Soylent gimmick, is already dreaming of his first yacht. The pricing off Soylent makes that clear. The DIY stunt is just free publicity for this still-unknown product.

Which is fine. That is how the capitalist system works. That is why we inhabit a world so different than our great-grandfathers’.

What irritates me is the putative social benefit angle of this purely commercial product. What gets my goat is how naive and gullible social media types are being manipulated to drum up support for this purely commercial product.

Tobi May 21, 2014 at 4:44 am

This is really pure speculation. Yes of course he wants publicity, you don’t have to have ulterior motives to need that. Marketing is a tool, not an evil scheme. Maybe the creator needs to extra funds to upscale the business, but I just don’t trust it until it’s available to he people who can actually use it the most. He people he wants to help (by ending world hunger) cannot afford to pay 10 cents per meal forget $300 a month.

Sid May 21, 2014 at 5:17 am

I agree, marketing is legit, so is advertising.

This fellow is trying to get is ads free by pretending to be a dogooder.

Take this very discussion. For a promoter to get so many people to be so involved with his new product launch would cost serious advertising dollars. Here he is getting it free by pretending to care about world hunger.

If he really cared, he would have priced Soylent at $2.50 a day, to be further reduced later when sales go up. Margins would me much lower, that yacht may not happen at all, but world hunger would indeed be addressed, somewhat.

I have nothing against this product or against marketing or against promoters making money. It is this underhand manipulation of the naive and the gullible that I denounce.

Ira Roth May 21, 2014 at 8:59 am

It’s about $2-$3 per day if you buy ingredients and mix it yourself, which I highly recommend. The official product is only for those with more money than time.

David Cain May 21, 2014 at 10:24 am

I’m not sure why people think this was developed as an attempt to feed the poor. It started as a personal project from a guy who was sick of preparing food. But he seems to have made something viable, with a lot of potential uses, including feeding the poor. Rhinehart is very vocal about these long term possibilities, but I don’t think he ever said that’s the only reason they’re doing this. Right now it is definitely not for everyone.

Beau May 25, 2014 at 1:13 am

Not sure either.

Sid May 21, 2014 at 5:17 am

I agree, marketing is legit, so is advertising.

This fellow is trying to get his ads free by pretending to be a dogooder.

Take this very discussion. For a promoter to get so many people to be so involved with his new product launch would cost serious advertising dollars. Here he is getting it free by pretending to care about world hunger.

If he really cared, he would have priced Soylent at $2.50 a day, to be further reduced later when sales go up. Margins would me much lower, that yacht may not happen at all, but world hunger would indeed be addressed, somewhat.

I have nothing against this product or against marketing or against promoters making money. It is this underhand manipulation of the naive and the gullible that I denounce.

Sid May 21, 2014 at 5:23 am

Sorry, accidental double post.

David Cain May 21, 2014 at 10:17 am

The talk about using Soylent to alleviate poverty has always been in a long-term context. If I were the makers I would want to build a user base and a profitable company.

James May 21, 2014 at 9:29 am
David Cain May 21, 2014 at 10:14 am

I want to learn more about the role of gut flora and whether soylent has a detrimental effect on gut health. You have linked to a comment on metafilter from someone who predicts problems, as many internet commenters have. It’s been almost a year since this comment and I haven’t heard much about people actually having problems. Liquid diets aren’t anything new, and as far as I know they don’t render the digestive tracts unable to process “real food”.

Dee May 21, 2014 at 10:02 am

Hi David,
Thank you for each and every one of your articles! I look forward to them and enjoy the banter in the comment sections.
I consider myself a foodie. I love to cook and bake and I especially enjoy presenting food as a work of art on the plate. I live to eat!!! Having said that, I do believe I could pay more attention to feeding the cells. Thank you for this article on Soylent. I have ordered the 14 bags per month and will experiment for 3 months. I haven’t totally formulated a plan yet, but most of my meals will be Soylent. I have done The Master Cleanse many times over the past several years, quite often staying on it for 3 weeks. I feel amazingly well and have lots of energy, but miss the social part of eating! I like the idea that, perhaps with Soylent I can get the same feeling of wellness…maybe better, and have the bonus of eating some meals as well.

David Cain May 21, 2014 at 10:15 am

Hi Dee. Let us know how it goes, if you get a chance. Do you have a blog?

Dee May 21, 2014 at 11:15 am

Thanks, David! I will let you know how it goes. My understanding is that it will be at least 10 weeks before delivery. So I will practice being patient until then! And, no blog at the moment.

MsLocavore May 21, 2014 at 7:03 pm

I like the approach these guys took to discussing Soylent.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNEt8Wg1v2s&feature=youtu.be

skyer May 22, 2014 at 5:30 am

The internet seems to have taken the preemptive hate approach – so I’ll board the other side. As a person with long term digestive issues, I was forced on a diet. A diet which isn’t really that restrictive, but I’m a person that hates cooking, is lazy, and doesn’t really have the time/willingness to cook and prepare meals around the clock. As a result, I kept eating mostly similar stuff, or didn’t really eat anything – since I couldn’t afford to eat something unhealthy. Food became a routine and I’ve grown to hate it over the time. I’ve often hoped that there would be some way to inject the nutrients and just spare me the suffering of food. I am not anorexic, and I definitely don’t hate being nourished. I just hate the process of preparing the food and eating it. For me, Soylent is a dream come true. It made me so happy I almost couldn’t believe it. I live outside US so it’s not an option for me right now, but I love the fact that somewhere, somehow, this is happening.

With that being said, I don’t know about the long term implications of eating such food. In my opinion, chances are that something is missing, but majority of the required stuff is there.

sandybt May 22, 2014 at 5:36 pm

What about the dangers of unfermented soy foods that many traditional foodies and nutritionists are talking about?
eg http://drkaayladaniel.com/ and http://www.westonaprice.org

David Cain May 26, 2014 at 12:49 pm

The Weston A Price foundation is well known to be a conservative anti-vegetarian foundation, funded by farmers. They will tell you anything to prevent you from eating soy. Dr Kaayla Daniel is on their board if I’m not mistaken, and she’s a well-known anti-soy crusader. But soy is not a main ingredient in Soylent anyway. It contains soy lecithin, as an emulsifier, but the proteins are rice and oat-based.

Genevieve Hawkins May 24, 2014 at 5:43 am

Meh. I personally love to cook and experiment with new foods too much to have any interest. How different is it from eating oatmeal every morning just to make your life simpler? Or freezing two week’s worth of casserole for your lunch break at work?
If soylent participants start measuring their vitamin levels or tracking/taking an interest in their health outcomes because of this new diet, great. But I think that food is not that simple. Did you know that airplane food tastes bland because the high elevation changes your tastebuds? Or that two cooks can make the same recipe using the same ingredients and it will taste different? I know there’s different bacteria in the soil and air in different locations–vegetables grow and taste different in Thailand than they do in the USA. My nutritional needs are different from anyone elses, and change at different times in my life, like pregnancy, breastfeeding, and my marathon training. That’s not touching the high carbs or GMOs. But for people who can make it work, more power to them…there’s a lot of assumptions in the making of it…

Dan May 24, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Lab Mice Got Really Unhealthy When They Ate Only Powdered Food
http://gizmodo.com/mice-that-ate-nothing-but-powdered-food-ended-up-pretty-1581049625

Beau May 25, 2014 at 12:57 am

Gelatin Soylent it is then.

Noel May 26, 2014 at 5:46 am

Thanks for your blog, David. I’ve been consistently enjoying it for quite some time now; well done!

Here are a few more thoughts in favour of food:

I’m currently about halfway through WHOLE: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition (which is terrifically revealing) so immediately wonder whether Soylent’s ingredients are whole foods (thinking the answer is probably no). If the product is based on reductionist science which tells us we need only certain vitamins and minerals without all of the other components of the foods in which they naturally occur, I wouldn’t count on it for proper nutrition.

And, on the note of food preparation: I am all for eating quick, simple and uninteresting food most of the time. I personally find the process of preparing food, however simple, really contributes to my gratitude for something I used to take for granted (food :). What was once a chore is now almost meditative when I remember to give it my full attention.

I also imagine it’s easier to be present and grateful for food you put into your mouth, taste and chew, rather than flavourless mush you chug through a straw (quite possibly while also looking at one of our many screens?)

Cheers for another thought-provoking post!

David Cain May 26, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Thanks Noel. I think it’s indisputable that we only need some of what whole foods provide us. All they’re trying to do is remove everything we don’t need, and whether they’ve done that or not is still up for debate.

There is definitely non-nutritional value in traditional food use and preparation, and I would never want to leave that behind. I just don’t need it every meal.

Manav May 27, 2014 at 1:09 am

So that when you take the red pill the transition in the ship is easier.

anonymous May 27, 2014 at 2:20 am

Most of us are thinking about the technical part. Its really very much interesting to look at what soylent can do to world politics. For a moment assume that soylent has achived its mission(i.e Rob’s vision of creating a very cheap substitue to food with out much work to prepare.). Lets say the soylent would cost 1/50th the price of the regular meal. What would happen to the “wage slaves”(99% of the world) a.k.a salaried workers. The rebels in the “wage slaves” will use soylent as a weapon to stop working for long hours. Now their thoughts will be, to get retired(i.e. get out of the “wage slavery”) they do not have to work for 60 years. Since the soylent will cost only 1/50th of the regular meal, they can retire in about 1.5 years of working. This would provide a 58.5 years free time to do something creative.

Ha! Haa..!. Of course I might be day dreaming. But i just started to think about soylent and my imagination got wild. Also that might be possible, no body has proven otherwise :). The point is do not discourage Rob’s awesome work.

All humans are controlled by managing the limited resource food and shelter. Rob has taken a huge step to make the food cheap. Similarly if somebody comes up with a remarkable idea to solve the shelter issue. Then it would be too cool to live in a world like that.

Tim W May 27, 2014 at 8:35 am

First, to the author of this piece, I’d like to say ‘well done!’. I like how you grabbed me with that headline but ended up answering that question with an open-minded attitude.
As for me, I’m still eagerly awaiting my first shipment of soylent. This stuff sounds like a no-brainer to me for numerous reasons, all of which have probably been debated in this comments section. I really see no downside to the genius idea behind soylent and am suprised at a lot of the negative reactions.
I plan on using it as my day-starter and eating a regular meal at dinner. If it works as intended, I might finally lose those few extra pounds and hopefully have more energy than I’m used to. If not, no big deal. I don’t really feel any more the guinea pig than if I were eating something off the shelf with a half-mile ingredient list(half or more of which I’ve never heard of). Really, some of the arguments against this stuff are just childish and ignorant. But eventually, they’ll all come around…they always do…..mwah hahahahahaha!!

David Cain May 29, 2014 at 10:03 am

Thanks Tim.

one-timer May 27, 2014 at 10:49 am

Time. I hate spending time getting food, preparing food, eating food. The next thing I wish there was a soylent for (or whatever it’s called), is sleep.

Mike Grillo May 27, 2014 at 1:29 pm

His product and thought-process, in my opinion, is spot on. The name of the game in today’s day and age is time efficiency. Time is finite, and you need to choose wisely as to how you spend it. So why spend 30-60 mins preparing food (a chore in some people’s eyes) when you can bang out a meal that will be ‘just as good’ (to be determined) for your body in under 5 minutes?

A few shortcomings:
– not every looks at food preparation as a chore. I for one look at it as a labor of love, and as a therapeutic activity after a long day at the office. For some, a pantry full of ingredients is an artist’s palate and you can drum up some pretty creative and tasty (and nutritious) dishes.
– not every body is the same. Age, sex, height, activity levels, pre-existing medical conditions, etc. all come into play. A “one-size-fits-all” approach has never and will never exist in the nutrition realm. I applaud the product as a starting point, but it is by no means a cure-all for each and every person.
– you only get one body, so i’m interested to see who the guinea pigs will be. Without the benefit of knowing and understanding the long-term effects of a Soylent-based diet, the inventor/entrepreneur will be a little more hard-pressed to find an audience who will embrace the product with open arms.

In my opinion, I think Soylent will function more like your standard Ensure or meal replacement drink, rather than an “all-or-nothing” type of diet. The clinical research of the drink’s safety is not available, and without knowing the long-term ramifications of this type of diet, I just don’t see it taking off as much as the inventor hopes it will.

Rklawton May 27, 2014 at 2:30 pm

I love to eat, I love to cook, I love to entertain, blah blah. But I found Soylent tremendously exciting, conceptually.
– when I don’t have time to cook, I still get a decent meal
– I expect it will improve my nutrition overall
– it’s a lot cheaper and healthier than fast food
– AND it’s lighter, easier to store, easier to transport, doesn’t spoil… so it should be great for backpacking!

I ordered a week’s supply immediately after reading the New Yorker article. It’s due to arrive in August.

My only other question is – how do I invest?

Soylent Fan May 27, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Soylent will be very usefull for good purposes like reduce the hunger in the world, help to feed people in natural disasters, wars, refugees camps, etc.

Ghendi May 28, 2014 at 2:00 pm

I see (only) problems with this kind of innovative food (sorry for my rigid english and long comment):
– non organic food – humans are not plants which feed directly from soil and use everything nature can offer to transform it. Humans (and most of the animals) eat food that is or was at some point ALIVE. I can’t really understand how this can be overlooked.
We don’t eat dirt and I don’t think our organism supports that. As I know there is lots of evidence when creating medicine out of chemicals that should be the “same” as their organic counterpart but with no effect or with opposite effects. I’m pretty sure it’s the same case with food. And I see another aspect, I think our humanity itself is influenced by the things we eat although this is not an easy subject to go into. Basically all the actions we do have an effect on us whether we realize it or not.
– eradicating hunger – this is a utopia, there are enough resources to feed all the people of the world but it does not happen because of economical interests, culture. This kind of solution would just bring a new product on the market which creates the illusion of a quick cheap solution but there is no such thing. Good, healthy products which integrates correctly in the human society and in the surroundings do not just pop up from the soil, they require hard work, implication, experience. To eradicate hunger we don’t need miracle products we need to fix what we currently do wrong.
– no time for cooking, not enjoying eating – I can understand people wanting to go faster, to skip unpleasant things, to have no problems whatsoever – because that’s the direction in this case. However I think deep inside people embracing this kind of solution with no second thoughts already lost their inner direction and sense of reality (or maybe they never had it) and this would be one more try to have that, but actually would be one more step away from it. One must first recognize and accept the human aspects of life in order to achieve that. Running away from that it’s not a solution, on the opposite it’s often where you can recognize yourself as human. I see a different problem that emerges from these needs. So there must be an equilibrium between what humans are and what they want to do while they are alive.

This is a huge temptation and illusion specially with people seeking/finding self emancipation from own external conditions or own fears/problems. One could think – I managed to do this and this then I can/could do this as well. Maybe once maybe only sometimes when I really need it. Indeed. But is that really good? One can try it. One can learn from that. One can die from that. That’s how life goes. I do not fear about a hand of people trying this and having an experience out of which they’ve learned something valuable (this is where I see you). I’ve learned that nothing in life is easy and usually the simple solution is the worst. Once you have enough experience you learn that there is no such thing as a simple or fast solution. If something appears like such is because there was a lot of effort done into that at some point by someone.

As said I’m not afraid of some people trying it. I worry that at some point this kind of illusory solutions could be “forced” into the society and usually most of the people will not have other choice or solutions than to embrace it (due to lack of knowledge, social conditions, not knowing otherwise, general tendency, etc) and this is what I’m really against. There are lots of these solutions already in the world and creating collapse after collapse from many points of view and I don’t think I’m pessimistic but realistic. I see humanity is at the point where it has little knowledge but thinks it has enough to make important decisions/changes in all aspects of life, it has power and not much responsibility (morality). It has discovered new things and is making lots of assumptions and decisions based on that without having much experience and insights. And I see this in most of the fields of science.
So this whole idea it just seems immature and potentially destructive to society to me.

Trixie May 29, 2014 at 9:06 am

There’s an article in the New York Times (online version May 29) about a writer’s experiment with Soylent entitled “the Soylent Revolution Will Not Be Pleasurable.” I don’t think I need to tell you his conclusion:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/29/technology/personaltech/the-soylent-revolution-will-not-be-pleasurable.html?emc=edit_th_20140529&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=39846329&_r=0

David Cain May 29, 2014 at 10:01 am

Thanks for the link.

Baffling article though. His criticism is that Soylent has a “fatal flaw”, which is that it isn’t delightful to eat. That’s the whole point, and I’m not sure how a professional reporter doing a story on this stuff could somehow not know that. Embarrassing piece for the NYT.

Trixie May 29, 2014 at 11:45 am

As I read the author’s criticisms and your post about Soylent (which I hadn’t heard of until you wrote about it), I thought of a former boss who told me her husband hated to eat (she and I used to go out to lunch a lot as she didn’t share his opinion). She told me that if he could take a pill and be full, he’d be happy. He might be one of the types of people who would love Soylent.

Even though Soylent doesn’t appeal to me, I’m tired of the notion that we all have to like the same things. Of course, I’m the first to admit my hypocrisy, as I often proclaim, “How can anyone like _____?” (Fill in the blank with almost any reality show, mindless movie, generic music, etc.) For years, my mother-in-law has been drinking Slim-Fast for breakfast instead of making a meal, and it hasn’t hurt her a bit!

The Bottom Line May 30, 2014 at 8:25 am

David started out his article discussing six common objections to Soylent, and discussing those objections and the social implication of this new product.

The comments show very detailed (and sometimes somewhat heated) discussions on the merits and demerits of this product.

I think we can identify 3 further objections (beyond the original 6) to Soylent here :

OBJECTION 7 : Our current knowledge of what nutrients the body itself needs as well as what intestinal microbes need for our all-round health is by no means complete. This represents unacceptable risk for any product that seeks to be a food substitute in any sense of the term (as opposed to a once-in-a-blue-moon drink/food). The FDA’s jurisdiction on this seems unclear, but clearly the ethically and medically responsible position would be to defer public sales and public consumption before validation of the product through years of clinical trial.

OBJECTION 8 : There appears to be a concerted campaign to highlight social advantages of this product, such as its potential for tackling hunger in general, such as higher production efficiency per calorie, such as better overall nutrition in many cases, and so on. None of these social advantages are proved ; and in some cases, for instance the tackling of hunger in general, the pricing of the product runs actually counter to that philosophy (although it does follow accepted pricing policy for regular businesses). Thus, all these extra social angles that are being highlighted need to be seen for what they are : unsubstantiated efforts at promotion of the product through social media channels (or, if not that, then unwarranted enthusiasm on the part of naïve social media types).

OBJECTION 9 : This product is neither the first nor the only one in its current category. It is very probably not going to be the last, unless the whole product category itself fails to take off. Individual users may try it, certainly, provided they are willing to risk ingesting a product that has not seen adequate clinical trial (and the risk is compounded if the quantities ingested are anywhere near the large amounts that the company envisages and tries to sell, as opposed to sporadic trial) : but to see this as anything other than simply another commercial product would be naïve, and to promote it as anything other than a commercial product is potentially unethical.

Let’s leave the markets to either make or mar this product, as it makes or mars so many other products that people make and sell. Let’s stop giving free publicity to this purely commercial product, which is being made and sold primarily to earn profit (like any other product in the market)! Above all, let us keep our eyes and ears wide open, so that we are not gypped into embracing the consumerist agenda of those with vested interests (even if those interests appear legitimate according the standards of a consumerist paradigm).

Joe June 8, 2014 at 7:40 pm

I guess my avoidance of news is more effective than I thought. This is the first I have heard of this! Anyhow, it is intriguing. I have no desire to be among the early adopters of this sort of idea, but I have to say it is interesting to hear of someone trying to tackle this.

It’s sad there’s so many people who think that it is simply a scam and react so viciously about it. Everyone makes their own choices and if there is any sort of “mind games” going on here, it is simply because people allow themselves to believe it.

Will I be trying it? Hardly. I look cooking and eating real food too much. But, I can see the market for this kind of thing. Time will tell.

ashley June 24, 2014 at 9:51 am

I would have to disagree that Soylent is made from a long list of ingredients with long names. As a personal trainer, this post made me very curious, as I’d never heard of Soylent before. I read through the ingredients and I didn’t find them to be very bad. A large majority are just vitamins, minerals, and proteins. The other few ingredients are mostly just different variations of sugar that you will often find in protein powders. I certainly wouldn’t start telling people to go on at only-Soylent diet, but I really don’t see much wrong with consuming these in general.

Deb July 1, 2014 at 4:21 pm

I have a genetic muscle disorder which requires that I eat a high protein, high-potassium, low carbohydrate diet. My partner has a form of muscular dystrophy, celiac disease and seizures brought on by certain food additives so he requires an entirely different diet from me. (It had to be karma, we’ve been together 49 years.)

I’ve come to the point where shopping is extremely difficult and there are always three or four days of the week when I am too physically weak to make *any* kind of meal, let alone one which fills our individual needs. The “meal replacement” drinks like Ensure are far too high in carbs for me and have additives that give him seizures. Plus they would gag a maggot.

But a DIY soylent mix could be extremely helpful for us. There are days when eating itself, even just swallowing, is work. After all the hand-wringing I went over to look at the actual Soylent recipe, which is basically rice protein, oat flour, maltodextrin (a starchy sweetener made from rice or corn), and exactly the same additives and conditioners you get in a loaf of commercially baked whole grain bread, plus a vitamin pill. So I am at a loss at what the fuss is about. It’s basically gluten-free bread, without the yeast or the baking.

My *personal* opinion (I studied nutrition and have taught nutrition at the community college level) is that the carbohydrate ratio is too high but I have bought all of the necessary ingredients to make the “original” Soylent (minus the vitamin pill) in the local health food store’s bulk food section. If you have ever baked gluten-free bread, as I have, you’d have used them. And if you’ve ever taken a vitamin pill you’ve taken all the “scary-sounding” chemicals.

Looking at the DIY recipes I see that, with help, I could make two individualized mixes, one for me and one for my husband, to keep on hand. Right now on the days I can’t cook he eats canned pork and beans. I either eat soft fruit or I microwave a bean burrito, which fills my stomach but does not meet my nutritional needs. With the DIY mixes we could at least have decent nutrition on the days when I can’t cook.

As I have grown older I’ve discovered that “solutions” are rarely black or white. One solution never fits all, and even then the “right” solution might not fit all the time. As far as I can tell no one has suggested everyone is going to be force fed Soylent in lieu of their nutritious Big Macs or Double bacon Whopper combos. It’s another choice, if you don’t like the idea, don’t try it. If it meets a need for enough people it will last, if it doesn’t it won’t.

I wouldn’t live on soylent either, but I might find it useful in the toolbox of “How to deal with getting food in us today, when my body isn’t cooperating.”

Pedro Palhoto July 23, 2014 at 4:46 am

For me, it boils down to having more options available. That doesn’t mean I am forced to choose an option.

What about food stamps turning to soylent stamps (or other social security nutritional aids)? It may remove other “natural” options from people in need, though at least it would also remove the possibility of poor choices with food high in fat and sugar.

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