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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.

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Photo by Francis Storr

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531 Shares
Franklin Chen May 19, 2014 at 12:58 am

I think my attitude toward Soylent is my general attitude toward technology in general, or perhaps even just novelty. There are several aspects to my reaction: (1) a slight disgust at something unfamiliar; (2) pride that there exist people to keep pushing the envelope no matter how weird; (3) a gut feeling that we are products of evolution probably adapted best to what is close to “nature”; (4) annoyance by knee-jerk, naive proclamations that there is one correct “natural” way to live; (5) wait-and-see while others self-select as guinea pigs.

In other words, I take a “radically conservative” point of view: my personal preferences tend to be conservative but I totally support those who wish to be on the vanguard to advance science and art, and sometimes I adopt the new after it is no longer new.

claire May 19, 2014 at 5:31 am

:)

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 8:09 am

This makes sense. There are always those willing to experiment, and in most cases I’m not one of them, but I’m grateful they are there.

Franny May 27, 2014 at 1:34 pm

“I totally support those who wish to be on the vanguard to advance science and art, and sometimes I adopt the new after it is no longer new.”

Soylent is not at the vanguard- far from it – it’s the belligerent. It feeds consumers lies, it peddles a health scam, and makes grandiose promises based on no research or scientific foundation, tricking consumers into thinking they can be healthy just by drinking a powder, while wreaking unknown havoc on their longterm health. Soylent is snake oil. It makes health promises that are untested and unproven because it has (so-far) avoided the scrutiny of the FDA by classifying itself as a vitamin supplement, while advertising itself to consumers as a total meal replacement.

They will probably face a class-action lawsuit in a few years, but by then Mr Rhinehart will have moved onto his next entrepreneurial get-rich-quick scam. You’ll find such scams are common in the “vitamin supplement” industry in the form of energy drinks and acai berry cancer cures. The secret to Soylent is that it hooked into a rabid and fixated consumer base, one that’s naive enough to pay a company to develop a product (i.e. buy the ingredients for a product and put it into a bag for them).

Matt May 27, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Please don’t speak when you have no idea what you are talking about. The FDA classified Soylent as food and was approved months ago. Ever hear of a little company called Google? Try it.

Kevin Rich May 19, 2014 at 1:16 am

Rather than waiting for Soylent to get to Canada, I would suggest experimenting with the Nutri-Bullet (or something similar) instead. You’ll be able to ask the same questions about your relationship to food, but you’ll be drinking vegetables, fruits and nuts.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 8:19 am

Do you do this for much of your diet?

There is also a large DIY soylent community (diy.soylent.me) where people are making their own formulations using a nutrient calculator. I might try it, but much of the appeal of Soylent is that you wouldn’t have to find twenty separate items to measure out and combine.

Ben May 20, 2014 at 1:22 pm

This is the most popular diy recipe and it only has eight ingredients:

http://diy.soylent.me/recipes/people-chow-301-tortilla-perfection

It looks like the website is kinda broken at the moment.

Marc May 21, 2014 at 5:45 am

How? Those 8 ingredients supply every essential nutrient and the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats. The website is not broken at all.

A gentle detractor May 19, 2014 at 1:40 am

If it worked, what I would do is this : Find out what’s in it, what natural things can take it place, esp things that’ll keep, and see if I couldn’t make it myself, at probably a tenth or at least at fifth of this product’s market price.

I think the idea is good, and it will probably make its inventor rich. But I won’t be one of the suckers making him rich. I currently prepare most of my meals, nutritious and cheap meals, and if this works I will simply reverse engineer it as much at practicable, and it to my repertoire of DIY recipes.

Mark Kandborg May 19, 2014 at 2:15 am

I have to admit I haven’t yet looked into the ingredients, but a lot of nutrients are mighty difficult to get into every meal in the proper amounts (I’m thinking of things like glutamine, L-carnitine, branched chain amino acids, medium chain tri-glicerides, Omega 3-6-9’s, bioflavonoids, that sort of thing. If these aren’t in Soylent and it’s only macronutrients, then yes, you’re onto something.

claire May 19, 2014 at 5:37 am

i dunno… is it that hard to eat well? i’m not bashing soylent or whatever for those who it suits. but i’m skeptical of “proper amounts” to get in each meal of all these things, that cannot just be obtained through a varied and healthy diet… but on the other hand i do understand that nutritional science is quite complicated and detailed in many respects. so, yeah… hmm. :)

HGM May 20, 2014 at 1:29 am

Frankly yes, it is difficult to maintain a diet that is both varied and properly balanced. It takes constant planning, shopping, time-consuming preparation, and expertise beyond “eat more fruits and veggies”. I and many others have tried to no avail, and ultimately it’s a health risk as well as a major hassle. Other than sleep, it’s the single most time-consuming activity in my day which I am obliged to carry out.

dom May 19, 2014 at 6:05 am

You can experiment here with the other folks who want to do it themselves!

http://diy.soylent.me/

A gentle detractor May 19, 2014 at 8:20 am

Thank you, dom. I’m saving that link for future reference.

I’m not leaping to start mixing herbs in my cauldron just yet. Let the “self-selected guinea pigs” try this out first. If they report that it seems to work, that is when I will go for it : not by emptying my pockets into that of the clever fellow who made it, but by trying out the DIY options.

But that link you posted here is ample evidence that lots of people out there see this as a win-win option. (Except the inventor doesn’t win, not from us anyway — but I’m sure there enough suckers out there with loose pockets and more money than sense/time, that he won’t particularly mind!)

Jeff May 19, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Why are you so against an entrepreneur making money off his invention? Imagine what the world would be like if people like him were never rewarded for innovation and risk taking (I imagine there would be quite a bit less innovation and risk taking).

A gentle detractor May 20, 2014 at 4:14 am

No, Jeff, I am not against entrepreneurs making money : what I don’t like and won’t allow is their making money off ME.

I’m cool with shoe manufacturers and cafe owners getting rich by selling shoes and coffee at 10 times their cost. But I refuse to contribute even one cent towards this.

I feel sorry for the suckers who frequent cafes in their absurd overpriced shoes, but recognize they have this right to be made fools of. Their choice. Free country.

I stay away, and enjoy my coffee at home or friends’ homes, is all.

Carter May 26, 2014 at 11:42 pm

If he really wanted to scam people nickel and dime, he wouldn’t have done half of the things he’s done. His forumla is only slightly more expensive than the most popular DIY recipies, and even cheaper than a large portion of them. Speaking of DIY, a lot of that only got starting because he willingly put forth the recipe in the spirit of open-source, not to mention that a major goal of his is making soylent more affordable than the type of food somebody on foodstamps would buy, as the price has been going down as he has refined it. I just wouldn’t make such huge assumptions about somebody you don’t even know. He’s from the silicon valley, and they’re notoriously idealistic.

A gentle detractor May 27, 2014 at 4:06 am

Carter, you misunderstood me. I did not mean to call Rhinehardt a scamster or denigrate him personally.

I was referring to the principle of non-consumerism.

Cafe owners aren’t scamsters. Shoe makers aren’t scamsters. And hey, a gourmet may well spend a small fortune on a meal if he wants to and can afford it.

But at one level, the unthinkimng masses that go spend absurd amounts on shoes and coffee (for instance), and then work their asses off all their lives to sustain that kind of lifestyle, well, at one they are indeed suckers, aren’t they?

Hence my DIY preference. Nothing personally against Rheinhardt, bless the fellow!

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 8:24 am

People are already doing this, and they have the blessing of the makers of Soylent. Check out diy.soylent.me.

From the New Yorker piece:

As I followed Rhinehart around, I started to worry about a possible flaw in his business proposal: how does he expect to make money from Soylent, when his formula is posted on the Internet? It’s difficult to imagine Coca-Cola doing that. But Alexis Ohanian, a founder of the Web site Reddit and an investor in Soylent, described it as “the most brilliant marketing strategy ever, even though they didn’t think of it that way.” The legions of people tinkering with their own Soylent formulas at home—called D.I.Y.ers—have become a fan base, improving the product and spreading awareness of it. “That’s the dream,” Ohanian said. Rhinehart has a more philosophical take: “If someone else figures out a better way to make it, that’s still a win for humanity.”

A gentle detractor May 19, 2014 at 11:50 am

Oh. I had no idea that was the official site. So no reverse engineering needed, eh?

Man’s on the level, I must say, if that’s how he goes about his business. If now he still makes a killing from those whu cannot /will not DIY, well, he’ll have every right to it.

I’m still not joining the self-selected DIY brigade–wife wouldn’t dream of ingesting anything not 100% proved OK, and nor would I actually–but that leaves me much better disposed towards this product (for what that is worth).

A gentle detractor May 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm

I meant “self-selected guinea pig brigade” up there, not “self-selected DIY brigade”.

John Coltrain May 20, 2014 at 2:44 pm

There’s actually a huge DIY community experimenting with the recipe. All the ingredients are openly available, and I doubt you’d be able to make it at a fraction of the price and maintain the same quality. Soylent manufacturing benefits from large economies of scale that lowers the price per unit. http://diy.soylent.me

DIY Soylent May 20, 2014 at 4:31 pm

The inventor made the entire recipe open source and made an entire web portal for users to make up their own recipes and share them. His web tool allows you to set your own dietary preferences and ingredients and calculates the “completeness” of the recipe at hitting every known nutritional requirement. People have already posted hundreds of DIY recipes and Amazon carts to order all of the ingredients right to your home. the website is diy.soylent.me

Dave May 26, 2014 at 11:41 pm

A couple words stick out here: prepare, reverse engineer, and DIY.

While these may be interesting endeavors for you, these are all action items the mean shopping, studying, and cooking.

The advantage of soylent is to avoid these things. First, I’ll need to figure out the things I want to buy and factor that into my time every week. In the US (not just by research but by my own experience), an estimated 40% of groceries are thrown away. Wasted. It’s dizzying to me to think of the farming time, resources used, and logistical movement to get me a banana from halfway around the world that I have 5 days to eat (and really only one or two days that I would enjoy the correct ripeness.) Compare that to a shelf-stable powder, I can’t actually justify buying a banana that I only have a 60% chance of getting to on-time.

Then looking at recipes, chances are half my spice rack is expired, that quarter onion I put in the fridge because the recipe didn’t need it is going to change colors on its own, the buttermilk for the pancakes I made is going to end up half used because I don’t eat pancakes that often….it goes on. “Well just use up what you have left!” you might say. And do what with it? I’m no chef and I certainly don’t have the time to go hunting for a recipe that needs a quarter of an onion, buttermilk, and expired seasonings.

I work 10-12 hours a day and I love what I do. I don’t need to jumble that time with food. I can eat out when I feel the need or I can have some soylent quick, easy as that.

A few months ago I met someone on a business trip who doesn’t like music. It blew my mind. For them it was just something they were blase about. They liked being in nature, hearing creeks gurgle, birds chirp. That was their music. I couldn’t be like that. I couldn’t live without music, but I have to understand they can.

Bottom line: I’ll make any inventor rich if they deserve it. And saying others are “suckers” couldn’t make you sound any more close-minded to the value people may place on things outside your narrow sphere of understanding.

D June 1, 2014 at 9:39 pm

You have a point but the website already facilitates this. On the open source section DIY recipes can incorporate full meals, fruits veg, chain restaurant meals as well as third party supplements that don’t seem to be profitable to silent themselves. Its really a space for everybody to learn and find a best way to nourish themselves.

burrow May 19, 2014 at 1:53 am

My main question (which you hinted at) would not be “What’s in it?” but “What’s missing?”. Until we can answer this, no synthetic food replacement can claim to be ‘complete’ – and its not necessarily just about molecules.

David Evans May 19, 2014 at 2:13 am

Do you know whether anything is missing from your current diet?

What does your current diet contain, apart from molecules?

Mark Kandborg May 19, 2014 at 2:15 am

Whoa. Nice one.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 8:29 am

Yes, this is still a question. It’s possible something is missing but I think the use and marketing of Soylent is a very efficient way to find out if these mythical hidden substances do exist.

But David Evans has a better point: why do we not have the same concerns about our current diets?

HGM May 20, 2014 at 1:32 am

The idea that there is a complete diet is likely a red herring. Show us the data and we can discuss what’s being left out.

Anna May 19, 2014 at 2:00 am

As a vegan, every day is already soy-and-lentils day ;-)

It seems to me that most of the early adopters are people who have already detached from a large part of the cultural side of food – the shared meals, the traditions of family or ethnical group. Me, I’m attached to the ritual of readying breakfast as the last thing I do at night, lunching with colleagues, thinking of what I’ll cook to make my partner smile as he comes home at night.

Food gives rhythm to my day. And I am forced to eat varied because I’m a member of a veg co-op. Every wednesday I’m stumped on the topic of what on earth one can cook with yet another curious type of root vegetable.

I don’t think Soylent will erode “The Family Meal” and other traditions any more than other convenience foods already do. And it seems healthier and lower-footprint than the other types, so on that count I’m all for it.

Let’s get to a society where every member can pick between nutritional convenience and curious root vegetables as they like. That would make me happy.

claire May 19, 2014 at 5:27 am

i like.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 8:34 am

Me too.

Also from the New Yorker piece: “Soylent isn’t coming for our Sunday potlucks. It’s coming for our frozen quesadillas.”

One thing I thought of when I was reading about this is how useful something like Soylent would be while traveling, for vegans or celiacs, or anybody who has trouble finding something they can eat in foreign places. The current Soylent formula comes with fish oil, but you can request that they withhold it, and use flax oil instead.

Mark Kandborg May 19, 2014 at 2:02 am

This is potentially so awesome, it makes me think of a little mind game I used to play, one where I imagined that the whole universe, and everyone and everything in it, existed entirely for me (I didn’t care if it was true. I just liked pulling it out to get through times of “doubt and pain”). If such a worldview was correct, though, it would look very much like one where someone invented a liquid meal that would fulfill all of my nutritional needs. Hold on. Sorry, I just got a shiver typing that.

I’ve long, well, longed for the courage to just throw everything that I eat in a blender and drink it. What’s the point in preparing it, combining it, for god sake cooking it, just to subject it to a great gnashing of teeth and a molecule-disassembling bath of stomach acid?

For me, there is no point, other than the social side. And to be honest, couldn’t I drink my fancy beverage and still be social? Social eating (i.e., not in front of a screen) as I’ve experienced it has always seemed a bit odd to me, anyway. When I’m at a restaurant with people, they spend half the time talking about other great meals they’ve had and the other half where they’d like to eat next, followed inevitably by the “why did I eat so much” question and the “I’m so full I’m never eating again” declaration. This seems off to me.

And yes, I believe that eating the right things for your body in the right combinations and amounts at the right times and frequencies is pretty much the purpose of meals. This is not at all easy, and if there is actually (I’m not yet convinced that Soylent passes the test) a product out there that can keep me from imagining what steak put through a blender would taste like, I’m in. So, so in. There’s that shiver, again.

I’m in.

Manborg out

Mark Kandborg May 19, 2014 at 2:05 am

This is potentially so awesome, it makes me think of a little mind game I used to play, one where I imagined that the whole universe, and everyone and everything in it, existed entirely for me (I didn’t care if it was true. I just liked pulling it out to get through times of “doubt and pain”). If such a worldview was correct, though, it would look very much like one where someone invented a liquid meal that would fulfill all of my nutritional needs. Hold on. Sorry, I just got a shiver typing that.

I’ve long, well, longed for the courage to just throw everything that I eat in a blender and drink it. What’s the point in preparing it, combining it, for god sake cooking it, just to subject it to a great gnashing of teeth and a molecule-disassembling bath of stomach acid?

For me, there is no point, other than the social side. And to be honest, couldn’t I drink my fancy beverage and still be social? Social eating (i.e., not in front of a screen) as I’ve experienced it has always seemed a bit odd to me, anyway. When I’m at a restaurant with people, they spend half the time talking about other great meals they’ve had and the other half where they’d like to eat next, followed inevitably by the “why did I eat so much” question and the “I’m so full I’m never eating again” declaration. This seems off to me.

And yes, I believe that eating the right things for your body in the right combinations and amounts at the right times and frequencies is pretty much the purpose of meals. This is not at all easy, and if there is actually (I’m not yet convinced that Soylent passes the test) a product out there that can keep me from imagining what steak put through a blender would taste like, I’m in. So, so in. There’s that shiver, again.

Manborg out

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 8:44 am

There are a lot more people who view food that way than I realized. I find it strange that I never really questioned the efficiency of preparing and cooking food three times a day, I guess because it seemed like the only alternative was gross energy bars or fast food.

Convenience food and healthy food have been just about entirely relegated to different spheres entirely. I’m still appalled by how difficult it is to find something healthy to eat while you’re traveling or on the go, without preparing it from scratch yourself.

Alex May 27, 2014 at 9:41 am

Meal replacement shakes & powders already exist and are available in stores near you. :)

Mark Kandborg May 19, 2014 at 2:08 am

Hey, David – please put me out of my misery by deleting the first of the nearly identical posts above. My computer, it seems, is experiencing the first rumblings of sentience. And it’s not going well.

The Manborg

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 8:45 am

Done

Ana May 19, 2014 at 2:09 am

I’m a doctor and I don’t think we know enough yet about the human body or about food to build a complete meal. We have this image of modern medicine as having explained and conquered the misteries of the body (I see this in my patient’s expectations), but we’ve only shed light on tiny parts. For instance, one interesting new topic are the microbes in our body, that we partially get from food and how they influence our health. Change the food, you change those, too. Could probably work for replacing some meals, but I wouldn’t live on it exclusively.

Mark Kandborg May 19, 2014 at 2:21 am

I hadn’t thought about the microbe issue, beyond the obvious probiotics. But yes, you’re right, from what I’ve been reading about how little we really understand about how microbes really affect us (other than that they certainly do, and they’re IMPORTANT), a purely synthetic diet could be problematic. A few solid meals a week could make the difference, of course, but you’re point that we are far from knowing these things is a good one.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 8:52 am

I’m a doctor and I don’t think we know enough yet about the human body or about food to build a complete meal.

Nutrition is still very murky, yes. So why do we think we will be able to do this with groceries?

At this point not a lot of people want to live on it exclusively. Few people want to give up food. But some will see how far they can go with it, and I think we will learn a lot from their experiences.

Ana May 20, 2014 at 1:04 am

Because we broadly know what works (as in what groups of food do on groups of people), but we don’t know exactly what does (which molecules exactly, in what quantity).
Another point is that different people have different nutritional needs.
I do agree that it probably is healthier than most snacks, I just think it’s oversimplifying a very complex matter.

Kenoryn May 20, 2014 at 4:21 pm

The other thing is the interaction of components in our food. I remember reading about a study (of which I can’t remember the details) that identified a beneficial compound in broccoli, but when they tried to isolate it and manufacture it in pill form, it had the opposite effect. The researchers theorized that it was interacting with something else in the broccoli to cause the effect.

Sandra Pawula May 19, 2014 at 2:25 am

Sounds gross and doesn’t appeal to me whatsoever. And the name is horribly unappealing as well. I’ve heard of yogis who only drink milk as they say it’s the only freely given good. There’s so much attachment and aversion (see my first sentence) when it comes to food. I think it can help to loosen our attitudes about food and to learn to eat more simply. To eat to live instead of live to eat.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 8:55 am

That’s the part of it that’s most interesting to me: the attractions and aversions surrounding our food routines. It is such a huge part of our lives and our inability to manage it is currently creating health problems on an unbelievable scale.

I’ve heard of yogis who only drink milk as they say it’s the only freely given good.

Very strange conclusions. Unless they’re talking about human breast milk. Fruit is freely given. The tree wants you to eat it.

claire May 20, 2014 at 4:31 am

i agree, strange. and, fruit is freely given :) i like that too.

Sandra Pawula May 21, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Yes, our health is really out of control and it does often come down to our addictive food patterns.

I wish I could find the original source for that idea, but it’s something I read long ago. Maybe that’s so, the tree wants to share her fruit, but look at all the beings that can be killed just growing trees using the modern approaches that we do. I don’t know if that’s what he was getting at or not!

Vilx- May 19, 2014 at 2:32 am

I won’t be using Soylent, because I enjoy the pleasures of eating too much. :) The taste, the smell, the slow-but-satisfying sensation of “filling up”, the guiltless moment of peace and relaxation amidst a busy day – all these are important to me, and would be lost with Soylent.

So for me, I’d rather choose the more difficult task of learning to “walk the tightrope”. I believe that it’s possible to learn this stuff and eventually it doesn’t become a chore anymore, it’s just something you do automatically – and then you get the best of both worlds.

That said however, I don’t have any problems with people who want to use Soylent. Go for it! Just… be careful that you don’t develop any deficiencies. That’s the only real risk that I see here. And, well, overworking, but that’s another story which is anyway best solved with other methods, not eating.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 8:58 am

I enjoy eating too. It’s one of the greatest things in life, IMHO. But I’m not sure whether I need to do it three times a day.

Best of luck to you. Trying to get all your nutrients from real food also presents a strong possibility of deficiencies.

Vilx- May 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm

I don’t think there’s that big of a risk, or we’d have a lot more people with some kind of deficiencies around. As long as you keep things varied, there should be very little to worry. On the contrary, I think the risk is greater with Soylent, if you start relying on it too much (or replace your meals with it entirely). Modern science is still pretty hazy on all the things our body needs to function properly, especially in the long term. It’d be pretty surprising if Soylent had gotten the formula right at the first try.

JJ May 19, 2014 at 7:31 pm

I have no proof of the following except for personal anecdotes and experiences. But here it is.

I think a lot of people do run around with deficiencies. Deficiencies do not have to manifest in obvious illnesses but in other small ways which may or may not accumulate into a major illness. My family has a very very thorough PCP who does a full bloodwork at our annual check up (more than what is usually done) and each of us have had our own deficiencies. Some minor, some not. Further, the lower bound for a deficiency is not the optimal amount. I haven’t had any deficiences show up on my bloodwork in awhile as my PCP has made sure of this. However, since I’ve started doing DIY Soylent, I’ve noticed that the general run-down tiredness that would dog parts of my day have passed. I feel much more energetic and alive.

claire May 20, 2014 at 4:39 am

hey thanks David. this discussion is so interesting. including the reply from JJ there – someone who is using it and has noticed improvements.

in reading the comments people are just speaking of it as an easy occasional meal replacement – not every meal every day – maybe even just one every now and then. that’d be a good combination potentially – i mean it’s true, every now and then we’re busy or make a really half-arsed attempt at a meal. this is just something in the cupboard to cover for that, so be it. i’m thinking of meals where maybe i’m caught at my desk and end up eating a couple of bananas because they’re in arm’s reach. that kind of thing.

also breakfasts. sometimes i make a good breakfast, but there are mornings where i make cereal and soy milk in a mind-fog while my coffee brews. how nutritional do you reckon a bowl of cereal is? probably not that much.

Alpa May 19, 2014 at 2:38 am

I am surprised you make no mention of the 1973 movie Soylent Green. I would credit Reinhardt with a sense of humor to have named his product Soylent. He is certainly having the last laugh.

Mark Kandborg May 19, 2014 at 2:48 am

“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.”

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:00 am

I did.

He actually took the name from the book upon which the movie is based. The name comes from the words soy and lentil. The movie added another ingredient ;)

DiscoveredJoys May 19, 2014 at 4:00 am

I’ve no problem with the idea in general and it seems much closer to the expectations of the future (from the last century) than atomic power too cheap to meter or flying cars. I am a little wary of the list of ingredients – growing children, pregnant women and the elderly might have different dietary requirements.

I do see how it might be useful to someone on a 5:2 fast diet (like me, it’s going fine, thanks for asking) where you eat only 500 or 600 calories a day, twice a week. It would make meal preparation easier and help break the psychological habits of eating. I can even see how a few tons of this stuff would benefit people in refugee camps or caught up in natural disasters.

But Soylent parties? Bring a Bag parties? No, not likely to catch on as a social experience.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:01 am

No, it’s probably not a party food, but that’s exactly what it’s not meant to be.

I’d be interested to hear about how your 5:2 diet goes for you. Keep my posted.

DiscoveredJoys May 19, 2014 at 9:45 am

I’ve been eating no more than 600 cals per day (for men), for two days each week (hence the 5:2) since the middle of January. I’ve lost a stone in weight (14 lbs or 6.3 kg) without feeling desperately hungry, merely peckish. I’ve settled on Mondays and Wednesdays for my ‘fast’ but the days can be flexed around social engagements.

For me the beauty of the diet is that you can console yourself with the thought that you can eat ‘normally’ tomorrow. You are not faced with a grim endless future of self denial. In the end everything is psychological.

claire May 20, 2014 at 4:41 am

interesting.

Derek May 19, 2014 at 4:36 am

Make your own from bulk ingredients: http://diy.soylent.me

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:04 am

I’m thinking of trying one of them, but doing a DIY defeats a lot of the appeal of Soylent. That all the ingredients have been measured and assembled and the formulation tested for taste and consistency. But we’ll see.

luis bustamante May 30, 2014 at 10:37 am

I’ve been trying my own recipe for two weeks and it’s been great, I also feel a lot more energy and awareness in general (but I had very bad eating habits, so this might not be the case for people eating properly), but the best part has been not having to worry about what my meals will be. I never enjoyed cooking so it was a big hassle for me and it was always easier to grab any kind of junk food than having to go to the market, wash the ingridients, cook them, take care of the dishes, etc. Obviously I’m overweight, and always felt bad about not eating properly and now I am. I’ve also lost 6 lbs in these two weeks so overall it seems like an improvement in my life. Right now I’m doing the shopping of the ingridients (they are 11 in my recipe, 3 of which are pills) once a month, measuring and combining them every weekend for the next week, and preparing the daily rations every night for the next day (which you would have to do with official soylent as well). Mixing the 7 rations on sundays takes me about half an hour, but my times are improving, and mixing the powder and oil with water every night takes me about 10 minutes. So, it’s not bad at all even though it’s not the offcial soylent. I’m in Mexico, and it’s not yet available here, but an added benefit of the diy recipes is that you can adjust the protein-carbs-fat ratios to fit with your nutritional requirements. I’m doing a lo-carb diet to help me loose weight, and when I’m done with that (8 months or so) I can adjust it to a normal diet. Perhaps soylent will be available here by then so I’ll be able to try it. In general, yes, I’m a happy guinea pig.

Deej May 19, 2014 at 5:07 am

I can’t say I feel very open minded about this. I can’t help feeling that, if it were widely accepted, we’d be moving toward a more Orwellian existence. I find the idea of people being encouraged to consume un-inspiring, un-interesting food for the reasons of convenience, self-dicipline, and time quite scary. Are we really so busy and troubled that the simple act of preparing something to eat is a now problem we need to engineer a solution for?

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:10 am

This is a major theme in some of the critical articles, that the introduction of this product is the first step in a joyless dystopian society.

We are already consuming un-inspiring, un-interesting food for reasons of convenience in great quantities. The problem is that these foods are incredibly unhealthy.

The act of preparing something wholesome to eat three times a day has been a huge problem for a large swath of society for decades. There may be people out there who manage to fulfill the requirements of their careers, families, creative pursuits and bodily health quite well using conventional food practices, but they definitely do not constitute the majority of people, at least where I live.

It’s just a product. Not everyone is going to find a reason to buy it, but I think there is a greater need for this than many critics realize.

BriBy May 19, 2014 at 3:30 pm

This is one of the best comments I’ve read on Soylent. Well said!

claire May 20, 2014 at 4:42 am

yes!

Jordan May 21, 2014 at 11:17 pm

It is hilarious, that with all the legitimate dystopian warning signs in our society today, the one that people generally get afraid of is Soylent.

I’m not sure what that says about our society. Perhaps we deserve the dystopian societies we create.

Dragline May 19, 2014 at 5:13 am

It excites me about as much as Ensure, which I remember giving to elderly people when I worked in a hospital food service decades ago.

Or a Segway. If you are not going to chew, who needs to actually walk either? Technology for technology’s sake.

I would read up on the history of liquid diets before spending much time with this, but hey, if it trips your trigger, go for it.

Then later you can yell like Charleton Heston: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Sp-VFBbjpE

Sorry, I couldn’t resist that. ;-)

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:14 am

Do you walk everywhere you go? Few do nowadays, and it’s not because we no longer walk at all, or necessarily because we’re too lazy to walk, but because many people find there is a lot to be gained by using newer technologies as well.

claire May 19, 2014 at 5:24 am

it’s the internet. who’s going to want to read this post, from someone who feels neither very strongly against nor for soylent. :)P i actually expect many people fall in the middle.

based on the little i know about it today (i.e. your blog-post about it), i don’t mind if people choose to consume soylent. i wouldn’t mind trying a glass of it myself but expect that i wouldn’t have it often. i guess because i don’t find food preparation is an inconvenience in my life. i don’t spend all that much time on it, but i eat well and healthily over 90% of the time. if it suits others to have more regularly and it’s healthy, then sure and fine.

i’m also vegan – i dunno if it’s vegan. i tend to like eating wholefoods, fresh fruit and veggies and beans and rice/grains/noodles, make up 90% of what i eat. lots of basic stir-fries, that kind of thing, ready from scratch in under 30mins and tasty. i like it this way. :) so i doubt that soylent would be an improvement to my life, but hey if it’s vegan and someone i knew had some – i’d try a glass of it.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:19 am

If the whole foods thing works for you I don’t see a reason to stop (although many people are excited about Soylent because it seems to present a possible response to agriculture’s domination of our land use and the resulting environmental problems.)

Soylent is vegan except for the fish oil. When you order it you can ask them to send it without, and then add your own flax oil or vegan source of Omega-3s.

claire May 20, 2014 at 5:06 am

i’ve read the responses with interest, and as someone who didn’t start with a strong opinion about this topic, i see this product could be useful. it depends what we’re comparing it to. for many meals that people consume, perhaps it just is healthier. as it doesn’t have to be the only thing people consume.

david, as to your comment above that it “seems to present a possible response to agriculture’s domination of our land use and resulting environmental problems”, not sure i understand; could you explain? …because isn’t soylent made of crops that are grown? rice, oats, canola, etc. and if so, how’s that not agriculture? (or were you meaning the difference in land-use of crops compared with raising animals, or something else?)

thanks.

ssp May 19, 2014 at 5:43 am

It neither excites nor worries me. I just can’t see myself wanting it as much as a steak, a salad, a cookie or a glass of cocoa.

I have a hard time understanding people who do not enjoy food. But if they enjoy these products, good for them. It seems unlikely that those are the people you’d socialise with over a meal to begin with, so there seems little to lose.

I’m curious about the outcome of your experiment as a self-admitted food liker.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:21 am

I’ll let you know, but I think it will be a long time before I can do my experiment, unless I try a DIY recipe. Availability to Canadian customers looks like early 2015.

michellepdaoust May 19, 2014 at 5:46 am

Your blog triggers some questions:

What are the ingredients? What is the source of the ingredients? (are they naturally grown or synthesized?) Are there additives such as preservatives, flavour enhancers? What are they?

Soylent’s coolness factor is more complicated. It feels very Star Trek The Next Generation: “Computer, a glass of food please.”
And out comes a worry-free (?) container of nutrition. Thumbs up (in my imagination at least).

But then again, there is the aspect of food as something joyless and suspect. Or again, of nutrition as an essentially utilitarian activity.
“Must eat. Drink Soylent.”

Several years ago, as he entered our house at the end of his school day, my youngest son, then about 15, lifted his nose to the air, sniffed deeply a couple of time and said: “UMMMMMMM…it smells good, it smells like…love.”
And I remember thinking: he has understood perfectly.
His wisdom made me smile.

I don’t want to go all touch/feely on you, but our relationship with food goes far beyond the biological need it serves and I am always bothered by what often feels like magical thinking or witch hunts where food is concerned: Kale as Neanderthal wonder-food/ Wheat as an insidious poison/ Meat consumption as morally reprehensible.

I am not opposed, per se, to any new food. Maybe it beats eating grilled insects, which seems to be what the future holds. But I think that something IS lost when the labour that goes into food preparation is eliminated. Food is love and life: we should put time and care into its preparation, and we should KNOW how to do these things. They are essential life skills.

I am far more worried about these skills disappearing than I am about finding some “ultimate” nutritional concoction.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:28 am

I did cover all this in the article. There are definitely other reasons we prepare food the way we normally do. The question is whether we need food to fulfill these other purposes every single meal. In fact, I think we could enjoy these other aspects of food more if we didn’t prepare all our meals in the traditional way.

Does this really seem like a witch hunt? It’s just the addition of a healthy convenience food to your list of options. I find this reaction so strange.

Christine May 19, 2014 at 5:49 am

When I first heard of Soylent I dismissed it as I really don’t like the current meal replacements / supplements such as Ensure, Fortisip, or those diet drinks and I have got to taste many over the years in my job as a nurse. Heck I don’t even like regular milkshakes and cant stand the taste of milk. But this article has me thinking again. I can see huge potential and the mix is probably a lot healthier than the current standard American diet. I would give it a try if I had the opportunity.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:29 am

I definitely changed my tune when I looked into why people would want this. My friend was attracted because she often didn’t like eating, but I seldom don’t like eating so it didn’t seem too useful to me.

ES May 19, 2014 at 6:00 am

“Soylent Green is people!” I really thought this was an Onion article, or perhaps it was left over from April Fool’s Day, until I realized it wasn’t.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:30 am

Every comment thread on a Soylent article contains a comment exactly like this, almost verbatim.

Rob May 20, 2014 at 12:04 pm

There seems to be a rhythm to the appearance of the “Soylent Green is people!” comment on every Soylent article. About every eighth comment or so, in my experience.

Rob Bartlett May 19, 2014 at 6:07 am

I’m like your friend; I eat mostly to get rid of hunger. Unless there is cheesecake… Eating just isn’t generally a source of pleasure for me, and is often actually unpleasant. A nutrient-rich, flavor-neutral, meal replacement beverage sounds great to me…if the texture doesn’t disgust me.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:32 am

Reactions to taste and texture are mixed, but a lot of people really like it.

Tara May 19, 2014 at 1:12 pm

This is my feeling as well – eating is mostly a chore, and not very interesting to me. I would love to have a product that covered my nutritional needs so I could just enjoy a few items that I eat for pleasure.

CD May 19, 2014 at 7:34 am

I’m in the “We don’t know enough about nutrition to possibly create something that is safe, therefore it’s not,” camp.

For example, I’m currently reading “Big Fat Surprise” which lays out the history of saturated fat, and is making a convincing case that saturated fat is not bad for you, or your heart, at all.

But assuming we could ever get to a complete understanding of the best nutritional mix for humans, I don’t have anything against the concept of Soylent.

In fact, I had a friend who was morbidly obese who went on a doctor-supervised liquid-only diet, like this. She said it was the best thing ever, because for her, eating 100% the same thing was freeing. It’s the closest you can get to “quitting” food, if you have a food addiction. Back then, it could only be done on-site in a doctor-supervised facility, so people were at a loss when it ended and they had to go back to regular food.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:41 am

I understand that we don’t know everything about nutrition, but does that uncertainty not also make the completedness of our current diets questionable?

If you live on a well-accounted whole-foods-based diet and you feel great and the cost or time required isn’t too much, then you’re probably better off sticking with that until we know more. But that’s not how most people eat.

Your friend’s experience is an example of what I find so intriguing. It’s not just what we eat that affects our health, it’s our relationship to food. A diet like Soylent would give us a totally different angle in our relationship with food, and how it affects our health and our lives.

Mauricio Kreitmayr May 19, 2014 at 7:38 am

I think stop taking pleasure of food is one of the outstanding human subjects. It’s only a matter of time.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:43 am

I doubt we will ever stop taking pleasure in food. Many critics see this as an actual threat. It’s like in the movie Demolition Man, how people had stopped having sex by the year 2032, because it’s ‘gross’ and inefficient. Just ridiculous — never going to happen. What Soylent gives people is an option.

claire May 20, 2014 at 5:14 am

:)

Andy S May 19, 2014 at 7:56 am

The idea interests me a lot. I’ve been following Soylent for over a year when it first received the initial funding to get it started. I live in Australia so I’m not able to try it for myself but it’s been interesting to watch it progress.

I think it’s a pretty cool idea. Why should you have to worry about what you need to eat every day? Most of us probably don’t get everything “we need” each day anyway, so it’s probably a better diet than normal. It does however raise the question of “what’s missing”? As others have mentioned, it’s hard to know what things you’re not getting from just eating it exclusively.

I’d try it for a while if it was available here, and then eat meals with friends when I’m out.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:48 am

Most of us probably don’t get everything “we need” each day anyway

This is a major point. The critics often say, “Well, if you’re so lazy you can’t eat properly then I guess this would be useful to you.” But the truth is the vast majority of people are not getting proper quantities of known nutrients, and they’re not all lazy scumbags. They’re normal people with normal jobs and families. And a large proportion of people are getting too many calories altogether, because of the inseparability of eating for sustenance and eating for pleasure. Soylent, even if it is missing something, is going to be a significant improvement in the diets of most people.

Jonica May 19, 2014 at 8:04 am

In response to this: But from what I’ve been seeing, non-supporters generally aren’t uninterested, they’re irate.

I propose that you’re witnessing something more like this: (How internet fighting works) http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2939#comic

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:50 am

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!

purenoumena May 19, 2014 at 8:46 am

I remember seeing stuff about this on reddit, so I was very interested when you had his as your topic for the day. I read through this article and some of the linked articles to the Soylent site and something just occurred to me: Everyone is so incredibly up in arms about Soylent – a mixture of ingredients intended to replace natural food – and yet we’ve completely normalized another formulaic replacement: one for breastmilk? I understand that there are special needs for formula, but that replacement blows my mind even more than the Soylent debate. In that instance we’ve taken something that’s *totally* free and completely normalized it’s powder replacement. Nobody even flinches.

purenoumena May 19, 2014 at 8:46 am

AUGH! *its. ::headdesk::

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:55 am

There has definitely been a formula/breastmilk debate for a looooong time, and it’s quite heated for some people. It’s really a different debate though.

Erik May 19, 2014 at 8:51 am

Not interested.
1. Very high in carbohydrates and the carbs appear to be largely grain based. While our bodies use carbohydrates at the cellular level, we do not need to consume many in order to fuel our body properly. Excessive carbs are the primary driver of fat storage (i.e. weight gain) in most people.
2. Contains canola oil and soy products, both of which are highly genetically modified.
3. Seems pricey per meal. Typical breakfast for my entire family (4) is probably $5, not counting time to prepare (eggs, avocado, fruit).

A primal/paleo (high fat/high protein/low carb) diet is likely optimal for most people.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 10:01 am

Yeah, definitely not for everybody. I understand the paleo crowd would not be into it. The macronutrient split is 50-30-20, carb-fat-protein. There is talk of different formulations in the future for low-carb, or high-protein, and others.

The cost is about $3 per meal, which is high for some, low for others. They are working on reducing the cost. It will certainly go down as they scale up operations.

I am baffled as to how you can feel four people eggs, avocadoes and fruit on $1.25 per person. Can you break that down for us?

Erik May 19, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Just a ballpark figure, but I estimated based on the following (family is me, wife, 11 year old, and 1 year old):
9 eggs ~ $2, ($3.XX for 18 large)
1 large avocado (split 4 ways) ~ $1
1/3 of a banana = ??? ($1.36 for 3 lbs)
one serving of apple sauce = ??? ($3 container)
handful of random berries = ??? ($5-7 per container; blueberries, black berries, or strawberries).

Each large person gets 3 eggs, a portion of avocado, and some berries. Baby gets an avocado, banana, applesauce mixture (in addition to being breastfed). We go through eggs and avocados quickly, but a container of berries will last a while, as do the jugs of applesauce and bunch of bananas.

Prices in USD in Texas. Your mileage (kilometer-age?) may vary. :D

Deb May 19, 2014 at 9:29 am

Hmmm….doesn’t really appeal to me but I can see it’s usefulness while traveling, on the go, no time to prepare food, etc. What about fiber? What is the consistency of this drink?

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 10:07 am

It contains 9g of dietary fiber per serving.

Lizzie Widdicombe, from TNY: “People tend to find the taste of Soylent to be familiar: the predominant sensation is one of doughiness. The liquid is smooth but grainy in your mouth, and it has a yeasty, comforting blandness about it. I’ve heard tasters compare it to Cream of Wheat, and “my grandpa’s Metamucil.” I slurped a bit, and had the not unpleasant sensation that I was taking sips from a bowl of watered-down pancake batter. Not bad. “

Marlis Sawicki May 19, 2014 at 9:37 am

I would be curious to know what Chinese Medicine says about it. Specifically about the Qi of food., the life force energy of food?

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 10:07 am

That I can’t comment on, but I’m sure someone will as more people try it.

Pete May 19, 2014 at 9:44 am

As long as science is unable to determine the proper balance of macronutrients in our diets, I would stay away from anyone who advertises balanced nutrition in a glass.

Also, there’s a certain “gut feeling” factor about not consuming chemicals. It’s like cigarette smoking fifty years ago, before science finally caught it. You couldn’t make a logical argument against smoking in 1960.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 10:11 am

I understand wanting to steer clear until the science is irrefutable. But the line between “gut feelings” and dogma is not always clear. Many people have a gut feeling that blacks and whites should not marry, for example. I think we can do better.

Pete May 19, 2014 at 10:40 am

We can’t do any better at this point. But there are always people willing to participate in longitudinal studies while others stand aside and watch. I guess we’ll know in 50 years. I’m simply not an early adopter when it comes to chemicals and my body.

And health implications aside, I’d rather eat whole foods than drink a neutral-tasting-but-not-as bad-as-I-expected glass of lab goo.

Brian May 19, 2014 at 6:25 pm

The fear of chemicals thing bothers me. Everything is chemicals unless it’s an extreme state of mater.

I can understand and share the fear of eating untested, new, synthetic chemicals which are not typically found in biology. However that doesn’t seem to be what they are doing with this product.

Nature (your body included) also makes some terrifying chemicals with horrible effects so it’s not like all natural will guarantee safety.

All said though I’ll stick with peanut butter sandwich for less than tasty fuel.

Evelyn May 19, 2014 at 10:09 am

Hacker School Soylent is make with ingredients you can buy at the grocery store, or online.
http://www.cookingfor20.com/2013/06/18/hacker-school-soylent-recipe/

I made this for a few months, and found it to be a good one-meal-a-day replacement, and significantly better than the breakfast I was eating. I did it because my roommate wanted to try it, and would recommend it.

I used egg protein, instead of whey powder or soy powder.

These days, I’m not eating it, but would go back to it if I had schedule or budget pressure

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 10:13 am

I’ve been looking at a ton of recipes here: diy.soylent.me

Did you notice any surprising problems or benefits?

Evelyn May 19, 2014 at 11:33 am

I prepared the mixture in bulk for about 2 weeks worth, so there was a big time saving there.

I liked that the HS recipe was all ordinary food (oat flour, egg protein powder, cocoa powder, lecithin). I also liked that I could change the flavor with spices. I would add cinnamon or garam marsala, or vanilla, depending on my mood.

I’d make it the night before, which fully hydrated the lecithin and oat flour, and gave it a very smooth and creamy flavor.

The cost was quite inexpensive, at less than $3/meal.

I’d not hesitate to do it again. I mostly stopped because I’m not eating a lot of carbs right now.

Aaron May 19, 2014 at 10:14 am

I’m currently bulking up and so I eat the same exact thing for lunch every day. Two handfuls of spinach, 1/2 pound chicken thighs, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a couple cups of other veggies, and a quarter cup of almonds. Often it’s eaten in a rush at my desk. I can’t say that I miss eating something else for lunch. I don’t have to think about it. I batch cook the chicken thighs and throw them together with the rest of the stuff. It’s very good nutritionally and it gets the job done.

However, I agree. I wouldn’t want to eat 100% of my meals like this. Dinner feels like a more social meal to me and I crave variance. But for something I value less like lunch, this does just fine.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 10:21 am

Imagine the same arrangement, but no cooking or grocery shopping, and probably cheaper.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 10:20 am

Well everyone, I think we might be having the most polite and rational internet discussion ever on this topic. Thank you for being civil!

A gentle detractor May 19, 2014 at 12:42 pm

David, that was asking for it!

Actually this occured to me when reading your replies to the comments, and I didn’t say it because it seemed a bit indelicate. It still does, but here I go :

You seem to be over-selling this stuff here! I appreciate your so patiently explaining our doubts on mindfulness, for example : but this is just some fellow trying his hand at a new product. If it’s good, the market offers him enough incentive. If it isn’t, we’ll forget it, and him.

Nice of you to let us know about it, but why push it so much?

No offence meant. Just my feedback about my favorite blog (one of my exactly two favorite blogs, actually).

Michael Eisbrener May 19, 2014 at 10:51 am

This is not something I would try. I have tried many products over the years and discovered my body does not like soy, canola [rapeseed] or rice. I once ate nothing but super blue green algae for a couple months. Boring but no other downside. I discovered my intolerance to soy early on a tofu diet. Soy and me produce a very unhappy audience rather quickly. In looking over the ingredient label it is filled with chemical vitamin names. I do not see any essential proteins either. There is a reason they are essential. You cannot live a long healthy life without them. I like to eat, animal protein and a delicious salad of red beets, red cabbage, carrots and broccoli with olive oil and a wine vinegar. If you don’t like cooking, hire a cook/maid/housekeeper.

aletheia33 May 19, 2014 at 1:03 pm

same here, sans the hired help, which is beyond reach for most people–do you not know that, or do you just not consider them people? i would be happy to follow your advice if you would send me the money to pay for chef services. i will now try your salad… it sounds great.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Despite the name, Soylent is not soy-based. It contains soy lecithin, which is derived from soy but apparently doesn’t present a problem for people with soy allergies.

Can you give an example of the essential proteins that are not found in Soylent?

Ruben May 19, 2014 at 11:31 am

Soylent seems like yet another in a long line of good intentions.

I think the important issue is a variant of the “because nature…” arguments. Here goes:

Here on Raptitude, you sometimes speak about compassion and empathy. I don’t know if you have a strong distinction between the two, but they both involve trying to feel what another is feeling, or understand the circumstances other find themselves in. You have written about the practice of developing empathy.

I think it is likely that empathy or compassion are not served by putting layers between ourselves and the subject. So, if we want to increase the empathy we feel for someone, it helps if we see them, hear their story from their own lips, hear some of their backstory–as opposed to just hearing about them narrated dispassionately in some two-column-inch news story.

So, I think the Theory of Change is: The more closely we can identify with someone–walk a mile in their shoes–the more we will be able to understand their circumstance and feel empathy or compassion for them, and the more likely we will be to behave with compassion–to not mock or ridicule, and to support social solutions to their situation (like housing for the homeless).

And I think the same mechanism is at play with the “natural world”. I put it in quotes to draw attention to the fact we treat “nature” as outside ourselves. That is the problem I am addressing.

So, over the millennia of human civilization, we have built layers of intermediation between us and nature. We farmed to temper the boom and bust cycles of foraged foods. We raised animals to temper the difficulty of hunting game. We built homes to shelter us from the elements.

And we have specialized–we have butchers to kill animals for us, and farmers to raise plants, and fishers to work the oceans. We have loggers to fell trees and millers to cut lumber and carpenters to build houses. We have shepherds and shearers and spinners and dyers and weavers and tailors.

We increasingly have jobs in which even the workers cannot recognize what they are making. We have passed event the level of abstraction of the farmer and rancher supplying the chef who cooks us food. Now we have industrial food that is made in cement mixers and squirted into moulds, baked in ovens the size of gymnasiums and automatically sealed and boxed.

We have children who literally cannot understand the connection between a chicken and their McNuggets.

So, how are we supposed to have empathy? How could we possibly be concerned for the living world, from with ALL of our sustenance comes–every drop of water, every scrap of food, every molecule of oxygen comes from natural systems. How can we bring ourselves to care for this wonder when we have built so many layers upon layers of abstraction between ourselves and nature?

We are now in the situation that what we yearn for is not much closer to an unmediated experience. We visited a friend in Sweden and she proudly showed us “wilderness”. It was entirely dead–barren. Sure, there were a lot of trees and shrubs, but not a bird, not a squirrel, not a bear, not a deer. They have sterilized their forest but for a couple of woody species, but think it is wild. Their baselines have shifted so far they cannot even see the start line.

And so I think Soylent is just another layer of abstraction between us and reality. It is just another layer of factory that shrouds our connections and eliminates the possibility of caring.

I mean that quite deliberately–abstraction eliminates the possibility of caring. You hear it all around us–we are exhorted to care about the family farm, to return to that better and simpler time. But what about the abundance that was there before the family farm? What about the ducks and geese and pigeons we ate before the farm? What about the bulbs and berries and wild rice we ate before the family farm? What about the deer? What about the furs that kept us warm.

Now–I am actually very far from a neoprimitivist, personally I yearn for the family farm. But I am just trying to point out how we cannot even begin to see how far we are from our roots–just as we so easily dehumanize the homeless, or drug addicts, or people of other races, or enemy combatants or….

The notion that you might have a “better use” for your time than feeding yourself shows one of the greatest abstractions we have created. Every other organism on the planet is quite content to spend its life sustaining itself–and quite aware that failure in that means death.

I think that when faced with great complexity, we should simplify, not add another layer of complexity. Life is too busy? Pursue contentment, not consumption.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Abstraction is a problem for modern humans in many ways, I agree. But what I have seen among proponents of Soylent is a group of people looking closer at what our food is, and how we get it, and at whether the way we currently do things makes sense. I see more critical thinking and less abstraction than among those who think the answer to our dysfunctional relationship with food lies at Whole Foods. I don’t believe we’re unable to see our roots, we’re just mostly not interested, and I don’t think Soylent is going to change that much.

The status quo in agriculture is anything but close to nature. It may be true that we’d all be better off living on picturesque small farms without corporate jobs, pulling our own potatoes out of the ground, but this is not even close to possible given where we are right now. A convenience food that isn’t unhealthy or environmentally catastrophic is going to make a much bigger dent in society’s interest in fast food and frozen burritos than it will in gardening.

The notion that you might have a “better use” for your time than feeding yourself shows one of the greatest abstractions we have created.

This is a point people commonly insinuate: that anyone seeking convenience or more free time must be lazy or misguided or caught up in quick fixes that cause bigger problems. If you have ever traveled anywhere by bike, car, plane, or bus, does that mean you’re too lazy, entitled or out of touch with your roots to walk? Or does it only mean that it no longer makes sense to confine yourself to the most traditional way of moving your body? Why is grocery shopping or chopping celery a more noble use of one’s time than, say reading or writing or going to the park?

Amanda T May 19, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Wow thanks for this great thought-provoking comments. Well said! :) Both unique perspectives that really get me thinking.

George May 19, 2014 at 11:39 am

I heard about this before, and I love the idea (even though it’s a little reminiscent of that scene in “The Matrix”), but the price is still unreasonable–especially if they want to use it to help alleviate world hunger. I earn about half of what’s considered a “living wage” here in the USA, and the price for Soylent exceeds my food budget by a large margin–otherwise, I’d try it. I imagine the price issue is much worse for the poorest & hungriest parts of the world.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm

The price will certainly go down as they scale up operations, but at $9 per day it is already well below the average American food budget. Reducing price is a big concern to them, and as you say, they will have to if they hope to make it viable for the poorest parts of the world.

mw May 19, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Hm. I lost a great deal of weight a few years back by going Paleo, so I’m one of those you mentioned who prefers ‘real food’ — Soylent has mostly elicited an eye-rolling dismissal from me. I’m willing to downgrade that to a “meh” because, as I well know, obesity is a symptom, not a disease, and there are as many ways to fix an unhealthy relationship with food as there are to *have* an unhealthy relationship with food.

Having said that, what I think about Soylent is: the old, pre-Paleo me would have LOVED the idea of this stuff. That guy hated cooking and hated cleaning up afterward. He resented the time it took out of what little free time he had. He had a split-up view of the world, trying to balance his life against his tedious obligations in a kind of zero-sum game.

Nowadays I have a more inclusive view that embraces cooking and eating as being part of the practice of being human — just as much so as breathing and sleeping and everything else. (Attentively nourishing your own life, as practices go, has a certain kindness to it that tends to color the rest of your experience as well.) For me, Soylent would only be a temptation back to bad old habits, both physical and mental.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 12:39 pm

If you’ve found something that serves you in all those categories, then stick with it. You make an interesting point about habits. For some, Soylent would allow them to sidestep bad habits, like overeating at every meal. But it could also end up serving a person’s bad habits too. If you’re the type who has to be nagged to sit down with others to eat (for example) then it might make it even easier to skirt family obligations.

Nell May 19, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Over the last 15 years I have watched my mother’s diet dwindle from normal to prescribed nutritional drinks, not because she’s anorexic or faddy but because her digestive system has gradually stopped working. At some point she may have to go onto something called total overnight feed where she is fed by machine every night straight into her bloodstream.

If you want to test out soylent go for it, but a) there are medically approved FDA versions already on the market which may be safer and b) don’t underestimate the social part of food. I know that my mother regularly ends up in tears when confronted with social occasions because the thought of not being able to eat what everyone else takes for granted is so depressing.

If food was so easy to replace with a carton I think we would, but it’s not the food it’s everything that goes with it from answering a friend who says what did you have to eat last night to thinking about what you fancy for breakfast, to just realising you fancy something different for lunch. For 10 years she’s had the sAme three tolerable flavours to chose from… Can you really imagine just how mind numbingly boring that gets, or how depressing.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Like I said, I value the social aspect of eating very much. But I don’t get a lot of social value out of cooking a stir-fry for myself :)

Not being able to eat solid food at all is something else entirely, and would be very difficult for a lot of reasons. The big appeal for Soylent users is the freedom, but what you are describing is a total lack of freedom.

aletheia33 May 19, 2014 at 12:57 pm

i cannot digest either legumes or soy (which is a type of legume, correct?). i am not alone. many people have trouble digesting soy products. soy is one of the most highly processed, manufactured foods around but the results are not in yet on whether it is in fact good for humans to eat a lot of. so beware… years of ingesting soy may not result in ideal health. if you poke around on the internet you can find material challenging to conventional wisdom that soy is great for you and is the great food of the future. it well may be. i hope i won’t live to see the day when all humanity depends on soy for its food because “there is no alternative.”
Every new diet, manufactured food, food craze (vegan and gluten free are the current ones, in the 1970s it was vegetarianism and macrobiotic) begins with initial users raving about how much better they feel, how much better their energy is, on the new regime. there is an almost eerie sameness to the sound of these excitements. i now think that the renewed energy and well-being comes from the FEELING that one is in some way seizing more agency and FEELINGS of control, discipline, and optimism in the act of choosing one’s food; the way the act of attending closely to one’s diet FEELS good; and the rewarding FEELINGS you get when you see yourself losing weight. emotions can be quite powerful and the beginning of any new endeavor can bring on a great high, literally boosting one’s adrenaline and other hormones that feel good and exciting–and can be quite energizing–for awhile. unfortunately, in this state one is often not as grounded as is necessary to plod along with healthy regime day after repetitive day, year after year, decade after decade.
As Americans i do believe we are addicted in a sense to the dream of new, exciting, adventurous-feeling endeavors, not just material things, and very vulnerable to marketing that appeals to this urge in us. Like celebrities who have regular weddings, we have a need for regular new excitements that give us the feeling we’ve finally managed to turn ourself into the slender, attractive, balanced, entertaining, clean, perfect people we see constantly on in our media and can hardly help longing to be. the start of a new food regime, with all the heightened marketing cheerleading that we buy into along with the new idea, is a perfect example of consumer slavery. there is ALWAYS something to buy, if only just the latest bestselling diet book.
i have some experience with how such books get created and marketed and i now know that they are far more about marketing than they are based on reliably determined fact. having an M.D. is a great asset for getting into this business, and that is what it is. making the claim that one’s new diet or health maintenance system works superbly for anyone and/or that it can improve a whole range of health problems that everyone worries about are standard, with little or no backup as to factuality.
we live in a culture in which most people are now overworked or unemployed, often exhausted and/or completely demoralized. in this condition, we are unfortunately even more susceptible targets for the legions of sophisticated predators who have mastered the most effective techniques take advantage of our still-cherished dreams to sell us phony goods. the process by which we get sucked into the latest gimmick for perfect health is no different in essence from the process that pulls poor, desperate people into right-wing, fundamentalist religious operations that take full advantage their gullibility and their need for something, anything, to help them feel safe in a very insecure time.
as the doctor and others have commented, there is a great deal that we do not yet understand about food and how it affects humans’ health. how one deals with that fact and tries to eat so as to maintain good health can be a difficult and complex individual matter in our Western universe of endless choices. over years of experimentation and effort, the only rule i have been able to find reliable is that no two bodies are alike, that highly processed foods have no proven benefits, and that any plan or food/health product that purports to be great for everyone and for everything that can ail them should be regarded with a very large grain of salt.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 1:21 pm

We will see in time whether the claims being made by early adopters are legitimate and sustainable, or just enthusiasm gone overboard.

I have to say, your post is quite cynical. Not everything is a scam. From the start the Soylent project has been, by the looks of it, a transparent, earnest attempt to find a sustainable replacement for food. It did not start as a business endeavor, and they’re not claiming they’ve invented something miraculous. All they are trying to do is remove all the unnecessary parts of food. Obviously this is possible, we just don’t all agree about what’s not necessary.

Copper May 19, 2014 at 12:58 pm

You asked what disturbed us about about this “food”.

It bothers me on two levels. The first is the immediate lack of social connections. Culture is built around food. For culture to be built around food it must be different than the next culture’s method of growing, harvesting, preparing. So this speaks to identity. I would make a wild guess that most internet commentators are reacting in the way they are as it says that we are a bland, one size fits all culture. On a gut level that is the statement and that is scary.

The second piece that bothers me about this is the role that food plays in our life. Right now food is an escape from the cog-in-the-machine that has become modern work life. 24/7 always on a tether to the boss to deal with a server going down or an issue with our office in a time zone 8 hours different. Saying that you need to eat and leave the office is one of those very few excuses that allows you the smallest of small mental breaks from being part of the industrial machine. I can imagine a line worker in China as well as a tech drone in the US being offered this by their company so they can stay at their station and continue working.

The implications of what it says about our society is enormous and scary to me, the implication that we’re just needing a bit more electricity to charge our battery before we go back to work. I can imagine McDonalds offering this to their workers as a raise so they can feed their children when not at work and then they can claim that their employees are being paid well enough to be off of welfare.

And yes, I’m speaking of uses that are not the initial “imagined” uses but instead the more realistic implication of what an industrial system will do to stay afloat especially given something that is “complete” nutrition.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 1:42 pm

I guess I am the only one that doesn’t always eat with other people. Replacing my breakfast and lunch with something non-traditional wouldn’t have any effect on my social life.

The dystopian problems you cite are not likely to be problems caused or enabled by a new food product. Why would the introduction of Soylent give labor forces less bargaining power? If you aren’t guaranteed a lunch break, that is either a problem with public policy, or with what level of exploitation you are willing to accept from your employer.

There will be “network effects” if it does become a big thing, but I don’t know why people jump to dystopian scenarios. What Soylent almost certainly means, if it does catch on, is that McDonalds will become a much less powerful entity.

George May 20, 2014 at 6:43 am

I can understand. I think people jump to dystopian thoughts because, historically, this is exactly how things have worked surely? Technology as enabler.

A new invention (clocks; monitoring tech) or idea or worldview (Taylorism) increases the potential efficiency of the workers for the benefit of the owners if enforced and, step by step, the approach becomes the new norm – a requirement to be “competitive” for the business, with acceptance required by the employee to get and remain hired.

Public policy will tend to support the economic and corporate interests; the level of exploitation you are willing to accept from an employer depends on how much you like having a job, because every other company is in this too.

Other workers and companies are sucking at Soylent teats as they work away, it’s been accepted as better for you than normal eating anyway, it’s provided free by the company, so you can’t escape…

But having said that, I think it’s a fascinating product and potentially so many advantages to its existence, besides the future battery-farming-environment for all workers. :-)

George May 20, 2014 at 6:56 am

(I should probably call myself “George2”, since I’m not the same George as the one further up the comment list!)

George2 May 20, 2014 at 9:10 am

Related: Just came across this somewhat extreme but still interesting take on Soylent and Lifehacking in Counterpunch:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/05/19/solyent-neoliberalism-and-the-politics-of-life-hacking/

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 12:53 pm

If policy allows this level of exploitation, it will happen regardless of the means. If Soylent would enable this, then there is already nothing stopping them from doing this already with other nutritive drinks on the market. They haven’t because we don’t quite live in that draconian a society.

George2 May 20, 2014 at 2:57 pm

“Other nutritional drinks… they haven’t because we don’t quite live in that draconian a society.”

Although I’d say that we almost do. It depends how minimum-wage you are.

I think the difference (that people see) is that this product being marketed as something other than a nutritional drink: it’s a food replacement. If that became a “norm”, then it could lead to developments in that direction in the workplace, etc. (After all, one of its selling points is that it would be cheaper to feed poor families with this rather than real food. Extend that.)

I don’t personally think it’s particularly likely, mind – it would take quite a shift – I just see why people see it in those terms, particularly in these distrusting NSA-etc times, and I’m surprised at your surprise, or that you dismiss it so easily.

Calling it “Soylent” only encourages this type of thinking, of course! :-)

Ruben May 19, 2014 at 12:59 pm

“Why is grocery shopping or chopping celery a more noble use of one’s time than, say reading or writing or going to the park?”

I think this is an excellent logical point–but application on the ground shows the weakness of logic, not of cooking. :-)

Sure, traveling by plane isn’t bad–until you have built a culture in which parents will fly across the continent because their adult child has the sniffles and your indiscriminate use of fossil fuels is creating climate chaos.

We are engaging in these behaviours without a moral compass, guided mostly by fluffy ideas of the “free market”–If changing the climate was a problem, then the market would price that in, and flying would be prohibitively expensive. We have not built a moral framework to guide our behaviour–and we can see the results flooding in…

The logical argument falls apart, as does any appeal to the extreme. Reading is great. I am going to buy prepackaged food so I can do more reading. I am going to stop cleaning my house so I can do more reading. I am going to stop showering and going to work so I can do more reading. I am going to stop seeing my friends so I can do more reading…

Balance is the thing. Reading is wonderful, and is more wonderful when you miss it a little, when you have had to look forward to it a little. Cooking and eating can connect you to your natureshed and give you a chance to miss other things.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I do believe there are essential truths about being human. I think those essential truths are hard to see, and that we shouldn’t automatically trust people when they tell us what those truths are. I think we need to engage with ourselves and our world as we try to find the shape of those truths.

So, humans see with visible light. If you print a book with ultraviolet ink, humans won’t be able to read it without special aids.

Humans mostly have two hands and ten fingers, of a pretty average size. If you design a giant coffee cup, humans won’t be able to hold it.

These are essential truths of humanity. They are easier to find the edges of because they are physical, and we have studied that pretty thoroughly. When we ignore these truths we do damage.

We are starting to get the shape of some of our essential cognitive truths, thanks to behavioural and evolutionary psychology. So, we are starting to understand how and why we respond in certain ways. You know the video of the gorilla walking through the basketball game? Our perception of that situation is an essential truth of being human. When we ignore that we do damage.

So, I am interested in trying to find the rough outlines of other truths. Is there a minimum amount of contact we need with nature in order to be connected enough to not destroy our life support systems? I think yes. I don’t know how much contact we need, but it looks to me like the reality on the ground is that we are too disconnected and that is causing damage.

Is there a minimum amount of self-sufficiency we need in order to be understand what it means to be human? I think yes. Ever other creature on the planet cleans its own nest. When we hire maids, I think we do damage. Every other creature procures and prepares its own food. When we stop cooking we do damage.

So, in the rich world, we have millions and millions of people who don’t know how to kill an animal, grow a plant, pound a nail or sew clothing. I think that does damage.

I don’t know where the line is, and I don’t know how big the damage is, but I think it is there, and I think we should try to find its edges.

I like MW’s comment above regarding the practice of being human. I was thinking about monastic life yesterday–a common feature is the participants are deeply involved in their own provender. They farm, they make cheese and beer. They scrub the floors and chop the potatoes.

I think in order to be an enlightened human, first you must be a human.

Ruben May 19, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Oops. I just saw the reply button over here on the side. I thought you were just replying as you approved comments–sorry for screwing up the threading.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 1:42 pm

That’s actually okay, if we keep replying back and forth the comments get all bunched up.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 1:52 pm

It sounds like you are worried about human thoughtlessness in general, which makes sense I guess. I don’t think a distrust of new technologies or food options under a pretense of naturalness or returning to our roots is necessarily a more enlightened way to address our many cultural and environmental problems with food. We certainly don’t think enough about our food and where we get it from and what we really need from it, and the discussion around Soylent seems to be getting people to do that.

Ruben May 19, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Another conversation brought me back to this one. I was contemplating the writer Wendell Berry, who is an old farmer and a wonderful writer and thinker.

Again, I think MW above was very insightful:

“the old, pre-Paleo me would have LOVED the idea of this stuff. That guy hated cooking and hated cleaning up afterward. He resented the time it took out of what little free time he had. He had a split-up view of the world, trying to balance his life against his tedious obligations in a kind of zero-sum game.

Nowadays I have a more inclusive view that embraces cooking and eating as being part of the practice of being human — just as much so as breathing and sleeping and everything else. (Attentively nourishing your own life, as practices go, has a certain kindness to it that tends to color the rest of your experience as well.) For me, Soylent would only be a temptation back to bad old habits, both physical and mental.”

So sure, you want to ride a bicycle, or read a book or drink Soylent? Do it. But only give up one thing. Give up cooking, fine. Give up cleaning, fine. Give up laundry, fine. Give up anything–use any labour-saving device, hire any service, but I am going to suggest we start with the limit of only for one thing. For every other necessary part of life, you must be engaged. You must stay connected to the labour, the discomfort, the toil, the boredom.

I don’t think we can have a meaningful spiritual life without being connected to our physical life.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 1:55 pm

I have to say, Ruben, this sounds very wishy washy to me. I am all for mindfulness and doing one thing at a time. Soylent doesn’t preclude anyone from valuing that.

Ruben Anderson May 19, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Well, I think I am just talking about the precautionary principle here. Soylent is the slippery slope.

Can we agree that connection and understanding helps us be compassionate, and to take care of others?

Then can we agree that connection helps us take care of nature, and our place in the ecosphere?

Then things that intermediate between us potentially reduce our connection to others, and to nature.

And so we need to be cautious about things that create distance between us and that which we love, like other people and this beautiful planet.

And I think Soylent creates distance between us and the natural systems that nourish us, and that is a harm we should be careful of.

I can’t prove it, or measure it, but that is what I believe.

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 12:50 pm

I see what you’re saying. I agree that we have to be aware of the distance between our choices and their effects on the world and nature. We do suffer from that distance. I guess I believe that the status quo in food is worse in that respect.

aletheia33 May 19, 2014 at 1:13 pm

thank you.

Gol May 19, 2014 at 1:35 pm

I am totally game for this. While I enjoy eating , however my enjoyment of food can be marred by the fact that I am fat which causes a little bit of resentment towards certain food. I like the solution provided by solvent for non- social and non- enjoyment purposes of food. I figure , I would drink this to fill my belly and not use it when I am in mood to enjoy real food.
I like that this would give me opportunities to pick when I like to eat food for pleasure and when I like to eat just to vanquish my hunger. This would Improve my enjoyment of food even more since pleasure would be primary concern for eating.
Only thing that scares me is health effects if any. I wouldn’t
want to end up with a disorder , bald head or any life impairing diseases.

Also if they make this cheap , this would play a great role in reducing world hunger. A possibility I am excited to think about.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Sometimes hunger-vanquishment is the only reason for certain meals, so it makes sense to me on this level alone. But I do also want to know how making regular use of it would affect my eating impulses and cravings.

maximyou.com May 19, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Re hunger, cravings, etc – I had a breakthrough when I gave new meaning to hunger. I used to think hunger was a sign of imminent death. Now I see hunger as an invitation to decide how I want to reward myself – by eating, or by NOT eating.

It depends on when I ate last, and on what my goals are – lose weight, maintain weight, gain weight, muscle, endurance, whatever.

Seeing both eating and not eating as rewards has allowed me to lose 30 lbs without a difficult moment.

Trisha May 19, 2014 at 2:02 pm

I am excited about this product. I have been trying to find something for lunchtime. I don’t have a lot of money to spend on eating out for lunch or even making sandwiches, since most of the time those ingredients are for my offspring’s lunch. I stopped eating lunch a while back and have supplemented with (sugary/salty) granola bars. I drink a Carnation Instant Breakfast when I wake up and was drinking them at lunch too, but the cost of the milk and the thought of two (unsatisfying) drinks a day made that impossible for me. I would be getting all of the nutrition that I need! The price and the ingredients are very intriguing to me. And the name is just genius! If I ever go this route, I will share my experiences.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Do you find the carnation drink keeps you from getting hungry until the next meal? People say Soylent keeps you full for quite a while, which is yet another purpose of food — to keep hunger away not just now but for a while.

Bruno May 19, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I was a bit skeptical at first, but this “open source food crafting” system (D.I.Y) is amazing!

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Yeah I like the open source philosophy behind it. It makes the whole project more trustworthy in my eyes.

tallgirl1204 May 19, 2014 at 2:49 pm

“The option of a simple, balanced, culinarily uninteresting staple — that isn’t relied on as a source of entertainment, or an emotional refuge.”

I think this could also be called “beans and rice.” In much of the world, one eats what is available, or as my son says “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” Food choices, and the problems that come with them, are a first world problem indeed.

And yet– I find myself intrigued by your experiment. Let us know how it goes! My first thought would be how to create flavor.

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Well beans and rice are culinarily interesting to some of us, especially if you add spices, salt and fats to make it taste good. Beans and rice also requires preparation time, and that’s one of the major draws of Soylent.

Let’s talk about “first world problems” though. It’s a really flippant way to dismiss every problem or choice people want to discuss aside from starvation and homelessness. It’s silly to dismiss an issue as petty just because it’s probably not on the mind of the average flood-displaced Bangladeshi refugee.

There is an enormous demand for healthy convenience foods, and it’s not being met, and the consequences are very serious.

maximyou.com May 19, 2014 at 4:47 pm

I’d say the consequences are always serious when your goal is convenience.

Tobi May 21, 2014 at 4:34 am

The search for convinence is the reason we’re not forest dwelling wild men still. At first it was more convenient to travel for food then stay in one place, then it was more convenient to ride animals from place to place, then it was more convenient for people to create their own structures then find ones in nature, then it was more convenient to grow and rise their own food then hunt and gather it all day, then it was more convenient to check email and conduct bank transfers on a flat mini computer that can also make phone calls while sitting at 75 miles an hour on yet more conveniently made structures.

So I would agree that the consequences of this are indeed serious :)

Jonathan May 19, 2014 at 3:53 pm

That’s the thing that blows my mind… how utterly furious people are about Soylent. I mean seriously people, if you don’t want it, don’t buy/use it. What’s the big deal?

I’ve been on Soylent about 80% to 90% now for 20 days (today is day 20) and I have absolutely never felt better. I didn’t get it for the health benefits – frankly I don’t especially care about that. But they have been so astounding that I never want to give it up. Never ever ever. I haven’t had any supplementation (including energy supplements that I’ve taken consistently for over a decade) since Soylent arrived and have never had better sleep, or more energy during the days.

In my experience so far, I would put Soylent in the category of “too good to be true”, except that it *is* true. After a year or so, when there have been hundreds of thousands or even millions of people relying on it as a core part of their daily nutrition, the naysayers and angry mobs won’t have any leg remaining to stand on.

And during all that time I will be gratefully consuming Soylent and having more time, better sleep, and an all-around healthier and more fulfilled life.

What’s not to love??

David Cain May 19, 2014 at 9:29 pm

This is great to hear. Thanks Jonathan.

Len May 21, 2014 at 9:22 am

” After a year or so, when there have been hundreds of thousands or even millions of people relying on it as a core part of their daily nutrition, the naysayers and angry mobs won’t have any leg remaining to stand on. ”

Hold up… Shall we wait until a year or so passes and see IF hundreds of thousands or even millions of people have been relying on it as a core part of their daily nutrition??

maximyou.com May 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm

At a time of epidemic obesity, diabetes and (colon) cancer, to talk Soylent seems a bit like how playing tennis can help or hurt your elbow while a war is going on just outside the tennis court.

Near as I can tell, even though the talk of the town is about a drink with a funny name – given “Soylent Green” the movie – it’s in fact not about a drink at all, but about health, which happens at the cellular level, fed by oxygenated blood – a liquid. So how can a healthy liquid be bad if you drink it, but good when it’s produced by our body? Whichever way you prefer your intake of food, liquid or solid, you don’t live off the food itself, you exclusively off the energy of the food. I’m not saying it’s simple, but it’s simply amazing how bad the need for complicated is in some people – and how healthily the market responds to meet the need. Makes you wonder what the marketers’ secret is. Drinking copious amounts of – Soylent?

David Cain May 20, 2014 at 12:46 pm

I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at here. Can you clarify?

maximyou.com May 22, 2014 at 7:06 am

Others have asked along the lines of, “What’s the big deal?” – “A really flippant way to dismiss every problem” (your words).

Soylent is … a PROBLEM?

Do you drink it? The answer is obvious – why would anyone?

What I had hoped to find under your headline, how is it a problem if you don’t buy it, but others do? I guess that led me to think maybe it had to do with health. Making assumptions – yup, I know … :-]

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