Have you heard of the not-so-cleverly named food substitute that’s about to break into the American market? It’s called Soylent.
Soylent’s creator, Rob Rhinehart, wanted to create an inexpensive food replacement (not “meal” replacement) that could help end world hunger and allow techies to stay glued to their computers without the need to take pesky breaks for eating.
Last month, Soylent successfully raised more than a million dollars through pre-orders in one of the world’s most popular crowd funding campaigns to date.
What is Soylent?
It’s not people.
(At least I think it’s not.)
Soylent is a food substitute intending to provide all the body’s nutritional needs. It’s made from powdered starch, rice and pea protein, olive oil, and raw chemical powders. It comes as a powdered mix, and you add water to it to produce a chalky, sweet drink.
Soylent’s creator, Rob Rhinehart, is an engineer who grew tired of having to think about food, so he created soylent for himself. With time and tweaking, he finally settled on a formula he thought would meet and exceed all the body’s daily nutritional requirements.
He began living the “soylent lifestyle” and soon began thinking he was onto something special that he could market to the world.
“I’d like this to be something that is like coffee — a commodity something that’s available everywhere. Maybe a utility like water and power. Something that is ubiquitous and easy to consume,” he said. “I’d like to see it in grocery and convenience stores soon.”
Soylent is not food.
It is meant to be a food replacement — as in, you don’t need to eat food ever again.
In a personal blog entry (titled: “How I Stopped Eating Food”) that sparked his internet fame, Rhinehart wrote of Soylent:
There are no meats, fruits, vegetables, or breads here. Besides olive oil for fatty acids and table salt for sodium and chloride nothing is recognizable as food.
As if this is something to be proud of? What would prompt anyone to want to stop eating food?
I used to spend about 2 hours per day on food. Typically I would cook eggs for breakfast, eat out for lunch, and cook a quesadilla, pasta, or a burger for dinner. For every meal at home I would then have to clean and dry the dishes. This does not include trips to the grocery store. Now I spend about 5 minutes in the evening preparing for the next day, and every meal takes a few seconds. I love order of magnitude improvements, and I certainly don’t miss doing dishes.
Now we’re getting somewhere! Rhinehart (and many like him) view eating food as a necessary evil — a chore.
Soylent also saved him a considerable amount of money. Rather than spending about $470 per month on groceries and eating out, he could now spend a mere $150 on Soylent.
That’s when he realized this had huge global and social implications. We could end world hunger! All anyone would need was this cheap, powdered food replacement and a source of clean water.
What do I think of Soylent?
While I think it’s honorable that people are trying to tackle the problem of world hunger, I hesitate to get behind a product like Soylent.
Nutrition science is still a young science.
Soylent arguably has noble goals, but I could never endorse it. That’s because nutrition science is still in its infancy.
As Tim Ferris wrote in his review of Soylent,
It’s premature to believe we can itemize a finite list of what the human body needs. To quote N.N. Taleb, this is “epistemic arrogance.” Sailors only need protein and potatoes? Oops, didn’t know about scurvy and vitamin C. We need fat-soluble vitamins? Oops, consumers get vitamin A or D poisoning, as it’s stored in body fat.
The simple truth is that we don’t understand the complex interplay of nutrients within the human body yet.
Nutrition is not one-size-fits-all.
If we’ve learned anything at all over the last few decades of nutrition science, it’s that the body’s nutrient needs change constantly.
If you are an elderly man, you need far less cholesterol in your diet than an elderly woman.
If you are trying to conceive, you need a different set of fertility-boosting nutrients for both partners.
If you are trying to gain muscle mass, you need a different proportion of macro-nutrients than someone simply trying to improve endurance.
Yet we can break it down even further, as even these generalities fail to account for individual medical histories, genetic pre-dispositions, and ever-fluctuating hormones.
How much sleep do you get? Are you nearing menopause? Is it your time of the month? How much coffee, tea, or soda do you drink? Are you on hormonal birth control? What’s your gut health like?
All of these factors affect both your ability to absorb nutrients and the specific nutrient needs of your body.
Food has value beyond nutrition.
Perhaps most importantly, I believe that food — real food — is ennobling.
As I’ve written before, real food nourishes both the soul and body:
That’s because finding, cooking, and eating Real Food is a craft. I once heard that cooking was the only art form that uses all five senses. It engages the whole person, and as such rewards the whole person. Preparing Real Food isn’t just about good nutrition or ethics. It’s about becoming the people we are meant to be, becoming more fully human.
There is value in preparing real food — value found in sourcing real food well, preparing it well, and enjoying its beauty. Value found in the communal aspect of foraging, preparing, and eating.
Seriously, if you want to know my thoughts on the virtue of eating real food, I’ve never said it more eloquently than I did in my post Real Food is Soul Food. (If you haven’t read it yet, please take a moment and do so. You will understand me so much better if you do!)
Rhinehart would give us a world where all that value is stripped away, where food isn’t even food anymore — but bodily nourishment in its most base and utilitarian form.
In all fairness, he isn’t saying we should eat only Soylent — just that we can, if we want to.
He’s more of a believer that we don’t really think about or even consciously care about the vast majority of our meals. So instead, his goal is to create a wholly nutritious and inexpensive source of food that he uses for most of his meals. He tries to savor the few non-soylent meals he eats, and says he even appreciates them more as a result.
How about you? Would you eat Soylent? What are your thoughts?
(photos by MonicaHeisey)