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As I write this, I’m sipping from a glass of beige ooze which is, theoretically, lunch.

soylentcup

It’s Soylent: a no-frills blend of protein, carbs, fat, vitamins, and minerals. In theory, four glasses of this stuff per day contains everything you need to be an FDA-approved person – all the way down to chromium and molybdenum.

Soylent is often described as a milkshake, but that’s not quite right. For starters, there’s no milk in it; more importantly the word ‘milkshake’ is going to give you entirely the wrong idea. Soylent tastes and feels more like a watery batter than a shake. Most of the protein in the mixture comes from oat flour, which seems to dominate the flavor profile. You know when you’re making oatmeal cookies and you taste the dough before you add the sugar? It’s a lot like that. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s also a far cry from delicious.

soylentpowderinhand

I have most of a week’s worth of this stuff in my pantry – almost 20,000 calories – and I plan to buy more. I have friends that are months into their Soylent regimes. The stuff is practically taking over silicon valley. And plenty of people are wondering… why? Why would anyone choose to consume the human equivalent of dog food?

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The answer comes down to a somewhat unique vision of what food is, and how it can and should fit into our lives.

A Juice-Cleanse for Nerds?

You can understand a little more about the popularity of Soylent by looking at its demographics. If I say the words ‘startup,’ ‘Libertarian,’ and ’emacs’ really fast, the stereotype that pops into your head is about right. There’s some data on this: a quick survey of Soylent enthusiasts turns up plenty of programmers (and few women Women in Tech: What Future Tech Companies Need to Know Women in Tech: What Future Tech Companies Need to Know For tech companies to thrive, they need to solve the 'gender gap'. Not just for equality, but to protect the bottom line, too. Read More ). There’s no rigorous data on political leanings, but trust me when I say strong opinions about the Federal Reserve are over-represented.

The common theme here (I suspect) is an unusual personality type that crops up in certain areas of nerd culture. People who lack the normal allergy to silly ideas. People who, when you tell them something that sounds crazy, patiently hear you out. Then, if they can’t think of a counter-argument, they say ‘okay’ and proceed to completely reformat their lives around the thing you just said.

Stuff like “maybe we should all strap phone screens to our faces Why Virtual Reality Technology Will Blow Your Mind in 5 Years Why Virtual Reality Technology Will Blow Your Mind in 5 Years The future of virtual reality includes head, eye and expression tracking, simulated touch, and much more. These amazing technologies will be available to you in 5 years or less. Read More instead of going outside” or “if we deregulated every industry, it’d fix a lot of problems” or “AI is probably going to destroy the planet Here's Why Scientists Think You Should be Worried about Artificial Intelligence Here's Why Scientists Think You Should be Worried about Artificial Intelligence Do you think artificial intelligence is dangerous? Does AI may pose a serious risk to the human race. These are some reasons why you may want to be concerned. Read More in the next century or so.”

Or “maybe we should replace all of our meals with nutrient sludge.”

freshbewedsoylent

This is the personality type that dominates the Soylent community (including an enthusiastic, if probably doomed DIY subculture DIY Soylent: Food For the Masses or Toxic Sludge? People Chow 3.0 DIY Soylent: Food For the Masses or Toxic Sludge? People Chow 3.0 Read More ). It’s the same personality type that produces effective altruists and suicide bombers. If you’ve got a crazy idea, the guys are your foot in the door. They aren’t always right (see: the Segway), but they are always first.

And now they’re excited about Soylent. So, you have to ask yourself… are they right this time?

The Case for Bachelor Chow

The argument for Soylent goes something like this:

Yes, eating is fun. But it’s not the only fun thing you can do – and it consumes a ridiculous amount of time, money, and energy.

From a survival perspective, we’re awful at it. Millions of Americans are both seriously malnourished and struggling with obesity Fat Shaming Online: Why All The Hate on Fat People? Fat Shaming Online: Why All The Hate on Fat People? Being a fat person on the Internet opens you up to a lot of hate, as scrolling through the comments section of any YouTuber's videos will show you. Why? Read More . In the US, this tragic irony has become a leading cause of death. Why? Because in order to save precious time and attention, we routinely opt for the convenience of fast food, giving us more calories than we need, and far fewer micronutrients. So, say Soylent advocates, why not take the meals where we’re paying good money to poison ourselves because we don’t care, and swap them out for beige ooze?

soylentbags

Soylent is cheap in bulk (around $2.30 for a 500 calorie meal). It’s nutritionally balanced and zero effort to prepare. You can drink a meal’s worth of calories in ten seconds, and you’ll be full for hours. If fast food is heroin, Soylent is methadone. It’s not as fun, but it prevents the cravings – and it isn’t actively killing you.

Future Food, Present Problems

Now that you’ve heard the pitch, let’s talk about how it works out in practice. Soylent has, in theory, existed since it was crowdfunded in 2013. However, it’s only recently that they’ve cleared their enormous waiting list, and enabled ordinary people to buy it in a reasonable time frame. I got mine in ten days, after a minor issue with their shipping system. It looks like the average is closer to five. That’s down from several months the last time I checked in last year.

soylentbag

So how does Soylent hold up as a consumer product?

The first drawback that I noticed, at least in the short term, is the shock to your digestive system. Most people do not subsist primarily on oat flour and powdered oil, so your gut flora is not adapted to it. That means that for the first week or two, there’s going to be some trouble.

I’m talking about farting. You’re going to do a lot of farting.

Fortunately, I’m told this passes with time as your gut flora adapts. Rosa Labs, the company that manufacturers Soylent, recommends slowly ramping up your consumption over the first week or supplementing with over-the-counter digestive aids to compensate.

The second drawback: it’s boring. The flavor does grow on you – I went from mild distaste to mild appreciation over the course of a few days. But nobody would call it tasty. If a significant fraction of the fun volume in your life comes from food and you switch to a 100% Soylent diet, you’re going to have a bad time. Mixing in some juice or cocoa adds a little flavor variation, but not enough. I find it’s best just to slam a whole glass in one go, and then chase it with water or coffee. That way there’s no time to get sick of it.

Personally, I’d suggest eating at least one meal a day of real food. This helps fight flavor fatigue, and it stops your microbiome from fully adapting to a Soylent diet, which might make it hard to switch back to normal food. It also gives you an extra level of insurance, in case Rosa Labs’ nutritionists missed some crucial micronutrient.

Mixing is also more complicated than it probably needs to be. If you make Soylent with cold water, you get weird clumps.

soylentclumps

Warm water seems to fix this, but then you’ve got warm Soylent, which almost everyone agrees is pretty awful. The best solution seems to be to make Soylent the night before you need it and let it chill overnight. That’s not a big deal, but it is an extra step that’s easy to forget when you stumble in at the end of a long day.

makingsoylent1

All of these complaints are more or less quibbles. On the whole, I was pretty sold on Soylent from day two on. At this point, it’s just a question of convincing the rest of the world.

The Future of Soylent

Once you drink the weird, sludgy Kool-Aid, you start having ideas pretty much immediately. Soylent has a lot of useful properties. It’s compact, it’s cheap, it’s got a long shelf life without refrigeration, and it doesn’t need heat to prepare. That makes it nearly ideal for military rations (or astronaut-food, for that matter). It would also be a good survival food, replacing more expensive (and more unhealthy) MREs.

On a larger scale, Soylent seems like the final answer to questions of emergency food aid. Is there a better food to drop onto disaster areas? Soylent is already the cheapest mass-produced nutritionally complete calorie you can buy, to the best of my knowledge. And the cost right now could probably come down considerably with competition and new technology. If FEMA and the red cross aren’t looking into this, they’re missing an opportunity. Even if Soylent just starts selling the stuff around the world, I could see it seriously improving third-world nutrition. Ease of shipping makes that more practical than it sounds, although marketing would be an issue. In the long run, the inventory of Soylent, Rob Rhinehart, wants to genetically engineer algae to produce Soylent out of whole cloth, drastically cutting the cost of production. Instant, nutritious food – just provide sunlight, air, and seawater.

soylentpowderinbag

For now, you can subscribe to monthly Soylent shipments at soylent.com. I suggest making the minimum order to make sure you like it before you spend hundreds of dollars on it.

Will Soylent catch on? I’m not sure. There’s a lot about it that makes sense, but it’s a pretty tough sell.

What do you think? Are you ready for a nice tall glass of ooze?

  1. Michael Nedoma
    August 1, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Wait, what? The picture says serving = 115g and one serving is just 500 calories, according to the picture. One bag is 4 servings, that makes it just 2000 calories per bag.
    An average person needs at least 2000Kcal (=2000000 cal, or 8,400kJ) daily. One apple has for example 47Kcal (=47000 calories) http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk/calories/calorie_counter/fruit.htm . So I need to consume 2000 such bags every day to reach 2000Kcal. Or the description in the picture is wrong...?

    • Sean Bradshaw
      August 3, 2015 at 11:07 pm

      Regardless of the math involved with Kcal vs. calories, it's 1 bag for 1 day if you do it for the entire day.

    • Andre Infante
      August 3, 2015 at 11:14 pm

      They're using the 'large' or 'dietary' calorie, which is not the same a calorie in chemistry. Each bag of soylent contains 2000 Kcals.

  2. Robert B. Martin
    July 31, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    Wouldn't touch the stuff. As Rebekkah said, "Soylent Green". Makers of this stuff must not have seen the movie. If they had, it would be called something else.

    • Andre Infante
      July 31, 2015 at 8:14 pm

      It's a joke, guys. They're well aware of the associations.

  3. Rebekka Smith
    July 31, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    2 words - Soylent Green - Have you watched the movie? - you should if you are eating a product called Soylent.

    I think you are right that this has 3rd world potential and would be good in anyone's emergency preparedness supplies.

  4. Jeff Bouton
    July 31, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Almost had me with this until I saw the sodium content. It is extremely, and unnecessarily, high in my opinion. 1640mg is way to much.

    • Jeff Bouton
      July 31, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      I guess it's within limits of FDA, but being one with High Blood Pressure, I can't consider this.

    • Richard Hopkins
      July 31, 2015 at 3:20 pm

      Is that per 100g or per packet, and what is the weight of a packet? In the UK I am staggered at the amount of shit in off the shelf food, especially salt.

    • Andre Infante
      July 31, 2015 at 8:13 pm

      FDA recommendations are 2300 mg per day, so this is on the low side if it's the only thing you eat.

      http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm181577.htm

    • John McDonald
      August 2, 2015 at 8:46 am

      Maltodextrin is a medium-long chain of glucose units composed of both 1->4 and 1->6 glycosidic bonds. Starches are long polysaccharide repeats consisting of amylose and amylopectin linked together by glycosidic bonds and are broken down slowly by the body, thus preventing a spike in blood sugar.

  5. David Meredith
    July 31, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Just do it as in the film ,and end poverty unemployment and people that aren't required.Also it may be a good time to invest in Zyklon B.

  6. Joe Perkins
    July 31, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Funny how you mention libertarianism and third-world famine, pretty much cause-effect.

  7. Demetrius Mack
    July 31, 2015 at 2:27 am

    As someone who has struggled with his weight all his life due a poor relationship with food and host of other bad habits, the idea of just making food boring and just getting all the necessary nutrients I need without having to completely starve myself sounds like a genuinely novel idea.

    • Andre Infante
      July 31, 2015 at 3:29 am

      Soylent definitely has advantages for dieting. It reduces the tendency to grab unhealthy snacks, and it's really easy to keep track of your caloric intake. I know there's a company that's developed a 'ketosoylent' which is designed to emulate a high-protein, low-carb diet for weight loss. It is more expensive, though, and I haven't personally tried the product, but it might be worth looking into.

      • Randa McCallister
        July 31, 2015 at 10:44 pm

        This was my thought too. I'm bad at overeating. I'm considering this too. I already drink a protein shake occasionally for this same reason, as a meal substitute.

  8. Philip Bates
    July 30, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    Respect to you, Andre, for trying this out. Frankly, it looks disgusting, and I know I wouldn't have the dedication to keep it up. It's a very interesting idea, though, one I've never heard about until now.

  9. Tom Willoughby
    July 30, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    They want to make Soylent out of algae? If they call it Soylent Green, we're in big trouble.

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