Could 'Soylent' replace food?
Soylent is the drink that claims to contain all the nutrients the body needs. Invented by Rob Rhinehart, a 25-year-old American entrepreneur who has been living off his chalky “food substitute” invention for almost a year now, it was initially seen as laughable eccentricity, but that's all changing....
Rob Rhinehart's Solyent concoction is open to dietary scruples, but what is perhaps more certain is that his Los Angeles-based company is set to make him rich, with tens of thousands of orders for his potion, a $1-million venture capital investment and reports that it’s to be tested by the US military.
If this sounds like a sinister plot from a dystopian film, where the joy of food is banished, that’s because in its name at least, Soylent was inspired by the dark 1973 science-fiction film Soylent Green.
Thankfully for Soylent’s investors, its customers don’t seem to be making the playful link with Soylent Green, where Charlton Heston discover a new “high-energy plankton” feeding the starving masses in a futuristically bleak New York, is actually made from human flesh.
Rather the modern drink is a refined version of Rhinehart’s homemade combination of carbohydrates, fatty acids, protein, fibre, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins and zinc. His company website boasts this provides all the essential nutrients “required to fuel the human body”.
That’s a big claim for an electrical engineering graduate who hasn’t studied food science, but Rhinehart goes on to details how that the drink will, for just £40 a month, provide a healthy “food substitute” that’s far cheaper than real food and can be prepared in minutes.
And this month, in a move that will put that claim to the test, the firm shipped the first 30,000 units of factory-made Soylent. One of the first recipients was Jennifer Roberts, a playwright from the San Francisco, who already on her sixth day of a Soylent diet.
She says, “I liked what he [Rhinehart] had to say about efficiency of getting everything you need for your body without the time-consuming hassles of shopping and planning for, and preparing meals. I often found myself either skipping meals because I was either writing or not prepared to stop and fuel or too busy to get or make healthier food choices. It's frustrating how much time is spent on dealing with food.”
Perhaps that frustration is why she doesn’t mind the “neutral taste” of Soylent, which she compares to drinking “an un-sweet cake batter”. The same can presumably be said for the 10,000 customers a day now placing orders online.
Shipments to Britain are reportedly in the pipeline, but despite this Rhinehart declined to be interviewed for this story. However in a long profile in the New Yorker earlier, he recounted how he first developed Soylent after the cost of food became a “burden” while working for a cash-strapped tech start-up in California.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he says his potion, which he created after reading up on nutritional data from the American Institute of Medicine and US Food and Drug Administration websites before buying the ingredients online, “changed his life”. And in his blog he says that drinking it for the first time left him feeling like the “six million dollar man” with “clearer” skin, “whiter” hair and a “notably improved” physique.
The logic, he told the New Yorker was that, “you need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself” and “you need carbohydrates, not bread”.....
Soylent has been heralded by the press as “the end of food,” which is a somewhat bleak prospect. It conjures up visions of a world devoid of pizza parlors and taco stands—our kitchens stocked with beige powder instead of banana bread, our spaghetti nights and ice-cream socials replaced by evenings sipping sludge.
But, Rhinehart says, that’s not exactly his vision. “Most of people’s meals are forgotten,” he told me. He imagines that, in the future, “we’ll see a separation between our meals for utility and function, and our meals for experience and socialization.”... [Great essay on The New Yorker on Soylent and its creator. Ed]