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Is 'Soylent' Going To Replace Our Traditional Food With Thick Fluid?

Soylent the smoothie-like substance, which began life as a crowdfunding sensation last year before attracting heavyweight investors like Andreessen Horowitz, is basically powdered science — human nutrition reduced to its most basic essentials. Thousands of years of culinary knowledge have been tossed aside, all in the name of efficiency.

Soylent isn't just a science experiment for Silicon Valley movers and shakers who don’t have time to eat: eking out maximum caloric bang for your buck with a nutritionally complete substance could eventually be a huge deal in impoverished areas of the world.

But these are early days, and today, we’re talking about a journalist coming to grips with surviving solely on powdered food.

The name “Soylent” is a reference to the 1973 film Soylent Green, in which it’s revealed that a futuristic new food designed to feed an overcrowded Earth is made of people.

Getting Soylent

The first challenge to living on Soylent is obtaining it, which is surprisingly difficult. Soylent is asking new customers to wait 10 to 12 weeks for shipment deliveries. Return customers are given priority, so the life-giving paste might flow uninterrupted once you've gotten your first order; it’s just that getting that first order isn’t particularly easy.

Making Soylent

Before your initial Soylent shipment arrives, the company sends out a couple tools to help you concoct the mixture: a nicely made metal scoop designed to measure out a single serving, and a transparent 2-quart pitcher made by Takeya for storing an entire day’s worth of liquid at once. The pitcher isn’t designed specifically for Soylent — it’s actually an all-purpose unit designed with iced tea in mind — but it’s BPA-free, so that’s a plus.

When the Soylent mixture itself is finally delivered to your door, you’ll find long, white boxes with "Soylent" printed across the side, which means your low-tech neighbors will definitely suspect you’re eating people. Each box contains seven packets of powder — one per day — paired with seven bottles of a fish oil / canola oil blend. The bottles look like those travel-size shampoos you find at drug stores or in hotel rooms; they’re convenient, but they seem wasteful since you’re unscrewing one and throwing it away every single day.

Making a full day’s batch is easy enough with the supplies included: dump a full packet into the pitcher, fill the rest with water, then add the oil and shake the mixture for 30 seconds.

Living on Soylent

Of course, there’s a big difference between trying a few sips of Soylent and having it substantially replace your entire diet.

The real problem is that Soylent ignores the social and entertainment value of eating: food is not merely sustenance, it’s a tightly woven part of our everyday lives. How many times have you commiserated with a colleague over lunch? Planned a date over dinner? Met with friends for drinks? A strict diet of beige liquid fundamentally changes the patterns of your daily life, and not entirely for the better. It isolates you in ways you may not necessarily consider.

If you are not a foodie, I can pretty say Soylent is the solution for you. Otherwise, it’s mainly a great reminder of why food is awesome: it looks good, it tastes great, and it brings us together. No pitcher of Soylent is ever going to do that.

Rick Jonathan
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