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Tired of eating food? Here’s an alternative

If you could get all of the nourishment your body needed by consuming a carefully proportioned mix of vitamins and minerals, would you do it? And would you give up regular food?

That is what 24-year software engineer Rob Rhinehart is trying to do with Soylent (yes, Soylent), a concoction of essential vitamins and minerals that he has been imbibing in place of meals for the past two months. His experiment was prompted by witnessing an elderly family friend who had become too feeble too prepare his own meals, as well as a desire to do away with the hassles of choosing, buying, preparing, and yes, even eating food.

Soylent ingredients (photo from Vice.com)
Photo from vice.com

So far, after consuming Soylent for 92% of his meal in the past month, he hasn’t keeled over. In fact, he says he feels more energized, more alert, and sharper since leaving food behind. He says it’s easy to manage his weight. Of course, diets are subject to confirmation bias, and he recognizes that his sample size of 1 isn’t exactly scientific. He’s begun running trials with volunteers to determine whether this is a viable nutritional replacement for a larger population. He even suggests its uses as a solution to hunger where access to food is an issue. It sounds like it may be a homegrown version of the medical food given to patients intravenously or through a feeding tube, though more tests are still warranted.

Leaving aside the question of whether Soylent is nutritionally viable, I was interested to note my own response to the possibility of it, as someone who is an unabashed fan of cooking and eat food. I learned about the story through a local food writer who declared Rhinehart “the antichrist.”

Soylent (photo from Vice.com)
Photo from vice.com

My first reaction was a mix of despair and disdain. I genuinely enjoy eating, and while it may have come about as a simple means to survival, food and cooking have been elevated beyond that. Think of all of the chemical processes that are involved in baking bread. Or who thought to first consume an artichoke. Or all of the weird properties of eggs and how we exploit them. Food isn’t just a vehicle for delivering nutrients–it can be an experience of pleasure, and art, and community. The word “companion” comes from roots that mean “bread-fellow.” The idea of replacing food makes me quite sad.

But another part of me wonders whether having a substance like this available would grant me the ability to appreciate the other food I eat more. While I generally relish my meals–even boring unimpressive ones–the fact is that due to time, health, and costs I do sometimes eat just because I have to. And because I care about food, sometimes these meals stress me out–I want something good but I’m not happy with anything, and I don’t want to spend money on something I don’t want. If I could have Solent at those times, I’d save money, time, and appetite for a meal I’ll really enjoy. Rhinehart himself says in his latest blog post, “In fact, with the money I save, I have the freedom to eat well when I do go out. I didn’t give up food, I just got rid of the bad food.”

Food (or Soylent?) for thought.

Featured image from The Matrix, from www.robrhinehart.com

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Anne S

Anne S

Anne Sauer is an atheist with an appetite for science, good food, and making connections between the two. She is currently pursuing her MBA in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. Her favorite foods are salted caramel ice cream and chicken tikka masala. You can find her on twitter @aynsavoy.

4 Comments

  1. March 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

    “If I make a mistake with the amount of an ingredient it can make me sick, but that hasn’t happened in a while.”
    This is confidence boosting 😉

    While I love the time/cost saving aspect, I also love to eat. My waistline sings these praises.

  2. March 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Yeah, that line caught my eye, too. He’s been refining it, but I definitely wonder whether it’s something that’s going to be a little different for each person.

  3. March 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Sometimes it’s such a hassle for me to eat (since I’m allergic to everrrryyyythingggg -> raw fruits/veg, wheat, soy) it seems like an appealing idea… but I’m also allergic to blandness and repetition. There are definitely those days where I just want to avoid the ordeal of finding good food I like and can eat, but I’ll stick with overpriced alternatives for now.

  4. March 21, 2013 at 2:24 am

    (Unrelated) Maki! Man, I just put two and two together with your icon and StripSearch. I hope future episodes will have more actual drawing from everybody. I want to see more of you all busting out some stuff.

    (Related) My body burns through calories unnaturally fast (150-200% DRV), so I could never subsist on Soylent and have a remotely healthy weight. I do feel pretty pressed for time pretty regularly, and it would be nice to have something actually quick, available, and worthwhile. I don’t see how this would ever get past one of two FDA classifications which would kill it, though. It seems like it would either be a supplement (and therefore unreliably measured and controlled for quality) or a drug which would be regulated but would not be available OTC and super hard to get prescribed.

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