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.
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.”
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