A week ago, I received my first shipment of Soylent, a liquid meal-replacement solution designed to fulfill my daily nutritional requirements. Each bottle contains roughly 20% of a suggested daily caloric intake, as well as a fifth of the FDA’s recommended daily dosage of essential vitamins and minerals (Iron, Vitamin *, Zinc, Niacin, etc). If you haven’t yet heard of Soylent, you can read more about the culinary (is that the right word?) phenomenon and its short-term effects on the body here. In the words of Soylent’s in-house marketing team, “Soylent satisfies your hunger”
There’s something admirable about that statement. As far as my limited research shows, Soylent is the first food that attempts to satisfy all the nutritional aspects of consumption without indulging in any of the luxuries that taste has to offer. It’s food without pleasure – a “pleasantly neutral” form of sustenance, devoid of the earthly gratification that we take for granted three times a day. It’s minimalist Zen perfection, it’s the future, it’s people food.
Soylent has a strange superiority complex. Proponents of the foodstuff rally around the utilitarian aspects of the drink. The purported health benefits, the reduced strain on the environment, the time savings, and a “liberation from eating” are a sample of of the advantages that the liquid diet touts over traditional solid consumption. You could say that Rosa Labs has implemented the hacker approach to nutrition, dead set on isolating the science from culinary science.
That said, I found a number of shortcomings with the Soylent lifestyle. To start with, here’s a sample of some of the minor issues and possible solutions:
- Meal-replacement solutions are poorly tailored to the individual
- Most nutritionists create diets around the needs of their patients. An egalitarian Soylent utopia does not sit nicely with that fact.
- Solution: Soylent is meant to replace any meal, not every meal. It’s trivial to supplement a Soylent diet with additional calories from carbs or protein.
- Some minerals inhibit absorption of other minerals (i.e calcium and iron)
- The mineral absorption problem is a serious obstacle for anyone pursuing a purist Soylent diet.
- Solution: Increase the quantities of under-absorbed micro-nutrients in the formula to compensate. I know that this isn’t the most elegant solution, but given the inefficiencies (and frequent deficiencies) of a normal solid diet, buffing a few minerals is a fair compromise.
- A purist Soylent diet can be socially isolating
- A lot of Soylent reviewers like to point out this pitfall. I’d like to think a Soylent-based society would develop its own social customs around consuming the substance (Soylent restaurants, maybe?), but as of 2016, liquid diets have a long way to go before they reach any form of social acceptance.
- Solution: Like the previous two solutions, I think that there are fundamental issues to subsisting solely on a single source of food. Soylent separates the social and psychological aspects of eating from the nutritional ones. You might as well sneak in a few Muggle meals for social purposes.
There’s a much bigger problem with Soylent though, a fundamental issue with the meal replacement solution that still makes me balk at the thought of quaffing tomorrow’s liquid breakfast. Soylent is not emotional sustenance.
Soylent does not make you happy.
Chocolate makes you happy. Eating chocolate gives you a massive endorphin spike; the pleasure centers of the brain are high on phenylethylamine. You feel good when you eat chocolate. Your body tells you eating chocolate is a good thing – that’s why people overeat chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream. And after the fact, you unconsciously reminisce about how good eating the chocolate felt.
Soylent does not work that way. The stuff itself doesn’t actually taste that bad; 2.0 tastes like Cheerios in almond milk. But it doesn’t taste good either. When you drink Soylent, your body gives you no indication that what you are doing is beneficial or even healthy. And before you know it, you’re full. There’s absolutely no temptation to overeat – why would would anyone ever enjoy ingesting soulless liquid cardboard? When your brain quietly reflects on the experience, it finds nothing to suggest that consuming Soylent felt good at all. If anything, you feel empty on the inside.
MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD
FOR ONE OF MY FAVORITE MOVIES OF ALL TIME
If you haven’t seen Alien before, go watch it right now
You know how I feel after I drink Soylent? I feel like this guy.
I feel like a goddamn robot. I’m drinking five bottles of flavorless white liquid a day in order to keep my metabolic systems functioning. I get zero satisfaction from swallowing a bottle of Soylent other than the ataractic promise that I won’t die of starvation in my sleep.
I’m not trying to claim that taste is an essential part of eating. I do, however, believe that subsisting on a pure Soylent diet is difficult because of preexisting emotional dependencies on food. While I don’t think that there’s any strong requirement that food requires a fulfilling or memorable taste, most people have expectations that it yield some form of gratification.
And perhaps that’s the reason why so many people hate Soylent. It threatens the old regime of eating for pleasure. Detractors see it as frighteningly utilitarian, efficient, artificial; uniform and universal and vaguely communist. Soylent transcends the dinner table, the diner booth – it’s food for the office chair. And amusingly enough, the same dystopian rhetoric that naysayers use to make Soylent unappealing is often used to promote the product. Proponents view the drink as modern and sustainable, portable and liberating.
Soylent is skub.
The Perry Bible Fellowship; Copyright 2001-2015 Nicholas Gurewitch
Some people like to eat their skub raw. I used to do that occasionally, but now I prefer integrating skub into my diet rather than replacing my diet with skub.
So I made skub pancakes. They taste pretty good, and they’re even vegan. Here’s my recipe:
- 3/4 bottle of skub
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1/4 cup chia seeds
- Grind the chia seeds via a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.
- Settle ground chia seeds in the cup of water for a 5-10 minutes.
- Mix the skub, baking powder, flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.
- Pour the chia seed mix into the mixing bowl.
- Lubricate your frying pan however you want. I use butter since I’m vegetarian, but feel free to use what you want.
- Pour the batter onto a frying pan and wait until it becomes firm enough to flip over. Repeat until both sides are brown.
Look, you’re spending time making food again. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of Soylent?
Maybe. But now I have superfood pancakes!