Has a tech entrepreneur come up with a product to replace our meals?

soylent-greenThe New Yorker says, "I thought you would be interested in Lizzie Widdicombe's piece in this week's issue of The New Yorker, in which she meets the founder of Soylent, a synthetic meal replacement, and—in part, by subsisting on it herself—looks at how it could someday revolutionize humanity’s approach to food."
In the May 12, 2014, issue of The New Yorker, in “The End of Food” (p. 28), Lizzie Widdicombe meets the founder of Soylent, a synthetic meal replacement, and—in part, by subsisting on it herself—looks at how it could someday revolutionize humanity’s approach to food. In 2012, a young Bay Area entrepreneur named Rob Rhinehart and his roommates were living off the last remaining funding for a failed technology startup. In a bid to save money, Rhinehart attempted various inexpensive—and unsustainable—diets. Having begun to see food itself as an engineering problem, he “took a break from experimenting with software,” Widdicombe writes, compiled a list of nutrients required for survival, ordered them from the Internet—mostly in powder or pill form—and poured everything into a blender, with some water. “The result, a slurry of chemicals, looked like gooey lemonade,” Widdicombe writes. He called the mixture Soylent, a term borrowed from a science-fiction novel from the nineteen-sixties. Rhinehart started living on it and shared his findings in a blog post called “How I Stopped Eating Food,” in which he championed the physical effects (clearer skin, thicker hair) and noted that his food costs had dropped from four hundred and seventy dollars a month to fifty. The positive response that the post received convinced Rhinehart and his roommates to enter the synthetic-food business. “Last week, the first thirty thousand units of commercially made Soylent were shipped out to customers across America,” Widdicombe writes. In addition to crowd-funding money, its production was financed by Silicon Valley venture capitalists. Widdicombe writes that, in her own experience, Soylent kept her satiated, though it did point out how much of our time revolves around food. “U.S. military and space programs have asked to run trials on Soylent, for possible future use,” Widdicombe writes. Rhinehart, who has been living almost entirely on Soylent for more than a year, hopes to figure out how to source all of Soylent’s ingredients—carbohydrates, protein, lipids—from algae. “Then we won’t need farms,” he says, adding that a Soylent-producing “superorganism” would eliminate the need for factories, too. To help a village full of malnourished people, Rhinehart tells Widdicombe, “you could just drop a shipping container” full of Soylent-producing algae. “It would take the sun’s energy and water and air, and produce food.” Then all we’d have to do is fix the world’s housing problem, “and people could be free.”

The End of Food

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  1. Like most headlines that ask a question, the answer to this one is "No."

  2. There is a potential demographic for such a product...

  3. The only thing that's really remarkable about this is that they've managed to generate some buzz over a project that's literally nothing more than reinventing the nutrition shake--the makers of Ensure and Slim-Fast must be kicking themselves. Rhinehart makes a big deal over the improvements to his health, but this was his diet before:

    They had been living mostly on ramen, corn dogs, and Costco frozen quesadillas—supplemented by Vitamin C tablets, to stave off scurvy—but the grocery bills were still adding up. Rob Rhinehart, one of the entrepreneurs, began to resent the fact that he had to eat at all. “Food was such a large burden,” he told me recently. “It was also the time and the hassle. We had a very small kitchen, and no dishwasher.” He tried out his own version of “Super Size Me,” living on McDonald’s dollar meals and five-dollar pizzas from Little Caesars. But after a week, he said, “I felt like I was going to die.” Kale was all the rage—and cheap—so next he tried an all-kale diet. But that didn’t work, either. “I was starving,” he said.

    Well, no shit, Sherlock. (At least the article acknowledges that Rhinehart just didn't seem to be that much into food in the first place.) I like that they mention the DIY site for alternate recipes--I may experiment with a low-carb option, myself--but, even before he gets into the fantasy of the GMO algae that can crank this stuff out magically, a lot about this concept seems like agribusiness' wet dream.

  4. Aw, c'mon. When somebody tells me, "I did the bare minimum to avoid scurvy," I always think, "This is someone whose food advice I want to follow!"

  5. The narrow minded elitism on display here is rather sad. There are millions of people that struggle with eating healthy for one reason or another. Soylent solves a lot of them. A lot of these comments remind me of people being incredulous over people not giving a shit if they have a nice car. I don't give a shit about nice cars. I can appreciate a ride in a nice car, but I am pretty happy to be a few k richer by driving my reliable beater.

    My own personal issue is time. Often I am short on time. Yes, the ideal solution is to make time and prepare ahead. I have proven without a doubt that I am bad at this. An alternative to a slab of pizza is a godsend. I don't need to make every meal Soylent, but I sure as hell would be a lot healthier if all my shitty meals were replaced. If that offends your sensibilities, fuck you.

    As for why not Ensure, it is because it is crap for you, expensive, and makes concessions to taste by adding in more crap.

    I have been doing DIY low carb high protein and fat Soylent for about a month. I dropped off 5% of my weight and feel great. Yeah, that might have also been accomplished with healthy eating and a few more pounds of meat each week than I really don't want to eat, but the Soylent rout made it easy, painless, something i can stuck to, and cheap.

    So, hurray for you if you are healthy, slim, and eat good home cooked meals every day for all your meals. Have a gold star and realize that you are in the minority. If the health of others can be vastly improved with a method you find icky, don't fucking do it.

    For a pile of geeks, a lot of you sure are narrow minded and easily offended by a fantastically effective body hack.

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