The Impending Food Revolution Nightmare
A really alarming new trend in technology is to take whatever was already not really a problem in your day to day life and make it about 5x more difficult and slow to use. People started losing their minds about the Internet of Things about two years ago when you could open your garage door with your phone or turn your lights on and off remotely — barring that your WiFi bridge was connected to your router and you were in range of the network so that the app on your phone; provided it was updated, once loaded, could bring you to a confusing UI where the on/off feature was buried under hundreds of different timing and calendar options. In this day and age, why would you ever dirty yourself with the unseemly task of pretending that you are not, right now, living in the future of ultra-convenience at the cost of having to press the button on the back of your router ten times a day to make sure your kettle is connected to your network.
Soylent is the IoT equivalent of eating. A powdered, ‘complete’ nutrient source that once mixed with water, would replace the chore of eating. Living in a country where Soylent can be delivered by the postal system essentially negates the main argument that Soylent is a food product designed to replace scarcity at the moment, a sort of slight of hand by its creator Rob Rhinehart who insists that in the future Soylent will run similar to water, and provide relief for those disadvantaged enough to require it. Sure, a noble enough quest, but as a Californian based startup, right now Soylent represents the pinnacle of tech-dude streamlining — the same people who microdose psilocybin on a day-to-day basis also swear by Soylent as a way of getting rid of the time wasting culture of eating and digesting a meal around other humans. To some people, including usually the most ardent of tech-food supporters, getting rid of communal human practices would merit a Nobel prize.
Of course, it goes without saying like many IoT gadgets, there was a colossal fuck-up recently involving both technologies. IoT recently was used in a massive botnet scheme to attack the domain name service provider Dyn and largely disable a swath of websites across a portion of North America. And in the Soylent corner, people ingesting their newest powdered formulation and their disturbingly named ‘Food Bar’ (conjuring the thought of being provided ‘meat’ at a restaurant) became violently ill, ranging from nausea to vomiting and ‘uncontrollable diarrhea”. Even corners of the internet slavishly devoted to the rosy and futuristic image of food-tech began asking questions; a cursory Google search of “r/Soylent stomach pain” brings up pages of results of people not only asking why, but also for advice on continuing to push through and continue drinking Soylent. One Reddit user asks ways to combat violent diarrhea after drinking the 2.0 formulation and other users jump in with suggestions of psyllium husks and bananas rather than “stop fucking drinking Soylent”.
I’d been given a bottle of the Coffiest version by a friend of mine sometime in September, about a few weeks before the real outbreak of news asking people to not consume certain Soylent formulations. Having never really heard of it before, I drank it slightly hungover and dehydrated on the Don Valley Parkway in the middle of gridlock traffic. Unbeknownst to me, I had just played a high-stakes game of Russian Roulette and came out unscathed, an empty chamber dry-clicking as I failed to completely decimate the interior of my car with my own shit. So, still living in complete ignorance of the worst possible case scenario, I was emboldened by the idea of following in the footsteps of its creator and living off of 100% Soylent for a week (Rob Rhinehart lived off of it for a month on the earliest possible iteration). I had somehow side-stepped every article about stomach issues and instead read articles by various people who had tried and either failed or succeeded in living off of it for various time periods — many either admonishing it or singing its praises. After about zero seconds of thought, I ordered a crate of it and decided to give it a shot.
As a spoiler to this story, I’ll begin by saying that I didn’t get sick off of Soylent at all. In fact, if anything, I had recently begun eating every meal with more and more aggressive hot sauces I’d found at a local Green Earth store, so basically I was in all likelihood doing myself a favour by jumping in 100% — maybe even thinking that by doing so, my formerly tortured stomach would be a control. The main problem with Soylent is that a week’s supply of it cost me $90 CAD, which realistically is a decent bargain at about ~$4 per meal, which is neither here nor there; the premise of doing this for financial concerns wasn’t something that I really cared about. But more to the point, I would drink 4 bottles at 400 kCal a day, which works out to 1600 calories, which I would supplement with protein powder to boost it into the realm of about 2000 calories per day, which was recommended for my height/weight/age, etc.
What I hadn’t realized was that pretty much every blogger I had read on this challenge was either a rail-thin tech dude who was used to consuming 1200–1600 calories and being perfectly fine, but I hadn’t wagered in the fact that I would be biking, doing manual work and generally attempting to live a regularly active life. I found that instantly within the first two days, I would be practically non-stop exhausted, feeling like I was starving, and in general trying to space out times in between drinks of Soylent where I would feel satiated for roughly 20 minutes. Explaining to people why I was doing this was constantly met with people who thought doing this as an experiment was pretty much the worst possible idea and that I was going to probably hurt myself — which was hyperbolic, but I didn’t have much of an excuse as to why I was clearly torturing myself in the laziest way possible. By about the 3rd day, I was extremely irritable and the smells of food would trigger both desire and a strong feeling of nausea. Conversely, what I was drinking had the consistency of thickened Cheerio milk- a vaguely sweet granular oat pablum that both was inoffensive and simultaneously slightly nauseating. A good strategy I had was to nurse a bottle of it for a few hours until I achieved waves of unpleasant appetite suppression — almost like deliberately making yourself throw up so the sea sickness doesn’t get to you that badly.
By the fourth day I didn’t work or leave my room, I essentially lay in my bed in the darkness and felt very little desire to do anything strenuous, which ironically, cheered me up slightly, as the reserve energy I had made me feel as if everything was going to be okay after all. I felt emboldened enough to try and see what it was like to have a drink with Soylent and see how strongly it hit me. I drank about two beers and waiting a few minutes before having another — usually I was not at all a lightweight, but I knew drinking on an empty stomach would probably negate this slightly, and in terms of the most myopic thoughts I have ever had, this one ranked up there: I felt like I had been hit by a freight train and I fell asleep fully clothed on my basement floor in complete drunken agony. A day later, after waking up and choking back a ‘recovery’ Soylent, I was reminded that I had to go to a restaurant with a few friends. I had absolutely hit my breaking point at this moment, and about 5 1/4 days out of 7, I had abandoned even the wildest of notions that I would stick with Soylent 100% of the way and immediately caved and ate a full meal at the restaurant. The experience of having solid food was like awaking from a colourless nightmare and into a technicolour world of complete ecstasy and fulfillment; though there was an adjustment period where switching back to solids confused my digestive system into occasional painful indigestion for a few weeks.
All in all, I can say that it was a reasonably miserable time attempting to go 100% on Soylent, though to give it some credit, I found that it was a completely capable meal replacement when supplemented in without a lunatic liquid-only diet. The worst day truly was the final day when I felt ragged and exhausted from simply sitting up, and also when a friend of mine compared the diet to drinking sweetened semen in the middle of me attempting to defend it while taking enormous mouthfuls. Meals don’t need to be completely replaced, and it is far easier to simply eat more sustainably than it is to give into Silicon Valley’s bizarrely colourless interpretation of the future, which I can only imagine consists of beige walls and never having a good time unless it is efficient enough to achieve the maximum amount of dopamine per minute — in which case, just get addicted to heroin instead.
As a final anectdote, I had completely forgotten about Soylent after not having had it for 5 months; but in those 5 months, the company had fought a PR nightmare tooth and nail, claiming countless advances in its formulation — a removal of algal flour and a tweaking of its macro-nutrients to avoid any more pitfalls. They even put out new flavoured versions which suddenly intrigued me: were they any better? Maybe are we closer to a slightly more refined process and I had simply put myself through the unhewn gamut of food-tech? I asked my friend who I knew had access to it and asked him how much he enjoyed it, knowing he had probably had some. He hadn’t because everyone in his office immediately got violently sick after trying a single bottle. Future’s here folks!