I eat people
Er, that is, I drink Soylent.
So last year, the New York Times wrote an article about the Silicon Valley Soylent lifestyle, prominently featuring my Peanut Butter Soylent (straight from the blender)
The article, in which I actually play a rather minor role as a dealer of powder, host of dinner parties, and Pad Thai Top Chef, paints the Valley full of coders and founders who sip their meals over the course of their day, to avoid having to take breaks to eat.
That lifestyle, naturally, received some flak on Twitter and in the comments — and in general, I feel like some people still just don’t get Soylent-drinkers.
And then, last month, that lovely picture in the backyard of Masonic, my old house in the Haight, was reused in another NYT article about how recently, a few Soylent consumers have gotten ill.
I figured I’d take these hard-earned 15 minutes of fame to clarify where Soylent fits into my life.
I’m a bit different from most people when it comes to food. I’ve never been very enthusiastic about eating. I don’t have any memories from growing up where I specifically remember a meal I enjoyed, but I do remember often staying in my room after my mom had been calling me to come to dinner for half an hour, because I didn’t really feel like eating.
I do enjoy food for its ability to bring people together. I’ve had significant, memorable, and enjoyable conversations over meals.
But if I were given full control over where a friend and I will be grabbing dinner, transportation considerations aside, I’d choose Chipotle 9 times out of 10. It’s affordable, tasty, and reasonably healthy. And when I’m getting a meal by myself, I’m not even that choosy on the “tasty” spectrum.
In contrast to the image that is sometimes portrayed, Soylent occupies a relatively small niche in my life (it helps that Clever feeds me 12 meals a week). I mostly drink it on weekends when I’m hungry at home and optimizing for convenience, and weeknights when I want to get a few hundred more calories in. It competes with the Super Quesadilla Al Pastor from Taqueria Cancun across the street, which I order for takeout 3–4 times a week.
I’ve been on the Soylent train since their initial crowdfunding campaign. The first product took a year to ship, and in the meantime, a few Penn friends and I made some from DIY recipes online.
When Alex and I were working on Emerald Exam over summer 2013, our lunch options often rotated as if we were at a food court — Domino’s, Evergreen Chinese, Chipotle, Jimmy John’s, Qdoba. One of us had to bike over and pick up the takeout. And then — we started making Soylent, and we could just chill on the couches in our workspace, my basement whenever we wanted to take a food break.
When I worked at YC, I ate Soylent 1.x (the powder version that you have to mix yourself) for breakfast daily, and for a substantial number of lunches.
These days, I drink Soylent 2.0 and go through about one 12-bottle box a month. I’ve also been trying Coffiest, which has coffee in it and is a bit more chocolatey in taste, and I do quite like it as an occasional substitute to making my own breakfast at work.
To answer some common questions: I’ve had digestive issues just once, it does actually make me feel full, I do sometimes desire something to chew on after drinking it, it tastes like pancake batter, and no, I don’t get tired of it.
I really do love Soylent. Again, my taste radar is probably a bit off from yours, but I sometimes have to prevent myself from drinking too much too quickly. And I suspect the company will soon be shipping more flavored varieties, after Coffiest and having initially focused on fulfilling initial demand with a neutral-tasting, solid product.
Soylent is produced to be nutritionally complete with all of the elements of a healthy diet. I think a cheap, healthy, convenient meal alternative fits somewhere in most people’s lives, in the first world (I think Soylent has awesome applications in the developing world, but that’s a separate topic). It’s like a more nutritionally well-rounded granola bar.
I’m sure there are some of my peers in SF who literally “drink their meals so they don’t have to stop working”. Hopefully, they do take breaks from work in some fashion. But there are a lot of ways to take a break other than eating. It can also be helpful to do so on a schedule determined on factors other than when your stomach begins to complain, or when a meal is served — I think people routinely underestimate switching costs.
Are you intentional about all 21 meals a week, every week? Or do you occasionally skip breakfast when you’re on the go? Perhaps you felt lazy last weekend and reheated some pizza that you couldn’t fully chew through at the crust.
Soylent may seem ridiculous to you, and at this point, at v2.0, I get that. One can still bring up a number of reasonable objections to the product. If this is you — let’s revisit this discussion over a cup of Soylent 4.0. Or coffee, if you must.