Yes, Soylent Is Food

And Nutritious

Today marks the last day of my experiment with Soylent. Last Christmas (or was it my birthday?) my mother got me a week’s supply to try out.

Soylent is food. Soylent is a drink. A serving of Soylent has about 33% of your daily needs — of everything food based. Actually, looking at the label was a weird experience. I’m used to seeing labels where the daily percentage of whatever is all over the place. Some things are at 0–3% and a few are 20%. Not Soylent though — just about everything is 33%.

One of the hardest things was to explain Soylent to non-early-adopters. I enjoy new experiences, especially when those experiences challenge our perception of norms. How many times have I eaten normal food? Always. How many times have I tried to replace my food with a single serving drink that feels like I should call it a “dose”?

My grandmother was one of the biggest opponents to me drinking it.

Pat Hanlon McHugh is my grandmother. I didn’t know if she was joking until I called her for her birthday. Turns out she is not joking.

Most of the opposition I heard was around the part where this isn’t food or that it’s not natural. What is natural? By now, just about everything has been modified or processed. Even organic food has been shaped by selection processes. Corn is essentially a super-grass that has been selectively evolved by human agricultural practices over the last 8,700 years. And, even if it isn’t “natural”, what does being natural or not have to do with the actual health benefits?

Hemlock is natural, but it’s a terrible tea idea.
-James McRae
Thanks Google’s “define:food”!

People are right to say that Soylent is not what they are used to. I’m totally cool with that. I’m not used to it either. Soylent is like many other new technologies: humans are not entirely used to it at first, but learn to adapt. Our bodies, brains, environment, and culture all are in a conversation. And with the poking and prodding of the edges of what we understand and accept, we evolve. There was a time where books were looked down upon because how could people remember everything if it was written down, out of sight? I see this as a similar pursuit.

Soylent isn’t the first all encompassing liquid food. There are a bunch of products in the market both for consumers and for hospitals (comatose patients won’t harvest their own spinach). What sets Soylent apart is its ethos.

Hailing from the entrepreneurial mindset, Rob Rhinehart, was a computer engineer bothered by some of the difficulties around food. It takes time to prepare. It takes time to eat. It takes time to clean. It takes time to think about. People are lazy and would rather eat instant dinners or fast food, neither of which are nutritionally rich. So he asked, “What if I could create a better food?”

Yadda yadda yadda…

A while later, make that a long while later, I am able to purchase a food that I can make about three meals in a total of five minutes. I can consume a meal in as long as it takes to drink a glass of water. I can have all the nutrition I need without worrying.

People complain that making good food is easy, once you know what you’re doing. And hell, if you don’t just look at Thug Kitchen or Hand to Mouth or read a Tim Ferris book.

I’m not buying it that food is easy. My brain has interests and goals. Almost everything in my life focuses on achieving those goals and exploring those interests. Food is often a means to me continuing my work. Coffee can be a great treat, but I use it as a brain stimulant. Walks are nice, but I use them as a creativity stimulant. Many things in my life are balanced, perfected, judged, adjusted, rejudged, and critiqued. If food is easy, blindly drinking three meals a day is the easiest.

It’s important that we make a distinction: food for nutrition versus food for enjoyment versus food for socializing versus food for filling our stomachs. Soylent is for the first and last, sometimes the second. The day I got my Soylent, I was going out to a work party. Did I bring my Soylent? No. That would be ridiculous. I went out and ate normal (though unhealthy) food. Food is sometimes a social act. We gather around cooking and eating. Soylent won’t change that. What it will change is when you wake up late, have 10 minutes to get to work, and have to eat something. No longer will you cram down some sugary cereal, an oddly processed breakfast bar, or just drink some coffee.

I only had one side effect. When I started drinking it, I felt a little out of it. It was kind of like things were “cloudy”, but that doesn’t really describe it. Maybe it was “cloudy-esque”. Anyway, that only happened in the mornings and it only happened on my first two or three days. After that, I felt great.

Unfortunately, my athletic tests with Soylent are not conclusive. I haven’t been working out regularly and the few times I did, there were way too many obfuscating variables from coffee, to weather, to determination. I’m not really bothered by this though because I think the gist is: given the proper nutrition, here provided by Soylent, my body will work better when it’s working out. I do know that this little bit of stomach fat that has been with me for the last forever is still here.

I guess I can’t sit and work all day, drink Soylent, and expect to come out looking like an underwear model. Damn.

Costs are another thing that I’ve been asked about. When I first heard of Soylent I was eating black beans (canned), tuna (canned), and spinach (bagged). I wasn’t on a weird diet-fad. I was spending all my available resources on my startup — again, food was there to keep me running. At that point in my life Soylent was more expensive than my own $100/month staples. Now, I’m eating at less than $250/month (my numbers are a bit off because I split groceries with my girlfriend and often the payment is on my card). Soylent would be about $255/month. There are financial benefits beyond the initial purchase: I spend less time on food, more on my projects; the food I’m eating is more nutritionally rich, so I’ll spend less time being sluggish from crappy food. I think I’ll be making another purchase.

Money I’ve spent on food since October 2012.

All in all, it was a positive experience.