“All sorrows are less with bread. ”
A decade from now, eating may be obsolete.
Let me explain. It’s been a day since I embarked on my attempt to live without food for a fortnight, subsisting instead on Soylent, a white powder that turns into a pasty, beige, viscous gruel upon contact with water.
#Blessed, as the basic bitches say.
Most meal replacement products have modest goals; affordability, weight loss and convenience. None of these products are marketed as complete replacements for food, or a potential solution to world hunger.
Enter Soylent. Created in 2013 by Rob Rhinehart – a Silicon Valley software engineer – and sardonically named after the 1966 cult sci-fi movie Soylent Green. The powder is meant to replace all the nutrition one normally gets from ‘traditional’ food. For approximately $7.10 a meal (including shipping to Asia) Soylent claims to meet all your dietary needs.
Anecdotal evidence of Soylent’s efficacy is patchy. Rob Rhineheart, the creator of Soylent, has been living on a 90% Soylent-based diet since 2013. He has yet to grow an extra arm. As of last count (August 2015), the company has shipped over 6.25 million meals worldwide, and raised over $20 million from investors in January 2015. To my knowledge, Soylent is not made out of people.
Is it a safe proposition? I’m about to find out, with a nine day long experiment on the nutrient of the future.
As a concerned scribbler however, I feel the need to issue my own warning: Mr Rhinehart has no formal training in health and nutrition, and the jury is still out among healthcare professionals on whether its poses health risks to its users.
In other words: “Caution: May Not Contain Food”.
Two weeks after placing my order, a white cardboard box – with the words ‘Soylent’ printed on the side in elegant, san serif font – appears on my doorstep.
It’s the sort of pristine, minimalist package that wouldn’t look out of place in your typical Apple store, or on Instagram, through a filter, accompanied by a quote by Cervantes taken out of context.
It’s not often, that food coming with patch notes, or with a software release train (Version 1.4. as time of writing).
I have to say that I’m impressed. It’s not often that food coming with patch notes, or with a software release train (Version 1.4. as time of writing).
Soylent is quite obviously marketed at a certain subsection of the tech geek community: it’s positioned not as food but as a technological proposition, a freedom from food; it alludes to a user rather than a consumer, someone who has transcended the needs of the body by sheer force of will.
Having misinterpreted my fair share of Nietzsche, I admit that it’s a flattering proposition.
Like A Virgin
The question that’s undoubtedly on your mind: What’s it like living on the food of the future?
Soylent’s flavour isn’t half bad at first – tasting like a blend of oatmeal and mutantt banana – but it leaves an unpleasant texture on the tongue, like silt sitting on a river bed. Also, note the caveat ‘at first’; there’s something vaguely torturous about the monotony of chugging down something with the consistency of cold oatmeal three times a day.
After three days subsisting on sludge, the voice in your head turns into a twisted little version of the titular protagonist from Dickens’ Oliver Twist. But instead of saying ‘please sir, I want some more’, it’s more like ‘please sir, please make it stop’.
On day six, I almost commit armed assault on a friend as he noshes on fried chicken. Comfort food lovers, you are duly warned.
That being said, Soylent makes refraining from food a completely legitimate proposition. There were physiological side effects to my experiment, but they were uncomfortable, not life threatening:
- intense constipation on day two
- jaw aches from days four to seven
- bouts of insomnia and listlessness
I can’t honestly tell you which of these effects were psychological in nature. Your mind will do weird things to you when you haven’t eaten anything solid in nine days. My energy levels dipped slightly in the first few days; I found myself feeling intense jealousy at the sight of someone scarving a pepperoni pizza. But at no point of time did I feel malnourished or hungry. Soylent filled my stomach, but some deeper primal instinct kept telling me that I still craved food, if only to chew on something.
As an ex-smoker, I can attest that we now live in a world where it is easier to stop eating than it is to stop smoking cigarettes. Just writing that statement boggles the mind with its sheer alienness: Food? That’s so 2015 bro. I kicked the habit of eating last year.
I make it sound like a joyless proposition, but there are definitely benefits to be had from consuming only Soylent. It’s easier to prepare than cooking instant ramen (just add water to the large tumbler that comes with the product, shake vigorously, and refrigerate): not having to travel to and from eateries and being able to work while sipping Soylent saved me an average of 1 to 1.5 hours a day; Soylent streamlines the process of getting nutrition into your body, in the same way that Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs have streamlined apparel into a uniform.
Lofty statements about curing world famine aside, I can see Soylent’s uses for certain criminally overworked sections of the urban workforce: The Silicon Valley coder, the newsroom drone at a daily publication, the med school student who subsists on a diet of ramen and vending machine sodas.
One could probably survive solely on Soylent. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my foodless fortnight, it’s that there’s a big difference between living and surviving.