Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Monday, May 05, 2014

Soylent is for people

New Yorker: ... I was relieved when factory-made Soylent arrived in the mail. It was basically Rhinehart’s formula, which I’d tasted in L.A.: a thick, tan liquid that is yeasty, grainy, and faintly sweet. Compared with the taste of my chocolate version, regular Soylent was pleasant. (Office taste-test results: “Naked protein shakes that are made of husks”; “One step better than what you drink before getting a colonoscopy.”)

I lived on the mixture, more or less, for a three-day weekend. Many of the tips I’d heard proved true. Soylent tastes better when it’s been in the fridge overnight. (A D.I.Y. user told me that this is “because the ingredients have been able to congeal.”) It’s more appealing after physical activity—when you’re hungry, you find that you actually crave it. The smell is a downside. On Friday, after a few hours, the doughy fragrance seemed to be everywhere—in my mouth, on my breath, my fingers, and my face. And the stomach takes a while to adjust to liquid food: by the afternoon, I felt like a walking water balloon.

Living on Soylent has its benefits, though. As Rhinehart puts it, you “cruise” through the day. If you’re in a groove at your computer, and feel a hunger pang, you don’t have to stop for lunch. Your energy levels stay consistent: “There’s no afternoon crash, no post-burrito coma.” Afternoons can be just as productive as mornings.

But that is Soylent’s downside, too. You begin to realize how much of your day revolves around food. Meals provide punctuation to our lives: we’re constantly recovering from them, anticipating them, riding the emotional ups and downs of a good or a bad sandwich. With a bottle of Soylent on your desk, time stretches before you, featureless and a little sad. On Saturday, I woke up and sipped a glass of Soylent. What to do? Breakfast wasn’t an issue. Neither was lunch. I had work to do, but I didn’t want to do it, so I went out for coffee. On the way there, I passed my neighborhood bagel place, where I saw someone ordering my usual breakfast: a bagel with butter. I watched with envy. I wasn’t hungry, and I knew that I was better off than the bagel eater: the Soylent was cheaper, and it had provided me with fewer empty calories and much better nutrition. Buttered bagels aren’t even that great; I shouldn’t be eating them. But Soylent makes you realize how many daily indulgences we allow ourselves in the name of sustenance.

Rinehart spends a lot of time in Soylent discussion forums, discovering how people have tweaked his formula. He told me that he relishes criticism, as long as it’s evidence-based, rather than “emotional”: “Putting a lot of eyeballs on the problem is only going to help.” In L.A., after our stop at the taco truck, I accompanied him to meet some D.I.Y.ers: a group of students in Ricketts House, a dorm at Caltech, who he’d heard were subsisting on Soylent. ...

... At Ricketts, Rhinehart asked the students if there were any more questions. Nick asked, “How do you feel about the fact that, after a lot of people eat Soylent, Soylent becomes people?”

Rhinehart smiled. “It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “I think about this a lot, actually.” He held out his arms, displaying his healthy torso. “I’ve been on it for a year now, and pretty much everything you see is built out of Soylent.”


Karch_Buttreau said...

These guys seem like intelligent people and well meaning, but what's the baseline comparison for these kids? pizza and beer?

I hope they're monitoring their bloodwork... I tend to favor natural foods with minimal processing.

I'm no nutritional expert, but I do follow the stuff as a fitness buff. It looks to me like Solyent is too high in carbs, too low in fat, and should have separate male/female versions for the iron amount.

Anonymous said...

Those people are such dopes. It's called fricking tube feeding -- it's been around for decades and it's commercially available. Every hospital has gallons of it. They act like they've discovered something new. /facepalm

BobSykes said...

A major function of meals is bonding to other people. It sounds like the people drinking Soylent are isolated sociopaths.

big fan said...

Except for the reasons such as enjoying a meal and other emotional aspects, what are the cons of this kind of products? I've long dreamt about a food-substitute, since i don't particullary enjoy food and still spend so much time and energy shopping, cooking and thinking about what food i'll prepare.

iriketoderetecomments said...

the very idea that there are food substitutes assumes that nutrition is simple.

for a long time it was assumed that fiber was irrelevant. it isn't digested after all.

man, apes, monkeys,...dogs, etc. evolved eating whole foods not substitutes. it is reasonable to expect (unpredictable) problems from eating fake food.

ideretecomments said...

the very idea that there are food substitutes assumes that nutrition is simple.

for a long time it was assumed that fiber was irrelevant. it isn't digested after all.

apes, monkeys,...dogs, etc. evolved eating whole foods not substitutes.
it is reasonable to expect (unpredictable) problems from eating fake

dxie48 said...

Raw carb is harder to digest. Hence the gut bacteria will have a field day. Hence the report of excessive gas.
Some other recipes rely on soy for protein, excess of which might not be good for you,
Less demand on the stomach might degenerate the muscle and make it less efficient to digest 'normal' food.

Endre Bakken Stovner said...

Stretching of the stomach after a meal results in signals telling your brain that you are full, so if you have satiety/weight problems using soylent is probably not a good idea.

Slightly speculative, but veggies, fruits, meats etc. might be full of micronutrients yet to be discovered/described that soylent might not include.

I guess if you don't eat the same macronutrient composition in every meal (think fitness enthusiasts), soylent won't work.

pat said...

It sounds like a diet for prisoners but it would probably be unconstitutional under the eighth amendment. If you sent it into your arm with an IV you could then just induce a coma and skip - not only meals - but everything.

ideretecomments said...


ideretecomments said...

yeah just kill all incarcerated americans. yeeeeeeehaw!

even white americans are incarcerated at 4 times the next highest rate for a developed country. maine has the lowest rate at 150 per 100,000. it's still far higher than that of any developed country. yeeeeeeehaw!

us = shittiest country in the developed world by far. yeeeeeeehaw!

ideretecomments said...

"Raw carb blah blah blah Hence blah blah blah Hence blah blah blah"

ideretecomments said...

like bob sykes.

jeffhsu3 said...

I ordered a month's worth and it hasn't come in yet. I've tried several other meal supplement shakes, but never for long due to taste/cost. One thing that bothers me are some of the ingredients (ginseng really?). Still the cost is competitive with other products. I wouldn't mind being fed through IV, though there are much more technical issues with that such as infections.

'A major function of meals is bonding to other people. It sounds like the people drinking Soylent are isolated sociopaths.'

Or single bachelor/bachelorettes just trying to save money.

David Coughlin said...

You gotta give us a report when you are done!

James Hedman said...

Eating a char-broiled medium rare New York cut steak with a decent Cabernet Sauvignon results in better karma.

dxie48 said...

"(ginseng really?)"

Must be marketing ploy to cater for the Asian community in the Silicon valley. Note also the use of rice protein which has distinctive taste not easily masked.

"just trying to save money."
Bad comparison. 'Normal' food paid a premium for look, texture and freshness, and extra for those from animal origin. The cost could be less if the foods are of odd shape or past used by date. The origin of the powder supplements cannot be determined.

mzso said...

I'd be cautious living on soylent only for a prolonged period. Not only it's designed by a hobbyist, but nutrition is far from being completely understood.

mzso said...

Lack of understanding when it comes to nutrition and the lack of validity of the product as an all-in-one food.

rz said...

The afterword of this post: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2013/08/20/soylent/ (2 week experiment on living on soylent) seem to be dead-on. I'm really happy that this sort of a thing is happening, though. Both world-hunger and understanding nutrition are worthy problems.

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