‘Food replacements’ have long been a pet motif of sci-fi creators. Fantasy worlds of the future, we find, frequently pass on for traditional food in favour of some nutritionally equivalent (or superior) replacement which trumps its predecessor in convenience and cost. Rob Rhinehart, creator of Soylent, is well aware of this history: the name is a reference to the 1973 sci-fi “Soylent Green”, in which humanity is forced to replace ordinary food with mysterious green wafers (the mystery is later solved: the wafers are of human flesh).
Soylent is a liquid composed, according to Rhinehart, of everything that your body needs in the course of the day. In 2012, Rhinehart and some friends were house-bound, working desperately to come up with a less expensive alternative to cell-phone towers. They were having little success, but despite this they determined to continue on until the last of their funding had dried up. It was as a result of Rhinehart’s efforts to cut down on expenses that Soylent was born. The roommates identified their greatest expense as food but couldn’t find a way to reduce the cost. They were already eating the cheapest meals they could find and were having trouble staying healthy and energised as a result. .
Rhinehart noticed that what he really needed was not food but rather what food provides – carbohydrates, vitamins, protein, etc. He spent some time researching the needs of the human body and the means by which these needs are usually met. Rhinehart went from electrical engineering to nutritional biochemistry, and the result was a large quantity of pills and powders going in the blender. Rhinehart began to live on the concoction, and, in his own words, he felt great. He was spending only $50 per month on food (as compared to $470 in the days prior to his invention), and he found himself with time as he never had before. The recipe for Soylent has since been refined: it now comes as a nutrient-rich powder which you mix with water (and Soylent 2.0 comes mixed in bottles). Rhinehart claims that one can take from Soylent just the same benefits that he enjoyed as a result of ingesting the curious mixture that issued from his blender four years ago. Is this really so?
The most obvious and immediate benefit to Soylent is the cost. Pretty much everyone can expect a significant reduction in the amount they spend on food. A week’s supply of Soylent costs $85, or $4 per meal. Rhinehart himself experience immense financial benefits as a direct result of adopting even his Soylent prototype. Of course, not everyone eats all Soylent all the time. You can eat it for breakfast and lunch, you can go out for a meal now and again – really, you can consume it any way you like. What you can be certain of is that using Soylent at all will make your pockets fuller.
Whatever else one might say about Soylent, it’s impossible to deny that it will slash your food budget. Full marks for cost, then.
Time and Cost – entrepreneurs value these above almost all else. There’s a reason Soylent has proved so popular in Silicon Valley. Soylent’s time-saving benefits are even more obvious than its cost-effectiveness. Each meal takes only a few minutes to make, and in fact Soylent 2.0. comes bottled, cutting down the time spent yet further.
As was mentioned above, you’re always free to cook your own meal or eat out with friends. But using Soylent at all will undoubtedly save you time. Full marks here too.
Energy And Nutrition
Of course, Soylent’s freeing up of time and funds would be of little use if it left you so weak that work was impossible. The very essence of Rhinehart’s creation is productivity-oriented. So how will Soylent leave you feeling?
Soylent is made with comprehensive nutrition in mind: according to the company, it is made to replace meals entirely (should the consumer so desire). And it does contain everything you need to stay energised. For the most part, those who have experimented with Soylent have reported normal (or sometimes even increased) energy levels. However, it is worth bearing two things in mind.
One, those testing Soylent frequently fail to outline the contents of their pre-soylent diet. If they’ve been living on pizza, a Soylent-induced increase in energy is of course nothing to shout about. Two, some have experienced a drop in energy. One man – an extremely fit individual with an active lifestyle – found his energy levels waning on occasion, and was frequently unable to properly complete his usual exercise regimen. At the same time, there is no need for you to consume Soylent and nothing else (as he did), and it may be that adding the odd meal can have a positive effect on energy.
So, though many have found their energy levels to be stable over the course of an all-Soylent diet, it is worth bearing in mind the experiences of those who lost energy. Since you can eat regular meals as well as Soylent, the product may be given a pass here.
What about your long-term health? Unfortunately, little study has been done on this topic. The whole idea of Soylent, though familiar to sci-fi fans, is quite new to the real world. There is, however, one study undertaken by researchers in Japan which may be cause for concern to those who intend make Soylent the sole constituent of their everyday diet.
Researchers fed exclusively powdered food to mice. Though in the short term no ill effects were observed, over the long term the mice became hyperglycemic, and other sign of illness such as increase in hypertension and levels of blood glucose were observed; the researchers also found abnormal social behaviours.
It must be stressed that this is the only study of this sort undertaken, and no study has been performed on humans as yet, so it is far from evidence that Soylent has a poor long-term effect on humans (and the usual qualifications about not needing to make Soylent the sole constituent of your diet apply). However, it is hard not to make mention of the study and to have certain reservations about a Soylent diet as a result.
Soylent has proved extremely popular with entrepreneurs. That it saves time and money is beyond dispute, but is it worth it? In terms of nutrition, most people experience no significant decrease (some even an increase), though a few have reported feeling more tired. And it is impossible to ignore – though also unwise to put to much stock in – the above-mentioned study.
Overall – though there are doubts – Soylent does seem to deliver.