Don’t worry: despite its colorful name, “Soylent” contains neither ground-up humans nor soy. It is a powdered “food replacement” with a carbohydrates, fats, and protein ratio of 50/30/20. Each serving contains 9g of dietary fiber, 36% of the U.S. RDA. A full bag of Soylent contains three “meals,” each to be mixed together with oil that comes with the bag. In its liquid form, a bag of creepily beige Soylent contains just over 2,000 calories and at least 100% of the RDA for each essential nutrient (for a few of them it goes a little over).
Created by Silicon Valley engineer Rob Rhinehart, Soylent was designed to make “worrying about food” a thing of the past. For people like Rhinehart who lead busy lives, food has reportedly become a “hassle.” The idea is to meet all of one’s basic nutritional needs with Soylent and then eat only occasionally as a social exercise.
Various journalists have done the trendy Soylent experiment, subsisting on nothing but the food replacement for some number of days. Reports include moderate to significant gas, which may have something to do with an appropriate amount of fiber being added into the normal American diet, which is typically lacking in roughage. Unsurprisingly, many writers also report that consuming nothing but a bland-tasting, vaguely sweet, thick liquid for days on end is very dull and unfulfilling.
While Soylent’s inventors have suggested that at $9 per day for complete nutrition it might be a solution for global hunger issues, this seems unlikely for several reasons. The naming of the product itself is clearly designed to appeal to a market other than the hungry in developing countries, piquing interest in a culturally-specific way. The taste and texture of the product, too, are barely palatable, even for the person who is so successful that feeding oneself has become a burden.
Experts agree that world farmers already produce enough actual food to feed the world’s population. The cost of living figure generally accepted by the World Bank as indicative of extreme poverty is $1.25 per day. A $9.00 per day solution for food alone hardly seems viable, even though Rhinehart hopes Soylent may one day compete with “rice and beans” globally.
The socio-cultural impact of taking farming away from farmers around the world or turning them into producers for companies like Rosa Labs has yet to become a large part of this conversation, but it should. Rhinehart has even expressed interest in removing Soylent from the agricultural process altogether:
“I think Soylent produced entirely independent of agriculture would qualify as Soylent 2.0, and Food 3.0,” Rhinehart commented in the Soylent consumer forums.
Rhinehart and Rosa Labs have crowdfunded their Soylent campaign, and this tactic has been wildly successful. Shipping of the product began on April 25, 2014. A 40 pound box contains 28 bags of Soylent and 28 individual oil capsules for reconstituting the powder.
It is unclear what health risks actual Soylent subsistence might carry. There have been no studies yet concerning what Soylent does to the body although company employees, including Rhinehart, do consume it. Rhinehart counters that all Soylent ingredients are well-studied. However, others argue that RDA percentages cannot tell the whole story when it comes to health and safety.