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May 29, 2014 6:45 PM   Subscribe

The psychology of Soylent and the prison of first-world food choices
People are born with neither the ability to cook nor compile; both are taught, and chastising even an adult for not knowing how to cook a healthy meal makes about as much sense as chastising an adult for not knowing how to code or how to compile an application from source. Each of those two different ridicules demonstrates an identical lack of empathy and an accompanying equally stunning sense of privilege that you should probably check immediately.
posted by the man of twists and turns (395 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Education is then the solution, not this gloopy glorp-glap.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:54 PM on May 29 [18 favorites]


Okay - I do agree that "why don't people just cook a healthy meal, it isn't hard" shaming isn't fair. Even though I've remarked how easy it is to eat healthy in here before (in my case, though, I lay the blame for making people think cooking is hard SQUARELY on the big food industry behind "convenience" foods).

But all that aside, lemme get one thing straight before I go on -

This is real?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


i don't understand all the reaction to Soylent. For many people, cooking is a chore. They aren't particularly into food, and this is better than bags of Doritos. For someone who sees meals as a distraction, a way to refill the tanks, why not provide them an instant alternative that gets them the nutrition that they need? Different people have different relationships with food, and that's okay. Sure, someone can be educated, but why? Why spend 15 minutes cooking for yourself, plus the hours shopping, etc., when you can just mix one of these things, and the whole ordeal is over in minutes, and you can go back to whatever you were doing. You'd free up hours a week to work on other things.

Different people have different priorities, and I think that's okay.
posted by MythMaker at 6:59 PM on May 29 [75 favorites]


There's a good point there about lacking basic cooking skills- I remember shame-facedly having to ask a friend over IM how to brown hamburger once upon a time.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:59 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I can't shake the memory of the guy who ate nothing but monkey pellets for a week. By day 5, he's a broken man.

Nobody should starve to death and basic nutrition should be a right but time is certainly a luxury for many, I get that. But I'm pretty confident I know how this ends. This is medical-grade food made by people who don't know anything about medicine or food, and it ends in deaths and lawsuits.
posted by mhoye at 7:00 PM on May 29 [41 favorites]


Soylent Green is people. This soylent is white people.
posted by jfuller at 7:00 PM on May 29 [45 favorites]


This is medical-grade food made by people who don't know anything about medicine or food, and it ends in deaths and lawsuits.

Yeah, the lack of anybody with any sort of formal training or education in nutrition or medicine or even cooking in all of this should be a great big red flag to any person not invested in the delusional fantasy of the lone inventor.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:01 PM on May 29 [22 favorites]


Blithely dismissing someone's inability to whip up a healthy meal by tossing off a condescending "Soylent? Gross! You don't need that! Just go cook something quick and healthy!" can be about as wrongheaded and insensitive as telling an alcoholic that they could fix all their problems by just drinking less or telling a clinically depressed person that they'd feel better if they'd just stop moping and cheer up.

In this issue: the drive to eat Prepared Nerdpowder is a disease
posted by Greg Nog at 7:04 PM on May 29 [14 favorites]


I love that soylent has no nutritionist on staff. <
posted by boo_radley at 7:07 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


> I remember shame-facedly having to ask a friend over IM how to brown hamburger
> once upon a time.

Nothing to be ashamed of. That particular task is actually on the more difficult end of the basic cooking spectrum. (There's at least one non-obvious wrong way to do it -- if you use too little heat or put too much at once in too small or light a pan, it'll steam instead of brown and be nasty as hell.)

As a much more general principle, there is no shame in not knowing something. The shame (IMHO) comes with having a use for the knowledge, an opportunity to acquire it and still remaining willfully ignorant.

Besides, there's no point in applying social pressure to learning cooking skills; not doing so is its own punishment.
posted by sourcequench at 7:07 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


I read an article that mentioned that the facility in which Soylent was prepared was less than sanitary, has this changed with the influx of investment. The lack of medical vetting on their part is also concerning. The concept is fine as an occasional meal replacement but I'd like to know what I'm putting in my body has passed some safety tests first.
posted by arcticseal at 7:10 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


...if you use too little heat or put too much at once in too small or light a pan, it'll steam instead of brown and be nasty as hell

I did not know this.
posted by Flashman at 7:12 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I'm an insulin dependent diabetic, so having a reliable form of precisely measured calories with adequate nutrition is attractive to me. Most liquid meal replacements on the market are ridiculously high in sugar, and while home-cooked meals are far healthier, I don't always have the time to prepare them, and they sometimes lack the caloric precision I need to measure.

Soylent may not be the perfect solution (there are no clinical studies of its long-term effects), but I think it's a step in the right direction. I would certainly appreciate an affordable, palatable, nutritious liquid meal that I could add to my already restricted diet when constrained for time.
posted by johnnyace at 7:13 PM on May 29 [15 favorites]


i don't understand all the reaction to Soylent.

I might give it a try, if a doctor were to say it's okay, but they named their product something linked most in the popular imagination to cannibalism so my starting point here is disgust. It's an uphill battle.

Wait, is it vegan?

The powdered component of Soylent is vegan. Our separate oil blend contains non-vegan ingredients (fish oil). If you are vegetarian/vegan, you can opt out of receiving our oil blend. Once you get your powder, make sure to add your own plant-based oil blend in order to ensure the correct nutritional profile.

Ughhhh, I have to add my own oil? What am I? A master chef? I'm going to Chipotle to get a sofritas bowl instead.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:16 PM on May 29 [26 favorites]


Very little cooking actually ever goes on in our house. Once the kid moved out and we became empty-nesters, the urge to actually bother to cook real meals vaporized. But I can't see moving to this stuff; we'll just keep eating Trader Joe's frozen food and the occasional Thai takeout.
posted by octothorpe at 7:19 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


>> ...if you use too little heat or put too much at once in too small or light a
>> pan, it'll steam instead of brown and be nasty as hell
>
> I did not know this.

Flashman: What you're after here is the Maillard Reaction. It happens mostly between 140C and 165C.

If you throw the whole package of hamburger in the pan and it bubbles away in a pool of watery liquid, you're not hitting that temperature range, and you're in for a grey, tough, unpalatable bad time.

(Sorry for the derail, but this is like culinary suicide prevention.)
posted by sourcequench at 7:20 PM on May 29 [26 favorites]


I can get down with the whole thing about having to learn to cook. It's hard enough to cook if you don't have too much time, it's even harder to learn if you don't have enough time OR money. Cooking involves fucking up, no matter how good the cookbook or youtube video, and if you're not willing to eat your mistakes, it can be quite prohibitive.

That being said, as appealing as something this easy might be, it sounds fucking gross.
posted by nevercalm at 7:21 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


As to education in nutrition, I would like to think most members of Metafilter are old enough to remember the various fashionable changes in what is and is not considered "good nutrition." Fat is terrible; no, fat is good! Carbohydrates are good; no, carbohydrates are bad! Eat fish; wait, no, not that fish.

I think Soylent will work out. It's an iterative process, it will adapt. As it accumulates money, if a nutritionist is truly needed, one will be hired. I look forward to it because even a ten percent drop in my caloric intake can send me to the ER. Lawsuits? Perhaps, but then, people sue Pepsi.

Granted, I am in love with the idea of Soylent gaining enough income to make a series of increasingly disturbing commercials about how great Soylent is and how it integrates into people's lives, like in The Stuff:

1) A woman methodically pulling dishes out of a dishwasher and shattering them on the floor while a man with a crowbar enthusiastically pries cabinets off a wall: "Three! Thousand! Dollars! for these cabinets! But we don't need them anymore, now that we have Soylent."

2) A uniformed young man in a forklift slams it into the produce section as wild-eyed civilians haul in refrigerated cabinets and shelving and boxes of product. "We need to make more room. Out with the old, in with the new! SOYLENT!"

3) A restaurant, something like a knock-off Romano's Macaroni Grill, with a waterfall in the main dining area, bursts into flame. A man in a apron staggers in front of the camera holding a jerrycan. He is smiling as if relieved of a great burden. "I'm free because I have ..." and here a white liquid dribbles out of his mouth " ... Soylent."

4) A figure seen from behind, hair wild, periodically jerking with some great effort, then stops with a great sigh. She turns around with blood streaking her chin and throat. She smiles a gummy red grin and holds up pliers with a single dripping molar. "There are so many things you don't need when you have Soylent."
posted by adipocere at 7:23 PM on May 29 [93 favorites]


Each of those two different ridicules demonstrates an identical lack of empathy and an accompanying equally stunning sense of privilege that you should probably check immediately.

Privilege, in this case, if you only limit the scope of your vision to a tiny, wealthy on a global scale, first-world Western subset of the global population. If you step back and look at humanity as a whole, rather than worrying about Americans, you'd see that ability to cook meals from fresh, raw ingredients is inversely related to privilege.
posted by Jimbob at 7:23 PM on May 29 [36 favorites]


The thing I just don't get about Soylent is that liquid meal replacements already exist for purchase, and these are developed by nutritionists, not just Some Guy who hates food and has an epic case of Engineer's Disease.
posted by murphy slaw at 7:24 PM on May 29 [66 favorites]


Wait, so is this like real or an elaborate joke about the movie/novel and the fact that it, like, is the future, man...?
posted by Sara C. at 7:24 PM on May 29


i don't understand all the reaction to Soylent. For many people, cooking is a chore. They aren't particularly into food, and this is better than bags of Doritos.

Oh, I don't think the reaction is entirely about the concept. I actually think that there being something like "People Chow," for lack of a better word, is an okay idea; some kind of easy-to-eat thing for people who aren't into being foodies but still gotta eat something. Not my bag, but neither is beer so whatever.

No, my reaction was more like Drinky Die's - "They named it Soylent? REALLY?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:25 PM on May 29 [8 favorites]


The future will have arrived when you can get a drone to deliver you a burrito crafted with love by a robot (out of fresh, raw, hydroponically grown ingredients).
posted by Pyry at 7:27 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Hell, this stuff looks like too much effort for me, the modern idiot. Why are poors around the globe being given a better alternative?
posted by angerbot at 7:27 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


Aren't there aisles upon aisles of the supermarket dedicated to foods for people who aren't into being foodies but still gotta eat something? I mean since when are people who would prefer a Lean Cuisine or whatever "foodies"?
posted by Sara C. at 7:27 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


I think Soylent will work out. It's an iterative process, it will adapt. As it accumulates money, if a nutritionist is truly needed, one will be hired.

A nutritionist was needed from day one, so your conditional is incorrect.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:28 PM on May 29 [18 favorites]


Seriously, and not as a flippant question - what is different about Soylent from pre-existing meal replacements / liquid food / dietary supplements, like Calorie Mate or Ensure or something? johnnyace's info about sugar is a good point that I hadn't heard before, but I don't get the impression that it's important for many of the people excited about Soylent.
posted by 23 at 7:28 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


I mean, the thing is, you can criticize stuff like Soylent without demanding that it be banned forever. Like, devil's advocate argument, if someone wants to occasionally drink their lunch in Soylent form, sure, whatever. But if an employer observes this, twirls their mustache and says "ho!", and then starts informally penalizing employees who have the presumption to go out into the sunshine and buy a hamburger rather than drink a glass of Soylent at the water cooler and get back to work, that sucks.

Of course there's nothng to stop this scenario already happening - people could just eat a bag if chips, or nothing, or (twist!) a healthy sandwich they brought from home at their desk instead, and I'd still look like the loafer for going outside. But adding another alternative to eating certainly isn't going to help.

Put another way, sure, it's just a tool, neither inherently good nor evil. But that's exactly why it's appropriate to ask how this tool might be used. It might help some people while harming others. It might encourage a general interest in nutrition and improve public health while at the same time acting as fuel for the all-consuming fire of dehumanization, helping to undermine the idea that eating is more than just supplying a worker-unit with its required nutrition.

Also, it'll be interesting to see if this "cooking is scary" argument catches on, because it would seem to conflict with the common nerd self-image of a perfectly rational being not subject to the social and emotional forces that shape regular folks into American Idol-watching basket cases.
posted by No-sword at 7:29 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


I mean since when are people who would prefer a Lean Cuisine or whatever "foodies"

The advent of Soylent has devolved the definition of "foodies" to "people who eat food".
posted by murphy slaw at 7:30 PM on May 29 [31 favorites]


Not long ago, a good friend of mine told me they wanted to try Soylent, in large part because strict diets appealed to them and it would be the perfect choice. It pinged my eating-disorder radar - I did something similar with cans of Ensure many years ago - and made me a little sad and scared.

I do understand the appeal of a nutritious food-type thing that can be gulped down on the occasions when you're just too pooped to even figure out what to eat, but I can also understand the unhealthy ways in which it might appeal to people.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:31 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


they named their product something linked most in the popular imagination to cannibalism so my starting point here is disgust. It's an uphill battle.

Was going to say something to that effect. Why on earth did they name it Soylent?
posted by JHarris at 7:33 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


The NYT had a story about soylent yesterday and even though I love food the idea of the stuff really appeals to me. I've always been a bit of an over eater and I'm definitely over indulgent to a fault. I remember reading the monkey chow post and thinking it would be a novel way of resetting ones amount of caloric intake because you wouldn't want to eat any more of the stuff than necessary. Soylent would seem to do the same thing and not be totally punishing.
posted by photoslob at 7:34 PM on May 29


Workplace pressure to stay at your desk and work while you shove something into your nutrition hole is already very much happening, isn't it?
posted by thelonius at 7:35 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


"People Chow," for lack of a better word

Bachelor Chow, I was gonna recommend it as a better sci-fi name choice.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:36 PM on May 29 [7 favorites]


So, on average the North American white-collar worker puts in six weeks of unpaid overtime every year. That's not including our collective, steadily-worsening commute times. That's just work.

That's six weeks, a few hours every day at a time, that you spend not participating in your family life and your community. It's why you don't really know your neighbors. It's why your don't have time to cook a decent meal with your kids so they can eat well and watch you do that and learn.

So you get up out of bed, you sit down for a breakfast that feels rushed, you sit in your car trying to get to work faster, you sit in meetings that don't seem to end, you sit down for lunch you have to wolf down so you can sit in more meetings that afternoon, you sit in your office, you sit in your car so you can sit in traffic and maybe get home in time to sit down for dinner. And then you sit down in front of the TV for a bit and watch something exciting, have a drink to take the edge off and lie down in bed so you can get up the next day and do that all again. And everything hurts, because you spend all day in shitty chairs hunched over the cheapest screens and keyboards the company could buy but it fucking hurts to stand up more every day, but you can't leave because you've got a kid and they give you insurance at work and and and and and and and and and, and the problem here is not that you don't know how to fucking cook.

The problem is that you are in the middle of a system that is designed to keep you right where you are, lonely and frightened and tired and powerless. This is why your CEO hates socialized medicine. It's why unions, immigrants and minorities are relentlessly demonized. It's why the the cops and rent-a-cops trapped in that same machine will crack your head open for the overtime hours instead of siding with anyone in a little less despair than them. It's why weed is illegal but the coffee and nicotine that crank you up for a day's work and the alcohol that numbs the pain afterward aren't. It's why you're always either tired or stressed or angry or numb and you can't see the big picture and things just happen to you, and you don't understand why.

That's why Soylent is going to be funded like crazy, whatever its real costs are, whatever the lawsuits or deaths or other nightmarish consequences on the margins. Not because it solves any problem you have, because nobody who makes any of these decisions gives a shit about you. It's going to be funded and endorsed and installed all over the place because it's one more thing that lets that cycle continue, so that Americans can continue to live in tired, isolated and extraordinarily profitable fear, every day, forever.

So I think I'll pass on it, thanks.
posted by mhoye at 7:37 PM on May 29 [162 favorites]


You could apply the same rationale behind Soylent to clothing, and just make everyone wear disposable prison jumpsuits.
posted by gimonca at 7:44 PM on May 29 [8 favorites]


For those of you wondering what makes this stuff any different than the other meal replacements already lining store shelves, I believe Soylent offers a more "balanced" set of nutrients than what's available (disclaimer: I am not a Soylent expert).

Specifically, Soylent has a better ratio of carbohydrates, fat, and protein than you'll find in existing meal replacements, which are mostly just empty calories and a multivitamin's worth of nutrition. Whether this improved ratio has any appreciable benefit remains to be seen.
posted by johnnyace at 7:45 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


I think they named it Soylent to get attention rather than having it languish as "Ensure but retooled for Kickstarter." The idea of replacing a meal with a milkshake-type beverage for either weight loss, health or necessity isn't new, and I think the media would come to that conclusion if it weren't that an engineer choose a name that's so bad and weird that it attracts further attention.

The more I read about this stuff, the less I get it. The first thing you hear about is that it's meant to be so nutritionally complete it can replace all food, which I'm assuming isn't something slimfast or ensure can quite do. This implies you'd never need to eat any other type of meal, which implies that's the proposed use case.

Then you hear interviews where the creator says he instead just means for it to replace meals here and there, which raises the question why you need a nutritionally complete supershake instead of something that provides a decent mix of important macronutrients to be compensated for in a real meal. I mean, a lot of mornings I eat instant oatmeal, as it's quick and easy, but I am not really bothered that it's probably not got enough protein, calcium and omega 3 fatty acids to last me my whole life if I only ate packets of oatmeal the rest of my life, as I intend to eat real food later.

I think it would be useful to have something like soylent for a few uses, such as for diagnosing food allergies through eliminating most common allergens entirely for a few days/weeks and reintroducing problematic foods to find what's causing issues. But I feel like forcing yourself to live only on this stuff because you think it's the platonic ideal health food is pretty much orthorexia and picky eating taken to their logical conclusion.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:46 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


Bachelor Chow, I was gonna recommend it as a better sci-fi name choice.

Oh, I know the reference, I just was being more gender-inclusive.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


A nutritionist was needed from day one, so your conditional is incorrect.

What is it exactly that a nutritionist would do that a reasonably intelligent and motivated engineer could not?
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:50 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I haven't tried Soylent and I don't know if I ever will, but I have to say that the idea is tremendously appealing to me. I've spent most of my adolescence and adulthood struggling with eating disorders, and food is a very fraught thing for me. One of the most daunting things is the overwhelming number of choices available-- I've been known to spend half an hour wandering around the supermarket, looking at things and thinking about them and then putting them back on the shelf, then leave without buying anything. I don't feel like I trust myself to make the right decisions, I don't know what normal looks like, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of nutritional info out there (it's high protein! That's good, right? But it's soy protein, that's bad, right? But this other thing has too many carbs...)

I think that our modern food culture is an issue for a lot of people, in ways that may not be as extreme as they are for me but are nonetheless big challenges. In the US at least, we've lost a lot of ritual surrounding food-- we eat in strange places, in a hurry, alone, away from home, etc. We have ten thousand cuisines to chose from, including all sorts of junk food that has been nefariously designed to be hyper-palatable. And we have all this moralizing and image-building connected with what we eat, whether we eat the right things or don't eat the wrong things. We have sky-high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc, as well as high rates of eating disorders and disordered eating.

Soylent is appealing to me and to others like me because it offers an easy way out of the very difficult problem of constantly having to make choices about food. Just drinking your allotted calories and get on with your life. In the past, I've used Ensure as a way to make sure I eat enough when I get in a weird food head-space. It's really commonly used in people recovering from EDs. But they aren't designed to be a complete human diet, even though they're often used that way-- they're a supplement, loaded with sugar, without a great macronutrient ratio.

Maybe it's not healthy for me to try to avoid food altogether. Probably it's not. But I do so the appeal, and it's not because I'm a cog in a corporate machine or a life-hacking techie trend nut. Eating and making decisions about eating can be really hard, and in comparison Soylent can look like freedom.
posted by bookish at 7:52 PM on May 29 [17 favorites]


if you use too little heat or put too much at once in too small or light a pan, it'll steam instead of brown and be nasty as hell.

True enough, unless you are making a bolognese sauce. Then it's nice to get the ground meat to just pink. And then add the wine, let that boil away, then the milk, and the the tomato sauce.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:53 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


What is it exactly that a nutritionist would do that a reasonably intelligent and motivated engineer could not?

I honestly can't tell if you're joking.
posted by murphy slaw at 7:53 PM on May 29 [44 favorites]


Oh, I just got a great idea.

What if somebody set up a copy of Graze.com, but instead of getting delicious snacks sent every week from a subscription service that responds to your personal tastes, you get rations sent from a prison kitchen that observes your behavior via social media, review of your credit card/bank statements, and your performance reviews at work?

Ideally, the rations would be nutraloaves mixed with ingredients that you, the consumer abhor. The most repulsive, unpalatable foods reserved for when you are utterly shit.

They could even include a dog collar with electrodes to track your gag reflex for your quantified self charts on the website! And the collar could have a little OLED display that helps explain what you did to deserve your rock salt, vinegar and marmite nutraloaf to your coworkers as you cry in the break room.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:53 PM on May 29 [22 favorites]


Oh, I know the reference, I just was being more gender-inclusive.

Ahh, gotcha, Yeah, I said better choice instead of good for that reason. Doesn't take much to be better than the cannibalism name. :P
posted by Drinky Die at 7:54 PM on May 29


My philosophy regarding learning to cook goes something like:

- I like to eat good food
- I hate to spend money
- absent hunting my dinner, I get the best bang for my buck by purchasing the raw materials and preparing them myself
- in furtherance of the first proposition, some additional knowledge acquisition is required.

Even if that stuff were free, I would die of sadness if I had to live on it.
posted by hwestiii at 7:55 PM on May 29 [12 favorites]


In the US at least, we've lost a lot of ritual surrounding food-- we eat in strange places, in a hurry, alone, away from home, etc. ... all sorts of junk food that has been nefariously designed to be hyper-palatable.

You know this is just that, right?

Seriously you could live on packets of instant oatmeal and probably do about as well. Throw in a chicken breast once a week and a daily multivitamin, and you'd probably be doing better than Soylent.
posted by Sara C. at 7:55 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


reasonably intelligent and motivated engineer could not?

Prevent Engineer's Disease?

I made this post while handmaking tagliatelle and pesto and watching The Avengers in the background, explains the title.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:55 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


Agreeing with mccarty.tim.

The criticism towards this product was probably welcome (any publicity is....) and intentional. Come on, you name a product after a film in which the eponymous product is recycled humans for nutritional consumption and you didn't expect a revulsion as an initial response?

You can easily buy Ensure / Nepro / Glucerna marketed towards the malnourished, renal impaired and diabetics respectively off the shelf at any well stocked pharmacy. So how is this new other than savvy marketing?
posted by ianK at 7:56 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


I'm an insulin dependent diabetic, so having a reliable form of precisely measured calories with adequate nutrition is attractive to me. Most liquid meal replacements on the market are ridiculously high in sugar...

Me too, and I had the same thought, but one of the articles linked from Ars says that the first ingredient listed for Soylent is maltodextrin, about which Wikipedia says,
Maltodextrin is easily digestible, being absorbed as rapidly as glucose, and might be either moderately sweet or almost flavorless. It is commonly used for the production of sodas and candy.
posted by XMLicious at 7:58 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


The first thing you hear about is that it's meant to be so nutritionally complete it can replace all food, which I'm assuming isn't something slimfast or ensure can quite do.

Ensure was created by Abbot Pharmaceuticals in 1973. So a reasonable person might well be asking themselves why a pharmaceutical company that makes $35B/year and has 40 years of head start over these clowns wouldn't be making comparable claims.

I'll let you guess what I think, though.
posted by mhoye at 7:59 PM on May 29 [14 favorites]


I work ten hour overnight shifts and don't always bring enough food with me to sustain me for the entire night. I think soylent would be a nice replacement for a 4am 7-11 run or a pop-tart from the vending machine.
posted by empath at 8:00 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


I don't get it. I have three boxes of some weird meal replacement thing from Nestle my nutritionist prescribed that I got from the hospital pharmacy because they're subsidized. The version I have is super protein heavy with multivitamin stuff and I blend it with some fruit and ta-dah, balanced diet. I know people who live entirely on powdered food (different blend to mine) due to various gut things - for years. The stuff is out there with a long well put together nutritional history and clean production.

They're saying it's cheaper at $3. Mine is $2.50 a packet. You can get it cheaper in bulk. Some of the people I know on this stuff get it covered by insurance.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:00 PM on May 29 [14 favorites]


Plenty of folks would like to be able to get by with something like this -- making decent food is a chore (several of them!), especially if you're single and can't share the load.

But this? It's not that.

And That!, when it arrives, still doesn't replace learning how to prepare your own nutritionally complete (and soul-satisfying!) food (as difficulty as that is, in many ways, for a variety of reasons). There is nothing more fundamental to our being-ness (in whatever form we'd like that to manifest itself) than the food we eat. If you can't manage the resources available (that's a qualifier) to accomplish that, you're in trouble, no matter where you are.

Which maybe is why we get so het up about it. Everybody has an opinion about the right way to eat. Not unlike the way everybody gets so het up about education.

Commenter at the top nailed it in one.
posted by notyou at 8:01 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


>how to brown hamburger

if you use too little heat or put too much at once in too small or light a pan, it'll steam instead of brown and be nasty as hell.


But browning it in the microwave is still OK, right?
posted by straight at 8:02 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


Education is then the solution, not this gloopy glorp-glap.

Education is not free in terms of money or time.
posted by empath at 8:02 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


My problem with Soylent is that its viral branding is dripping with STEMbro culture snark, starting with the insufferable name and ending with articles that compare First World, upper-middle class food woes to actual, real social justice problems as if I care.

As a food product? I don't really care. Eat what you want.
posted by Skwirl at 8:03 PM on May 29 [27 favorites]


Neither is Soylent free.
posted by notyou at 8:03 PM on May 29


Why on earth did they name it Soylent?

Because "Soylent. Get it? Soy-lent??" didn't fit on the package. Or what Skwirl said.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:10 PM on May 29


I'm just gonna leave this here: http://diy.soylent.me/
posted by WCityMike at 8:11 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


New Yorker: The End Of Food - Has a tech entrepreneur come up with a product to replace our meals?
Rhinehart, who is twenty-five, studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, and he began to consider food as an engineering problem. “You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” he said. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they’re “mostly water.” He began to think that food was an inefficient way of getting what he needed to survive. “It just seemed like a system that’s too complex and too expensive and too fragile,” he told me.
The Atlantic: The Man Who Would Make Food Obsolete
“I was 6 or 7,” Rob Rhinehart began, “and I guess my mother was serving salad. I was looking down at a plate with these leaves on it. I could look outside and see leaves on the trees, and it just seemed a little weird. It seemed a little primitive - like something an animal would do. On this nice plate, in this nice house, why would I eat this thing that grows on trees? I thought, ‘We can do better.’”
The American Conservative: Man Cannot Live On Soylent Alone
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:13 PM on May 29 [9 favorites]


I've been on food stamps for a while. My budget is basically less than $2 a meal. 189 a month to be really precise. The last week of the month is usually pretty rough.

So, this soylent goo is still out of that price range. I did some research on it because I've also been curious about some kind of bachelor/monkey chow.

The thing is, I've basically already tried this diet by way of eating peanut butter and maybe oats for more than a week at a stretch, and I know how it ends.

It ends with goo coming out of your end and/or ends as in plural. Goo in, goo out. You really do need macro scale fiber in your diet or otherwise you turn into a human soft serve machine or something. Granted, sometimes this kind of low residue diet is wanted due to being an astronaut or a colostomy bag, but for most humans it's kind of gross.
posted by loquacious at 8:15 PM on May 29 [19 favorites]


The whole bit about how cooking is too complicated for nerds really hurt the argument, I thought. Do you even know any nerds? Cooking is full of trivia, jargon, special processes that you can argue over endlessly. If you like, you can approach it entirely from a chemical background, or build complicated pieces of equipment to do things like sous-vide. Nerd catnip, to the right kind of nerd.

Plenty of people may have no interest in cooking or view eating as entirely utilitarian, and more power to them. That doesn't mean that soylent is rescuing all nerds everywhere from the big scary kitchen.
posted by figurant at 8:18 PM on May 29 [9 favorites]


Meal replacement has been around for decades, some (i.e. PSF) specifically written by doctors and nutritionist. It's hard to argue that in a meal replacement capacity, Soylent is any better or worse than some Xtreme bodybuilding weightgainer rebranded to appeal to the social media crowd. Also one would think maybe the Quartermaster Corps, Army Medical Research and Nutrition Laboratory and the Subsistence Research Laboratory before that would have figured out the formula for healthy powder rations by now. Either way, if gulag glop is any indication, at least it won't kill you immediately.
posted by dirtyid at 8:20 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Sure, learning how to prepare food is a learned skill. But so are a lot of other things, like putting on pants or driving a car. The only things you're born knowing how to do is crap and complain.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 8:21 PM on May 29 [47 favorites]


"I was 6 or 7,” Rob Rhinehart began, "and I guess I was breathing. And I started thinking, I'm taking in this giant volume of air, when all I need out of it is the oxygen. Why should I waste my effort on all this nitrogen? I thought 'We can do better.'"
posted by murphy slaw at 8:22 PM on May 29 [10 favorites]


It seemed a little primitive - like something an animal would do.

uh Rob you might want to sit down for this
posted by solarion at 8:25 PM on May 29 [67 favorites]


Given that the formula is open, you'd think people might have more substantive suggestions beyond merely saying "eeww!" in various ways?
posted by aramaic at 8:31 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


Given that the formula is open, you'd think people might have more substantive suggestions beyond merely saying "eeww!" in various ways?

It doesn't matter if the source is open if I don't want the program.
posted by murphy slaw at 8:33 PM on May 29 [9 favorites]


Isn't the paleo diet for people who hate cooking?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:35 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Many nerds like cooking sometimes, or often, but they can be so passionately into whatever it is they're doing (like a coding binge, or a gaming binge, or what have you) that much like children when they are singularly focused on a task, they are intensely frustrated by the need to set aside time to prepare or eat a meal, let alone sit there and eat it while not doing other stuff and really relax and "take in" the experience.

I don't mean to be condescending that way because I'm only really speaking for myself and what I see in my son...but a lot of it does amount to delaying gratification and putting aside something else. And sometimes it's about having an employer that works you to death and leaves you little time for anything else, and that's pure evil and you should be making them feel bad and getting them to buy you sushi and whatever awesome stuff you can't afford during particularly egregious days or weeks, and get the hell out of there.

I love to cook, but very rarely, I go to extremes doing "techniques" and Googling things i don't have down pat, and make a big mess that I furiously try to "clean as I go" and the end product is always good but I always somehow manage to exhaust myself in the process.

I do want something that is "certifiably safe" to say, a month straight, not to eat for a month, but to cram in wherever I need to when working crazy hours and such, with an ideal carb / protein / fat mix, calibrated to my body type and fitness goals, and portioned easily so that I can just take little nips here and there rather than trying to tank up entirely.
posted by aydeejones at 8:35 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


Make it out of actual people. I bet people are delicious like pork chops or bacon.
posted by loquacious at 8:36 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


like something an animal would do

The crows in my backyard will soak their food in the birdbath before coming back to eat it. I'd say the animals are more advanced in this case.
posted by gimonca at 8:36 PM on May 29


Rhinehart, who is twenty-five, studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech,

Engineers are funny people... as long as they aren't actually in charge of anything.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:37 PM on May 29 [7 favorites]


Note: my employer doesn't work me to death personally, but I go through binges of it here and there for a week or two, and having a huge cache of protein bars and bottled beverages and a loo nearby is essential for the sort of intense nerdery that I sometimes find myself in. Sleep doesn't even get love, so eating is mostly about staying awake, not feeling uncomfortable, and not feeling anxious. But not stuffed, because sitting around anxiously working on stuff and mostly enjoying it while being stressed out at the same time does a number on your stomach the longer you go without sleep...
posted by aydeejones at 8:39 PM on May 29


Sure, learning how to prepare food is a learned skill. But so are a lot of other things, like putting on pants or driving a car.

Anything you take the time to learn how to do is going to take away time from learning other things you want to learn how to do. People have to make choices in life.
posted by empath at 8:40 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I'd like to see a cooking contest in which Soylent is used as an ingredient in absurdly elaborate dishes.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:40 PM on May 29 [13 favorites]


But browning it in the microwave is still OK, right?

Flagged as offensive.
posted by Jimbob at 8:40 PM on May 29 [22 favorites]


This is also a good argument for more community-based living. Sure, poor people the world over have to cook and devote time to it, but just as many of them might be involved in obtaining the food, obtaining water, etc, and everyone kind of takes care of each other. In the absence of first world exploitation, it can be sort of awesome. With the addition of first world medicine and a hands-off approach, it could be educational and very awesome to witness. But not in that creepy "Study the poors" way.
posted by aydeejones at 8:41 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


murphy slaw: "What is it exactly that a nutritionist would do that a reasonably intelligent and motivated engineer could not?

I honestly can't tell if you're joking.
"

A lot of my chemical engineer friends work in the food sector. They are bright people of capable of learning, and you have to be extra special prejudiced to think an engineer cannot do some reading on a subject of interest and build on that.

What exactly do you imagine goes on in Human Nutrition classrooms? They sit around in small classrooms and discuss deconstructionist interpretations of assigned journal articles, and whether it was ethical for James Lind to deny conscripted sailors oranges and lemons?
posted by pwnguin at 8:42 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


What was wrong with Ramen Cup floor Noodles?
posted by humanfont at 8:43 PM on May 29


Also if this guy has any reasonable clout and ramp-up going on besides speculative IS HE MAKING FOOD OBSOLETE! articles, I'd like to see him team up with NASA and yeah, some serious nutritionists, because his reductionist approach could lead to some very valuable information, regarding micronutrients that might be present in milk and other cultivated protein sources but not an amino acid slurry, until you figure out that you need them and how to introduce them into the slurry.

If we get into space exploration on any serious level we're going to need to understand how this stuff really works and get some money behind it. It's going to be hard enough accounting for weird things like the effect of Earth's magnetic field on man's sense of purpose or some weird shit we will certainly encounter, but I'd reminded of this story of a Chinese village that was self-sufficient and started to experience rampant cardiac defects / heart failure / etc. Eventually it was discovered that their soil was depleted of selenium, and the answer to their horrid problem was very straightforward. On the other hand, that's a case of an otherwise "perfect" self-sustaining system missing a single nutrient (think sampling and subtractive synthesis sequenced into an EDM track), rather than trying to figure it all out from the beginning (creating an organ or other additive "synthesizer" using the most effective building blocks of frequency modulation and acoustic projection with your hands instead of ProTools or Ableton).
posted by aydeejones at 8:49 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


I read the various origin stories about this product and kept waiting to hear the part where it said, "and then they consulted a nutritionist/dietician/doctor" and it just never came. Even when the creator experienced uncomfortable side effects from its consumption, he just guesstimated the ratio of nutrients needed to eliminate them. Brash scientists who experiment on themselves make for good fiction, but not necessarily solid fact. He also seems to show a total lack of concern about the taste of his product, which is just bad business. Medical grade, nutritionally balanced food replacements already exist. He's reinventing the wheel and slapping it with a geek friendly (possibly copyrighted) label and strange gender/class underpinnings.
posted by Selena777 at 8:50 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


He also seems to show a total lack of concern about the taste of his product, which is just bad business.

It just makes me think that a certain percentage of the population may actually lack taste buds.

I mean, food is supposed to be tasty. If your dietary intake is determined primarily by the exact ratios of micro-nutrients, and not yumminess, then you need to see a doctor because you're seriously missing out on a major human experience here.
posted by Jimbob at 8:53 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


I don't understand why folks would take the name so seriously so as to to be grossed out. I must be way too much of a nerd... I love the name. Sure as fuck cooler than a name like "Ensure".

I would even try this stuff out. I like the idea. Sometimes I need to eat, but I find nothing particularly appetizing and the temptation is to simply consume quick and easy to fill the belly, which may not be the most nutritious but will tide one over for a while none the less.

I'm not particularly hopeful, though. I have tried meal replacement products, and in general, I tend to find them not particularly satisfying, and/or tedious to consume, feeling more like medicine than nourishment. I suspect that may be one of the trickiest parts to solve in the long run. It has to be good enough that I want to consume it, yet not so good that I overeat.

Anyone ever try prison loaf or Plumpy'nut?
posted by 2N2222 at 8:55 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I'd like to see a cooking contest in which Soylent is used as an ingredient in absurdly elaborate dishes.

Soylent's first appearance in an episode of Chopped in

3

2

1

...
posted by Sara C. at 8:56 PM on May 29


And in the end there's something about dumping vitamins and micronutrients into a product that leads to poor bioavailability and uptake of those nutrients. Perhap it's because they're concentrated all together, competing for various enzymes and precursors to be properly metabolized, they don't have an elaborate fiber matrix of cellulose tissue providing a slow "time release" mechanism that also pleases gut flora when they get the leftovers, etc. He needs a nutritionist and a research physiological biochemist with an emphasize on biogenic structures that embody the food we eat. Or whatever you call someone who does the evil stuff big tobacco, illicit drug cooks, and food scientists do, except it's about getting nutrients to the body rather than cramming them in a soy bar and pissing it out.
posted by aydeejones at 8:58 PM on May 29 [13 favorites]


Mix? Fish oil? I'll wait for the pill.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 9:10 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


Jesus fucking christ I am not down with this love in.

No. No. No. and No. Seriously what the fuck is wrong with you all? God damn Americans and their passive aggressive fear of fucking food.
posted by aspo at 9:10 PM on May 29 [17 favorites]


The name is somewhat more acceptable if you consider that Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow, the original products, were completely legitimate, made from plants and plankton. It was only Soylent Green that was made out of people (which is why it had so many hard-to-find nutrients).
posted by vogon_poet at 9:12 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


Sure as fuck cooler than a name like "Ensure".

Ensure helps old and sick people get nutrients they might not be getting otherwise. It, and the people it helps, are not trying to sound cool.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:13 PM on May 29 [22 favorites]


That quote is completely preposterous. Preparing and cooking food is a basic human survival skill. It is pathetic that an adult not understand how to apply heat to ingredients.
posted by borges at 9:15 PM on May 29 [10 favorites]


Specifically, Soylent has a better ratio of carbohydrates, fat, and protein than you'll find in existing meal replacements, which are mostly just empty calories and a multivitamin's worth of nutrition. Whether this improved ratio has any appreciable benefit remains to be seen.

Given that I've known a couple of people who subsisted on liquid meal replacers for years due to medical issues, including a growing child, I am extremely cynical of the idea that existing medically developed liquid diets are "empty calories" while magically a random engineer has invented the True Liquid Food. In fact, I would say it is prima facie false, since they and tens of thousands like them remained quite healthy and neither their doctors or the manufacturers of the food were sued.
posted by tavella at 9:15 PM on May 29 [16 favorites]


Not kosher (or halal, 7 agreements, or Jain sattvik, for that matter). So not for me, although I understand substituting a different oil for the supplied fish oil will make it vegan, which is close.

What I really want is a low sugar/high protein food bar, available in most grocery stores or pharmacies, I can keep in my everyday carry - that and some water and I'm good for the next 4-6 hours. Yes, I am a very good cook who has made some waybread-type foods over the years, but I have to cook and package them myself; not practical when all ready on the road. And those damn cricket bars aren't kosher either.
posted by Dreidl at 9:17 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I would like to think most members of Metafilter are old enough to remember the various fashionable changes in what is and is not considered "good nutrition." Fat is terrible; no, fat is good! Carbohydrates are good; no, carbohydrates are bad! Eat fish; wait, no, not that fish.
Even any child members of Metafilter might remember the olive oil/nuts study released last year or the Mediterranean diet study a decade ago showing 30+% reductions in cardiovascular incidents compared to control groups. In the most recent case this was from an intervention as simple as "have them eat 30 grams of nuts and 50 grams of olive oil every day", and this massive low-hanging fruit was news in 2013.
posted by roystgnr at 9:23 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


"...human soft serve machine..."

As someone who has lived on Slimfast for a couple months (did the math, it was the cheapest way to survive), this gave me flashbacks. Needless to say, I will NOT be trying Soylent.

My takeaway from all this is that we need to bring back mandatory Home Ec class.
posted by sfkiddo at 9:23 PM on May 29 [8 favorites]


MetaFilter: Human soft serve machine.
posted by drfu at 9:24 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


There's about 2-4 weeks a year I travel for work to the middle of nowhere. I'll be working out of towns so small there's no grocery store and the only local places to eat are fast food. Last time I ended up taking the car on a two hour round trip to a city, then tried to shop for healthy, tasty food that I could cook in a microwave or coffee maker and store in a tiny poorly working fridge. That would last a week.

If Soylent was available I'd have brought it. Is it something I want to eat? No. But there's enough situations out there where it would be useful, I think the author of the article made his point well.
posted by lepus at 9:27 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


borges: It is pathetic that an adult not understand how to apply heat to ingredients.

Maybe it's pathetic that you don't understand basic relativity. Or how to do basic programming. Or the fundamentals of PCR. Or how your car or computer works. Etc. etc.

People have specialized a lot, these days. I have to know a whole bunch of other things, I don't have time for that. I guarantee you that you shrugged off something I would consider equally fundamental.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:27 PM on May 29 [10 favorites]


And, very convenient for disabled folks where cooking is just not possible. I've spent long periods of time without the use of an arm, or unable to stand, yet insurance would not cover either a care attendant or special foods. Adding malnutrition to trying to heal was not an optimal situation. I would have been thrilled for boring, complete food I could prepare/clean up myself.

I realize disabled folks are not Rosa Lab's desired demographic. But not all coders are abled.
posted by Dreidl at 9:29 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


As someone who has lived on Slimfast for a couple months (did the math, it was the cheapest way to survive), this gave me flashbacks.

One of the few actual comments I remember from the Fucked Company forum is "A shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, explosive diarrhea for dinner!"

I don't know why it stuck with me. Oh, right -- as a reminder to never try Slimfast.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:29 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


Also one would think maybe the Quartermaster Corps, Army Medical Research and Nutrition Laboratory and the Subsistence Research Laboratory before that would have figured out the formula for healthy powder rations by now.

They still serve rations made of real food in the army because the best way to get the enlisted to say "fuck this shit!" and ask for a discharge is to feed them tasteless goop in their MREs.

The closest the Army has come to this is the First Strike Ration which comprises apple sauce with a ton of sugar, nacho cheese sauce and caffeine pills and even then they know it's for short term usage, and it still has tonnes of flavour.

There is a reason submariners get fed the best food in the armed forces. The first care package arrives with mom's strawberry preserve and suddenly your on-board Soylent Goop Artists(tm) are being threatened at knife point to "make me damn burger".
posted by PenDevil at 9:35 PM on May 29 [18 favorites]


Relativity, coding etc. all false equivalences. "I forgot how to cook because I was too busy coding?" Please cut me another slice of break. There are books, for heaven's sake.
posted by borges at 9:37 PM on May 29 [7 favorites]


borges: Relativity, coding etc. all false equivalences. "I forgot how to cook because I was too busy coding?" Please cut me another slice of break. There are books, for heaven's sake.

What's your point? There are books for everything. Like everything else in life, people lack the interest, the talent, or the time.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:43 PM on May 29 [7 favorites]


God damn Americans and their passive aggressive fear of fucking food.

✳ Insert American Pie joke ✳
posted by XMLicious at 9:44 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


There have been times in my life I'd love to have something that meant I wasn't having to pick up fast food or sit at the only diner open late after a 14 hour day in the bit mines. Before you say, "You could just cook!" there were times I slept in my clothes because of how exhausted I was.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:46 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


Relativity, coding etc. all false equivalences. "I forgot how to cook because I was too busy coding?" Please cut me another slice of break. There are books, for heaven's sake.

I tried cooking the "crab book" once and though it was fairly stacked it left me feeling a bit empty. I think it needed more layers. Perhaps some snail or octopus.
posted by loquacious at 10:04 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


What's your point? First you equate cooking with relativity, now it's about time, talent, or interest. Lacking any of those things doesn't make not being able to cook any less pitiable.
posted by borges at 10:05 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I forgot how to cook because I was too busy coding?

I didn't "forget how," I decided I didn't CARE TO, because I was too busy earning a living and not being put out onto the streets with my cat and the clothes on my back. I KNOW how to cook. I actually know how to cook very damn well, thank you, and if I ever have more than 15 minutes of free time in a row again in my life, I'll probably use that time to cook something.

Just kidding, no, hell no I would not. I would absolutely use that time instead to have sex, or sleep, or any of the other shit I never fucking have time to do. Cooking, actual prep from scratch cooking, is like priority #762. Send the soylent, I'd rather get laid and then nap.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:06 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


Ensure helps old and sick people get nutrients they might not be getting otherwise. It, and the people it helps, are not trying to sound cool.

No kidding about that.

Humorless loves company.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:06 PM on May 29


It's kind of interesting, but I became great friends as an adult with my junior high school home ec teacher (home ec was and still is mandatory in British Columbia). I still remember learning how to make French Toast, and progressing to muffins and spaghetti and all sorts of cool things, all in junior high school.

I later went on to be a short order cook, so I guess I learned on the job. Terrible job.

Anyway, my sister ended up studying at a university in Japan, and our home ec teacher happened to be staying in the same dormitory. Our teacher had spent some time in Beijing teaching, but by the mid-90's was in Kyoto. It was a total coincidence.

Later, my sister and I both ended up working in Japan, and we couch surfed with my home ec teacher. She later moved to a different country, and recently returned "home" to Canada and lives two blocks away.

Let's hear it for Home Ec teachers!
posted by KokuRyu at 10:08 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


I don't think cooking is even the point, though.

With all the junk science in the copy about "empty calories" and "nutritionally complete" and the like (none of those are scientific terms), is there any reason to believe Soylent is any better than a bag of chips, a PowerBar, a packet of oatmeal, fast food, or really any other convenient meal substitute? Yeah, it sucks to work a fourteen hour shift and go home and find something to put in your face so you can fall asleep. I have literally had beer for dinner before. I know.

But you know what? I'm not convinced that Soylent is better than beer for dinner. I would love a widely available, cheap, simple, and appetizing meal substitute. But nothing I've read implies that Soylent is that. I just keep a Lara bar in my glove box and call it a day.
posted by Sara C. at 10:09 PM on May 29 [7 favorites]


Sure, learning how to prepare food is a learned skill. But so are a lot of other things, like putting on pants

I said I'm working on it!
posted by krinklyfig at 10:12 PM on May 29 [15 favorites]


What's your point? First you equate cooking with relativity, now it's about time, talent, or interest. Lacking any of those things doesn't make not being able to cook any less pitiable.

Do you know how to code your own webserver? Fix your own car? Knit a sweater? Ride a motorcycle? Win at poker? Play piano? Tap Dance?
posted by empath at 10:15 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


I'd like to see him team up with NASA

What makes you think NASA would be interested?

This seems like a road that's likely been heavily investigated. As others have pointed out, Ensure was invented in the 70s by a deep-pocketed pharma company, and there has been nutrition research carried out for decades by various government labs. If it was possible for the average person to be happy on powdered Human Chow, I suspect that's all people on nuclear submarines would ever eat. And yet they still bother to pack all sorts of fresh and canned traditional food. Whether it's necessary for nutritional or psychological reasons, they're probably good ones.

Soylent seems suspiciously like naive wheel-reinvention in all aspects besides how it's being marketed. The only thing that I doubt anyone has ever considered before is taking food that'd be considered abusive if fed to astronauts or submarine crews (and probably cruel to serve prisoners) and getting nerds to not just eat it, but pay for the privilege of eating it, voluntarily.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:17 PM on May 29 [16 favorites]


Soylent: "It's not going to drink itself"

(From a previous Ars Technica piece by the same author.)
posted by Sara C. at 10:22 PM on May 29


Do you know how to code your own webserver? Fix your own car? Knit a sweater? Ride a motorcycle? Win at poker? Play piano? Tap Dance?

I'd argue that the "skill" of cooking your own food is more akin to knowing how to go to the toilet, have sex, shave, sweep the floor or brush your hair. We're not asking for 3-star molecular gastronomy here.
posted by Jimbob at 10:23 PM on May 29 [46 favorites]


Lacking any of those things doesn't make not being able to cook any less pitiable.

You know, I can and do cook most nights of the week. I have a solid, no-recipes-needed grasp of how to cook. With that out of the way, this "pitiable" sentiment is uncharitable and reflects poorly on you.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:23 PM on May 29 [10 favorites]


borges: What's your point? First you equate cooking with relativity, now it's about time, talent, or interest. Lacking any of those things doesn't make not being able to cook any less pitiable.

My point is, there are a million things to know and you benefit from other people knowing them 99% of the time. You depend on your car but (probably) don't know auto mechanics. You depend on modern medicine, but you aren't a biochemist. You use the internet, but you aren't a programmer or network engineer. You benefit from the skills of tons of diverse professions, all of the time, and it's apparently not pathetic. But suddenly someone doesn't want to cook, and that is somehow different?
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:24 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Since when is making a sandwich on par with being a biochemist?
posted by Sara C. at 10:26 PM on May 29 [14 favorites]


Seriously, Lee Hutchinson's account of a week on Soylent is one of the more hilarious things I've ever read on the internet. This, truly, is the best of the web.
posted by Sara C. at 10:28 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


borges: It is pathetic that an adult not understand how to apply heat to ingredients.

Maybe it's pathetic that you don't understand basic relativity. Or how to do basic programming. Or the fundamentals of PCR. Or how your car or computer works. Etc. etc.

People have specialized a lot, these days. I have to know a whole bunch of other things, I don't have time for that. I guarantee you that you shrugged off something I would consider equally fundamental.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:27 PM on May 29 [

Nah, I'm with borges.

Since the beginning of time, every animal on the planet has needed food to survive. You will need to eat food, regularly, if you want to survive. You will not need to code a webserver to survive. Therefore, learning how to feed yourself is a basic life skill in a way that learning how to program a computer is not.
posted by Salamander at 10:28 PM on May 29 [30 favorites]


People are born with neither the ability to cook nor compile; both are taught, and chastising even an adult for not knowing how to cook a healthy meal makes about as much sense as chastising an adult for not knowing how to code or how to compile an application from source. Each of those two different ridicules demonstrates an identical lack of empathy and an accompanying equally stunning sense of privilege that you should probably check immediately.

And this, from the article? Oh, just fuck off with your whole 'check your privilege' thing.

I saw a documentary of orphan kids in Indian slums cooking scavenged meat over a makeshift fire the other day. I hope they were pondering their privilege as they did so.

Sourcing food and applying heat to it is something that humans see almost every day of their lives, from birth. It's a survival instinct. Comparing it to 'compiling an application from source' is so stupid, it makes the rest of your opinions irrelevant.
posted by Salamander at 10:34 PM on May 29 [34 favorites]


Therefore, learning how to feed yourself is a basic life skill in a way that learning how to program a computer is not.

But in this day and age, learning to feed yourself is not necessarily connected with knowing how to cook. I can feed myself by buying fast food. I can feed myself by microwaving frozen meals. I can feed myself by buying an apple off of a shelf or picking one off of a tree.

We all need to eat. We don't need to cook.
posted by No One Ever Does at 10:36 PM on May 29 [8 favorites]


I can feed myself by buying fast food. I can feed myself by microwaving frozen meals.

And yet apparently the people who cook are the "privileged" ones...
posted by Jimbob at 10:38 PM on May 29 [13 favorites]


Rhinehart, who is twenty-five, studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, and he began to consider food as an engineering problem. “You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” he said. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they’re “mostly water.”

So this guy thinks that bread is under-processed? And that it's worthwhile to forego eating fruits and vegetables because you can take multi-vitamins, essentially? And you flat-out just don't need or stand to benefit from the calcium or potassium or the conjugated linoleic acid or other beneficial compounds in milk?

Here's one for him: we need engineers to solve problems, not define them.
posted by clockzero at 10:40 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


Sara C.: Since when is making a sandwich on par with being a biochemist?

Well, it's not. But different things seem easy to different people. I honestly can't imagine why people can't google simple computer problems. It baffles me. But they can't, and I don't think it's pathetic that they can't. Different people are good at different things. And more fundamentally, they enjoy different things.

Cooking is like that. Can I cook? Yeah, a little. I can read and follow instructions. Food can be successfully assembled. But I'm not good at it, I don't enjoy it in the slightest, and I don't like the food I cook. If I have to cook, it will be a miserable, unpleasant chore that will follow me to the end of my days. Could I change my attitude and thus enjoy it? I suppose it's possible. But tell me this; is there nothing you have to do that you just fundamentally don't enjoy, that you don't ever want to have to deal with yourself? Cooking is like that to me. I would literally rather do my taxes, or mop, or anything.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:45 PM on May 29 [8 favorites]


And yet apparently the people who cook are the "privileged" ones...

Where did I ever mention privilege?
posted by No One Ever Does at 10:46 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


"As far as safety control and completeness are concerned, formula is actually better. Natural isn’t always best."

Just get this quote to the ears of La Leche League and it will probably be enough to torpedo him. I await the formation of La Comida Cabal.
posted by casarkos at 10:50 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


FWIW, reading the Ars Technica account of a week on Soylent, the first thing that strikes me is that assembling a day's worth of Soylent is basically cooking. It doesn't require heat, but yeah, it's a packet of powder and a vial of oil. You add the oil and some water to the packet and blend. At that point, you're dirtying enough dishes and spending enough time assembling that you might as well have just made yourself something more appetizing to eat. Hutchinson ends up adding vanilla extract and colorings to the Soylent in order to make it even vaguely palatable, at which point, yeah, that's cooking, friends.

My guess is that it is both easier and takes less time to make my morning oatmeal, the roast beef sandwich I had for lunch, or a bowl of soup for dinner. And all three meals were infinitely better than Soylent.
posted by Sara C. at 10:51 PM on May 29 [15 favorites]


On a side note, I'd like to mention that I think the idea of Soylent is idiotic. The solution to not having to cook without ruining your health should revolve around making better frozen and fast foods, not some kind of freaky bachelor chow. There's no reason aside from misguided economics that prepared foods can't be healthy, they just aren't right now.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:54 PM on May 29 [10 favorites]


they are bright people of capable of learning, and you have to be extra special prejudiced to think an engineer cannot do some reading on a subject of interest and build on that.

So you would be ok with a nutritionist who did some reading going on to building bridges or cars, right?
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:04 PM on May 29 [17 favorites]


Granted, I am in love with the idea of Soylent gaining enough income to make a series of increasingly disturbing commercials about how great Soylent is and how it integrates into people's lives, like in The Stuff:

One of my best friends actually works for a company contracted to make ads for this stuff. So maybe I can help make this a reality!

My input so far has been more along the lines of "yeah good luck with that one dude."
posted by atoxyl at 11:07 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


I honestly can't imagine why people can't google simple computer problems. It baffles me. But they can't, and I don't think it's pathetic that they can't.

But...most people can, can't they?

I'm not trying to be a smart-arse, but this is what I don't understand about the whole debate. I have zero interest in computers, except as a means to an end. I don't know how they work and I don't want to, and if I had my way, no computer would break or need upgrading ever.

But I still managed to find the driver software for my new printer on the internet when I lost the installation disk, and download and install it. And identify and uninstall a virus that was fucking up my whole hard drive. Because I needed it done, and I couldn't afford to pay anyone else to do it. I can read, ergo I can understand basic instructions about computer stuff. Same as a person who 'can't cook' can look up the definition of 'simmer' vs 'boil'.

And the next time you have to do it, it's easier and you do it better. And so on.

I don't think it's pathetic that people think they can't cook, I think it's sad (in the most genuine, non-patronizing way possible). If you can read, you can cook something edible and nutritious, even if it's basic. To say otherwise is like me throwing out my laptop and going back to pen and paper, because I don't know how to code my own computer program.
posted by Salamander at 11:12 PM on May 29 [10 favorites]


tl;dr: I am annoyed that the people who invent crap like Soylent have managed to convince people they 'can't cook' and Soylent is a viable alternative.
posted by Salamander at 11:16 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


I wonder the same thing as Sara C -- if you are going through all that effort, why not just knock back an Ensure/Vivonex/etc or two? They have premixed options. Same for all the people talking here about not wanting to cook, there are multiple brands available in any supermarket and you could keep them handy when you just want to down some food and crash. It's really hard to see what this is bringing to the table except for a Kickstarter and less associations with old people.
posted by tavella at 11:16 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


Salamander: But...most people can, can't they?

That certainly doesn't reflect my experiences. And in any case, most people won't, even if they could probably do it if they tried.

In truth I think most people can handle google, but that isn't the problem. They don't have the experience to recognize and identify problems, nor to know which solutions are plausible and which are malware or worse. Example: someone at my workplace tried to fix a driver issue by googling the model and downloading the driver from the first link. Unfortunately, it was malware. They didn't know enough to know that 'Driver_Support.exe' or whatever it was wasn't plausible as a real driver and they shouldn't install it. Tasks people do routinely are often harder than people realize, for they take their own experience for granted.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:20 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


Where did I ever mention privilege?

It was in relation to the original post, where the claim was made that the ability to cook is a form of privilege - when in fact if you bother look at actual human experience outside of 21st century wealthy Western societies, the ability go buy fast food or processed, pre-prepared meals is actually the identifier of privilege. The attitude around here seems to be that desk jockeys programming computers all day can't find the time to prepare a meal in their busy schedule, but billions of the world's working poor can?
posted by Jimbob at 11:20 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


What is it exactly that a nutritionist would do that a reasonably intelligent and motivated engineer could not?

Have extensive expertise in nutrition.

Sure, an engineer or copy writer or ditch digger or whatever can read some books on nutrition. In the same way that that I can read a few books about building bridges.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:21 PM on May 29 [12 favorites]


learning how to feed yourself is a basic life skill in a way that learning how to program a computer is not.

Actually, so far it's been the opposite - learning how cook hasn't even come close to being the life skill that computers have been; having reliable money solves the food problem much more reliably than good food prep skills do. Anyone can cook, but not everyone has income.
posted by anonymisc at 11:24 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


I mean 'basic' as in, if you don't do it (feed yourself) you will die.
posted by Salamander at 11:26 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


Jimbob: It was in relation to the original post, where the claim was made that the ability to cook is a form of privilege - when in fact if you bother look at actual human experience outside of 21st century wealthy Western societies, the ability go buy fast food or processed, pre-prepared meals is actually the identifier of privilege.

Actually, I'm uncertain about that. Food carts or the equivalent have been around for a long time (ancient Rome, at least) and are totally common even in the third world. Maybe the poorest people don't get to use them, but a lot of people do.

Also, I hate to mention this, but throughout most of human history, the people who were cooking and the people who had careers weren't the same people. I don't like that or want to go back to it, but maybe expecting everyone to individually have a serious career, cook, and get exercise is too much. Of those only cooking can be shunted off to a professional, which is great, because it benefits hugely from economy of scale.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:29 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


You were arguing a straw man then. Soylent etc is feeding yourself.
posted by anonymisc at 11:29 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


Yes, feeding yourself with something made in a laboratory, that barely resembles the thing produced by nature that we call 'food'.
posted by Salamander at 11:31 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


...and Soylent won't 'solve the food problem' if you find yourself somewhere Soylent is not sold.

That's my point. Knowing the absolute basics of how to prepare (natural-grown) food for eating is a transferrable survival skill in a way that being paid for being a computer programmer and then taking money from your account and buying a package of Soylent, is not.
posted by Salamander at 11:34 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


...eh, look - don't get me wrong, I don't care if you want to eat Franken-food. I can see an argument for it not being a bad thing as a stop-gap now and then. It's the tone of the article that got on my nerves: that whole 'us computer nerds are too busy with nerdy complicated shit to learn to cook but you can't do what we can either so nerrrrr'. Just overblown and silly.
posted by Salamander at 11:37 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


You don't have to cook to feed yourself-- you can eat the majority of vegetables and fruits raw. And depending on whether you consider things like bread and baked beans to be cheating, there are a lot of other things (things that you would consider wholesome foods even) in the grocery store that you can just buy and eat straight without any preparation. Honestly, unless you're dealing with meat (and there are plenty of pre-cooked meats you can buy), you can basically just eat everything directly if you need to. So the idea that people are in literal danger of dying because they don't know how to properly brown hamburger is a bit overwrought.
posted by Pyry at 11:42 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


In honesty I would like something like this on the market rather than just medically available.

I have no wish to eat this regularly, because I like cooking and I like the flavour of food, but on the sometime occasions when I'm horribly depressed and starting to chop up vegetables just -hurts- emotionally like everything else it'd be a good way to ensure my dinner is not just a bottle of wine and get me back into a sensible place a bit sooner.

I think there's a place for it as an occasional stopgap (for depression, horrible workloads for a couple of days, etc, when you wouldn't taste what you're eating -anyway- so you may as well get something that's easy and nutritionally balanced) but any longer would quickly become very unpleasant.
posted by solarion at 11:46 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


Salamander, there simply is no society and no disaster in that society, where money couldn't get you food where food prep skills could. But the reverse is not true. Money trumps food prep when it comes to feeding necessary to survive. If comes down to it, money will buy you the food out of a starving person's mouth at the point of gun (and sometimes we unknowingly cause this, in this globalised world). You would have to seek out a place with no people, find a deserted island or something and and go there unprepared and unable to contact people, before money becomes less useful than food prep skill.
posted by anonymisc at 11:47 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


If there is already something that isn't Slimfast (given the opinions in this thread) maybe I should put it as an Ask.
posted by solarion at 11:47 PM on May 29


Macaroni Grill is a harbinger of Soylent.
posted by telstar at 11:50 PM on May 29


I suspect that Soylent is getting strong reactions from people who are invested in food, in the same way that some of the silly tech world events can. Sometimes I feel like tearing my hair out when I read that SnapChat is valued at 2 billion dollars, or about the latest 11-figure Apple/Google/Facebook acquisition. The difference between the tech world and the food world here is that folks who follow tech have seen this happen over and over, where some nonsense product gets popular and either gains market share in the face of superior competitors, or sells out for a ridiculous sum. It just seems to be a fact of life that things get popular and there's maybe not a whole lot you can do to predict which will be huge and which will fade away. In the food world, you have less of the dramatic stories of huge business success. The places where billions of dollars of revenue are sloshing around are probably in the big industrial/agricultural space, but there does not seem to be a lot of hot startup activity there. The things that do appear frequently, like restaurants, probably do have dramatic swings of fortune, but don't seem like they can easily scale into really headline-grabbing dramatic numbers. Also AFAIK restaurants don't acquire each other or get acqui-hired by huge established corporations.
posted by rustcrumb at 11:55 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Hmm. I've gotten annoyed at the free publicity the Internet gives Soylent before, and I've noted that Jevity, Ensure and Boost existed before, so let's give an algorithmic criticism of the reductionistic program of Soylent.

If you begin simply, you think about the chemical composition of food and the human ability to digest and make use of it. To begin simply is often a goal of engineering which leads engineers to dark places. Is the food-human system the complete set of systems which exist, aka the universe? This is not the case. Why does that matter?

It is fairly trivial to say that the reaction of the human body to food is a system with nonlinear dynamical properties, just like every other thing with living systems. For example, add just 1 gram of ricin to any food and eat it, and always you will end up dead. Remove all the vitamin C from your food and watch yourself get scurvy. No matter how much more vitamin E that you add to food. And there are complicated dose responses, that get hidden in masses of logistic equations that pharmacists like because pharmacists don't want to do more math than they have to (most people don't).

But it is the case that this living system can be construed to have a state, and that long-range interactions are exceedingly common in this system, and therefore there are a combinatorial amount of states possible in the human system. It is trivially unfeasible to search the combinatorial state space for acceptable answers. However, it is also the case that the state space is in fact searched already, by current human cuisines.

Implicit in the reductionistic claim of Soylent, therefore, is the brash claim that they can factor this state space out in another way and search it using better methods of their own. However, the state space is very high-dimensional, and they explicitly search it using local methods (adjustments made, not reinvention every time). Searching high-dimensional spaces that way seems to be a mug's game. Searching a high-dimensional space where the dimensionality is not even known, such as this problem, is pure hubris. But we are given many evaluation metrics for how our food satisfies us, and these evaluation metrics can tell what they are doing even in the absence of the knowledge of the dimensionality of the problem. Evolutionary and swarm intelligence algorithms are more amenable to this problem, then, but you probably do not have time for that.

Meaning, in clearer terms, they probably have not thought about the effect on this on, say, social cohesion. But if it gets widely adopted, it's fairly certain to have effects on that: a significant and systematic and usually adaptive human bias is to like those you have broken bread with. But ancient human cuisines have inherently that information baked into them, because the parts of food culture that aren't adaptive to that front don't replicate. This is only the more formal part of a much older criticism of much that is new in food. However, this weirder method of thinking leads us back to the question of the space that they must search in, in order to create a credible eating system (a whole eating system, meaning the experience of eating and the cooking and so on). The space is infeasible to search. Go eat the food your great-grandma would've cooked instead.
posted by curuinor at 12:00 AM on May 30 [10 favorites]


tldr: "I'm going to search this high-dimensional nonconvex space with no bounds on nonconvexity with gradient descent, this is totally going to work well"
posted by curuinor at 12:01 AM on May 30 [13 favorites]


So far, having read the article and this thread, the only critique of the Soylent concept that carries some weight for me is that there are already existing medically-sanctioned liquid-food products that serve the same purpose and are probably better-vetted by staffed nutritionists.

That said, it seems the existing products are geared toward people who are elderly and/or can't live very physically active lifestyles. Soylent seems geared toward a younger and/or more active crowd and I wonder if it suits the latter crowd better. Or is that impression that it suits younger/active people better is just an effect of pie-in-the-sky entrepreneurial grassroots "marketing"? Could I reasonably live off of either product and workout most days and not be overly tired and/or hungry?
posted by treepour at 12:04 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's pathetic that people think they can't cook, I think it's sad (in the most genuine, non-patronizing way possible). If you can read, you can cook something edible and nutritious, even if it's basic.

I don't think people think they can't cook. They either can't or don't want to spend the time and money to learn how.
posted by empath at 12:12 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Treepour: I know people who have lived on Ensure for 20 years exclusively.

I also know people with active lives who have drunk Boost for 3 months exclusively. You can live off of either product, and if you shop reasonably, you can find it for cheaper than Soylent.

I mean, how are they going to beat Nestle on the efficiency in manufacturing of artificial food products?
posted by curuinor at 12:15 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


Curuinor: Not to put too fine a point on it, but what do they shit? (No snark intended, genuine question.)
posted by northtwilight at 12:18 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I don't always want to or have time or opportunity to eat. If this were in pill form, I'd be down. But if I'm going to have to spend the time and energy choking down this sludge, I'd rather just be hungry for a while longer. Prepping and eating Soylent actually sounds like more work than I put into cooking and eating actual food.
posted by rue72 at 12:24 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


there are already existing medically-sanctioned liquid-food products that serve the same purpose and are probably better-vetted by staffed nutritionists.

The only real nutritional difference between Soylent and a 20-pc order of Chicken Nuggets is that the latter is higher in sodium.

There are a great many foods that accomplish exactly what Soylent claims to, which are already found anywhere food is sold and need arguably less assembly/preparation.

It's all smoke and mirrors and Kickstarter nerd cred. There's no there there. You could eat a turkey sandwich three times a day and get the same benefit.
posted by Sara C. at 12:28 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Serving Soylent in Westeros is probably an automatic violation of guest right.
posted by casarkos at 12:35 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I keep imagining plumpy'nut as something wonderful invented by the Wonka factory and my mouth is actually kind of watering, while visions of giant, foamy, sweetly squashy peanuts bob around my head like cartoon elephants.
posted by Serafina Flummery at 12:44 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


with gradient descent

Oh, the local minima!
posted by beerbajay at 12:45 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Serafina Flummery: I keep imagining plumpy'nut as something wonderful invented by the Wonka factory and my mouth is actually kind of watering, while visions of giant, foamy, sweetly squashy peanuts bob around my head like cartoon elephants.

Really? My offhand guess would be that it tastes like grade D peanut butter mixed with a powerbar, with just a hint of ground up vitamin. However, wikipedia says it is 'surprisingly tasty', so maybe you're right.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:52 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it sucks to work a fourteen hour shift and go home and find something to put in your face so you can fall asleep.

Course, the solution to that problem is not letting an engineer with an overinflated opinion of himself (or shorter, an engineer) design you a better food substitute.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:12 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


The only real nutritional difference between Soylent and a 20-pc order of Chicken Nuggets is that the latter is higher in sodium.

You're either saying that you could live on chicken nuggets without developing a vitamin deficiency, or that both diets would lead to a vitamin deficiency.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:31 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


The only real nutritional difference between Soylent and a 20-pc order of Chicken Nuggets is that the latter is higher in sodium.

I don't mean at all to suggest that it is a good idea to try to live on this stuff, or that throwing together a bunch of raw processed nutrients is as good as eating food, but you're more or less accusing them of outright lying about what they put in it.

I mean

it's easy to compare

even ignoring the vitamins (which again, obviously are not as good as real food) the ratios of macronutrients are hugely different
posted by atoxyl at 1:35 AM on May 30 [9 favorites]


If there was a medicine I could take that would reduce my food intake requirement to, say, one meal a day, or even a meal every other day, and the medicine was cheap, I'd consider it. The Soylent guy's argument about the wastefulness of vegetables seems convincing to me. I'm a vegetarian partly for reasons of efficiency, and if I could get the majority of my required nutrition from something that doesn't involve trucks carrying refridgerated cucumbers, that sounds good to me.

I do love to cook. I also love to bike, code, read, run, think, write, sing, etc, etc. I'm not a hunter-gatherer and I don't have excessive amounts of free time; I don't have a strong emotional bond with the agricultural food system which is already quite non-Wendell Berryish; cooking for me is mostly not a communal lovely experience around the hearth.

I've spent quite some time living in domiciles without proper kitchens, where cooking was dismal. A lot of people I know can't even find an apartment to rent. How many people spent last night trying to chop an onion with a tomato knife and crying? Food is painful.

The basic feeling I get from these discussions is that a lot of people see Soylent as a symbol of some autistic dystopia where nothing is nice or beautiful. That may be accurate.

My feeling is more than a Soylent-type product could be like a "basic income" for nutrition. While this particular dude might be an arrogant nerd or whatever, I find the persistent mocking of this idea to be ungenerous, boring, and, um, arrogant. Why not just try to see how someone could find it valuable? We've already had dozens of reports from people whose life circumstances make it appealing.

Here are some quotes from a text by the Buddhist monk and author Nyanaponika Thera:
"'All beings subsist on nutriment' — this, according to the Buddha, is the one single fact about life that, above all, deserves to be remembered, contemplated and understood."

"This repetitive monotony of the process of nutrition kept going by the urge to preserve life — this is enough to reveal the dukkha-nature of life, the tiresomeness of the tedious round of eating and being hungry again. Hence a medieval Jewish sage was moved to say, 'I am fed up with being hungry again and again, and I hunger after final satiety.'"

"This is the suffering inherent in the very function of eating, though mostly hidden by the habituation to this most elementary feature of routine life. The concrete suffering and pain involved in the search for food and its acquisition, is obvious enough to all and this misery was, is and will be life's constant companion."

"If we wish to eat and live, we have to kill or tacitly accept that others do the killing for us. When speaking of the latter, we do not refer merely to the butcher or the fisherman. Also for the strict vegetarian's sake, living beings have to die under the farmer's plowshare, and his lettuce and other vegetables have to be kept free of snails and other 'pests,' at the expense of these living beings who, like ourselves, are in search of food. A growing population's need for more arable land deprives animals of their living space and, in the course of history, has eliminated many a species. It is a world of killing in which we live and have a part. We should face this horrible fact and remain aware of it in our Reflection on Edible Food."

"People, as far as they give any thought to the humdrum act of eating, have taken very different attitudes towards food. Some who became tired of the dull routine of eating dull food, have made a 'fine art' of it and became gourmands. To them the Buddha says: 'All nutriment is miserable, even divine food.'"
posted by mbrock at 2:06 AM on May 30 [21 favorites]


Soylent is going about this all wrong. They need to make it into a waxy substance that comes in long filament spools, and feed that shit into a 3d printer.

Then it could print out elaborate facsimiles of food you love, but colorless and without flavor.

With the right software, you could feed it instagram photos from multiple angles of meals you loved from restaurants that went out of business, and the code will generate a crude .stl file and then create a hollow ghost of the meal you loved but cannot have any longer.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:27 AM on May 30 [21 favorites]


MetaFilter: Human soft serve machine.

I was hoping this was going to be a link to Two Girls, One Cup.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:27 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Two bucks, one cup.
posted by Pudhoho at 2:41 AM on May 30


The thing I don't understand is how people would voluntarily reduce/remove one of their senses (smell). It's insulating yourself from life and the world.
posted by wilful at 3:40 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


♫♪ I married her just because she cooks like you ♫♪
posted by Pudhoho at 3:44 AM on May 30


[A couple of comments deleted. Perhaps we don't need to get too sidetracked by fantasies of other particpants' possible sex lives, humorous or otherwise (or assuming that they are male, for that matter).]
posted by taz at 3:48 AM on May 30


Serafina Flummery: I keep imagining plumpy'nut as something wonderful invented by the Wonka factory and my mouth is actually kind of watering, while visions of giant, foamy, sweetly squashy peanuts bob around my head like cartoon elephants.

Mitovarr: Really? My offhand guess would be that it tastes like grade D peanut butter mixed with a powerbar, with just a hint of ground up vitamin. However, wikipedia says it is 'surprisingly tasty', so maybe you're right.


I can tell you that Plumpy'Nut tastes like the inside of a Reese's - which is to say, delicious. I would use it in my sandwiches interchangeably with other nut butters if it weren't so high in sugar.
posted by quadrilaterals at 3:56 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


"It's insulating yourself from life and the world."

That's a typical remark to be suspicious of, because it implies that the speaker has the privilege to define what counts as "life" and "the world," which are otherwise terms that should encompass the full reality of any person's experience.

And of course, what you mean to say is that it's insulating oneself from a part of life and the world that you think is overridingly important, which is probably true to some extent, and regrettable. It would be marvellous if we could all enjoy all aspects of life & the world, but that is not the case, and so people develop priorities, habits, and time-saving tricks.

Perhaps the choice is between either (a) developing affordable and open-source nutrition mixes, or (b) full robotic post-scarcity communism now. Unfortunately, the latter option is probably going to be heavily opposed by the people who find working every day to be a primary part of life and the world. How could one want to insulate oneself from the fascinating realm of labor, which is part of human nature and the backbone of our illustrious civilization? Peoples' limbs will atrophy, we will forget what it feels like to make things, and life will just be a grey expanse of homogenous time.

Here's the thing though, smells are everywhere. Coffee, walks in the forest, bike trips along fertilized fields, long baths, gardens, the hair of a loved one, or their armpits, or one's wood working, or whatever. We're not talking about removing your nose, we're talking about a source of easy nutrition, the primary purpose being to free up time and energy for other things.

I love the smell of butter, garlic, and onion as much as anyone. Especially in the weekends when I have lots of time to cook together with someone.
posted by mbrock at 4:00 AM on May 30 [7 favorites]


In honesty I would like something like this on the market rather than just medically available.

If you go to Whole Foods there are a zillion bars and powders that are shelf stable and work as meal replacements. You wouldn't happily exist solely on protein bars for months, but for a meal here or there? It already exists.

See also: unsalted nuts eaten with dried fruit

Hell, if you're not worried about sodium or own a refrigerator you're even more golden. Frozen burritos, trail mix...

The problem of conveniently replacing one or two meals has pretty much been solved for years.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:06 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]


I grew up in a family where good food is a sacrament.
It's just as easy for me to toss a cut up fryer under the broiler and some veg into the microwave for a quick dinner as mix up this taste-free concoction.

It's the lights of perverted science thrust onto my dinner table.

No thanks, I'll just go to bed a little hungry.
posted by Pudhoho at 4:18 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Or sup on cold pork and beans directly from the can.
posted by Pudhoho at 4:19 AM on May 30


You don't have to cook to feed yourself-- you can eat the majority of vegetables and fruits raw.

If you live near a place where they sell good vegetables and fruits, as opposed to only having access to a corner store where they only have a few heads of iceberg lettuce and, like, five bruised apples and that's it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:34 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


solarion: In honesty I would like something like this on the market rather than just medically available.

Go to any standard chain supermarket or drugstore. Somewhere around the vitamin and digestive meds area, you will find a section of Ensure/other brands. Premixed! Multiple flavors! Usually several different lines, tuned for different nutritional needs, such as higher protein, etc.

I got no beef with people who don't like to cook, I have a friend who does what we call Davechow, which is a selection of around half a dozen canned foods in combination that produce a nutritionally complete diet because he just isn't interested in food and just wants to get eating over with. It's just the extreme silliness of the "end of food" puffery, when it does nothing that isn't already available to any first world inhabitant who cares to stroll down to the grocery, or order on line.

Seriously, I opened my New Yorker to find pages of this nonsense.
posted by tavella at 4:54 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I'm not one to defend Soylent's inventor or the product at all, I just find it interesting. Here's what I found on a quick Google search; this is the guy trying to answer why he decided to start his own thing rather than just go with the existing product lines:
Soylent is not the first drink with calories in it, nor was Google the first search engine. There are many liquid diets. You'd probably be surprised how long you can survive on just cow's milk. No one says 'solid diets exist already' when someone makes a new food. I don't see how the viscosity makes up an entire category. I considered Ensure but found it much too expensive, low calorie, unpalatable, and an ingredient make up that was far from complete or optimal.

The goal of soylent is to make something ideal, not just a quick shot that will get rid of hunger for a few hours. I need something that allows me to run and lift and think, not just survive, and something considerably cheaper than normal food. A big part of soylent is its personalization as well. There is no 2000 calorie human. If you want an ideal diet you have to personalize it.

I do not plan to patent soylent as the patenting of "plumpy nut" interfered with its capacity to help the hungry, which is a big focus of soylent.
posted by mbrock at 5:00 AM on May 30 [7 favorites]


If you live near a place where they sell good vegetables and fruits, as opposed to only having access to a corner store where they only have a few heads of iceberg lettuce and, like, five bruised apples and that's it.
I think, though, that part of the resistance to Soylent is that it seems to offer a way to bypass, rather than solving, all sorts of questions about food access. You don't live near a decent grocery store? That's ok! We can decide that food is a luxury for people who can afford to live in neighborhoods with nice stores, and you can just subsist on meal replacements. Your job doesn't give you a lunch break? That's ok: you can drink Soylent for lunch while you work. You're expected to work long hours and endure a long commute, and you don't have the time or energy to cook? We don't have to think about whether those expectations are reasonable, because you can stay alive with liquid calories. I completely understand why some people find this idea appealing, but I would hate for it to catch on enough to become seen as a standard alternative to eating actual food. Because once that happens, having access to actual food is going to be redefined as a luxury, and it will be even harder to resist the societal factors that make it tough for many people to feed themselves.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:02 AM on May 30 [21 favorites]


On this topic, I think it's helpful to ask yourself "What Would Julia Child think?"
posted by oceanjesse at 5:07 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Metafilter's weird. When there's a post on obesity and poverty in the US, and a linked article recommends cooking at home, everyone rushes to say the article's wrong because access to fresh ingredients and time for cooking are only available to the privileged in America. But then when an article says that, people say it's wrong because it's only true in America.
posted by Bugbread at 5:32 AM on May 30 [12 favorites]


I have literally had beer for dinner before. I know.

But you know what? I'm not convinced that Soylent is better than beer for dinner.


I think you are kind of overstating what we should doubt about Soylent. The beer doesn't have enough protein or fat to be a nutritionally complete, the Soylent does. (I've had beer for dinner too though, pretty good once in a while.)

What we should worry about with the Soylent is the micronutrients, we can't really be sure if it is missing something we usually get from something else in our diets or if everything is being properly absorbed. But to me that's a hard question for anyone planning out a personal diet long term. Maybe you didn't include enough carrots and suddenly you are missing something we don't know about. So, to make sure your nutrition is complete you would include a wide variety of foods and different meals. Now you have increased the complexity and time involved of your recipe planning, your shopping trip, and your food preparation. And imagine if you are trying to do this for a family instead of just yourself, does your kid need more of the something in carrots than you? They also need less calories. Now what do you serve them? (Not Soylent, unless you want a revolt similar to the military scenario pointed out above.)

Basic cooking may be easy, but complete nutrition is really hard. People who don't pay enough attention to it can end up under or over weight or with vitamin deficiencies. People who pay too much attention can end up with something like orthorexia. For people not overly concerned with taste but concerned with nutrition, I can see how something like Soylent would be appealing. But I also see a bigger market out there for more healthy, tasty convenience food products aimed at the nutritionally focused. It seems like convenience food is looked down upon to me though, even if it is something like plain frozen veggies, compared to doing cooking yourself. Not an attitude I'm a fan of.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:33 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]


It certainly solves the problem of feeding wealthy white people who have such busy lives that taking a hour to enjoy a meal is unthinkable.
posted by tommasz at 5:36 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


they don't have an elaborate fiber matrix of cellulose tissue providing a slow "time release" mechanism that also pleases gut flora when they get the leftovers, etc.

This is what really freaks me out. After a month on a Soylent-only diet would someone even be able to digest solid food without getting sick?
posted by oinopaponton at 5:38 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


The Soylent version of architecture would be Le Corbusier's Plan Voisin to destroy the center of Paris and replace it with dystopian apartment blocks and superhighways. Because, you know, engineering!
posted by gimonca at 5:45 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I think, though, that part of the resistance to Soylent is that it seems to offer a way to bypass, rather than solving, all sorts of questions about food access.

This is kind of weird phrasing -- one, what exactly are you resisting? Did anyone say you needed to use Soylent? And second, what on earth does this have to do with food access? It's not like these guys were going to start a farmers market in Compton, but decided to do this instead.
posted by empath at 5:46 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Not Soylent, unless you want a revolt similar to the military scenario pointed out above.

Probably something like this.
posted by gimonca at 5:54 AM on May 30


Yeah, I don't really get the "bypassing rather than solving questions about food access" bit either. I thought the important thing was solving the issue of access to healthy food (not that I think Soylent does that), not that the important thing was answering questions about food access.

And what are the questions that need answering, anyway? It can't be stuff like "Why don't the poor have access to healthy food?" or "Why has eating healthy become the domain of the wealthy in the US?", because we already know the answers to those questions. So what questions are we talking, here?
posted by Bugbread at 5:59 AM on May 30


If you go to Whole Foods there are a zillion bars and powders that are shelf stable and work as meal replacements. You wouldn't happily exist solely on protein bars for months, but for a meal here or there? It already exists.

See also: unsalted nuts eaten with dried fruit

Hell, if you're not worried about sodium or own a refrigerator you're even more golden. Frozen burritos, trail mix...


I've tried to use trail mix to replace the occasional meal when I don't want to take a real lunch and it never really works, even if I supplement it with fresh fruit. I still have that light-headed, low-blood-sugar, can't-really-focus feeling until I eat something more substantial. I don't know if it's psychological or if Soylent would be any different.
posted by enn at 6:08 AM on May 30


I really love cooking, because I love eating good food. However, the instant food object, like the jet-pack, is on the list of stuff we were promised a long time ago, so I'm happy that it exists now.

Unfortunately, since I have working taste buds, my reaction to these products is utter revulsion. They are so vile, that my hope for a product that I can pour down my gullet when I'm famished but have no time to waste eating, but can still find some measure of enjoyment in, is always dashed.

From the descriptions of Soylent as a product that apparently tastes something like pancake batter, I don't think this is the instant food object I've been hoping for. I guess I'm stuck with regular food for now.
posted by nerdler at 6:19 AM on May 30


"It certainly solves the problem of feeding wealthy white people who have such busy lives that taking a hour to enjoy a meal is unthinkable."

Wow, seriously? That's not only racist but... only wealthy white people are busy? What?
posted by I-baLL at 6:28 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


aydeejones: If we get into space exploration on any serious level we're going to need to understand how this stuff really works and get some money behind it.

In one of Frederick Pohl's Heechee novels, a character discovers an alien factory that turns raw carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen extracted from comets into edible food.

Now, I read these books like 25 or 30 years ago, but I don't recall a single instance of anyone mentioning this "CHON food" with affection.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:29 AM on May 30


wenestvedt: Food in pill form used to be mentioned quite often as something that would be present in the future and it usually wasn't mentioned in any bad way.
posted by I-baLL at 6:33 AM on May 30


Why, exactly, are we supposed to care if some people want to eat this? Seriously, why does anyone care? Do you not have better things to do? Gotten tired of shaming fat people and need a new outlet for the unstoppable urge to judge others for the ways in which they live their private lives?
posted by aramaic at 6:34 AM on May 30 [15 favorites]


I don't think people think they can't cook. They either can't or don't want to spend the time and money to learn how.

I've never had to fight with roomates to get them to cook.

Getting them to clean up, however.... Everybody hates that.

I used to run a restaurant. I'm still an excellent cook. I really enjoy it sometimes. The A Number One reason I don't cook more often isn't a lack of skill, time, or money.

It's a lack of desire to do dishes.

I can't imagine that I am alone in this - as I said, I've only ever fought with roommates over dishes.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:35 AM on May 30 [7 favorites]


Naw, in the next book CHON food is more or less indistinguishable from real food and Essie runs a popular fast food chain called CHONBurger or something close to that. ISTR that by the time of the fourth book, real meat anyway is mostly for religious fanatics and weirdos.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:35 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Please cut me another slice of break.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:36 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "Getting them to clean up, however.... Everybody hates that."

I'm cool with cooking, but I'd pick cleaning over cooking any time, because it's hard to fuck up cleaning, and if you do fuck up, you haven't wasted money, and you don't feel that crushing guilt that you feel when you serve your family a meal that you know just isn't very tasty.
posted by Bugbread at 6:37 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe: Your comment reminded me of vat-grown meat which, as of last year, is now a reality:

"The first in vitro beefburger, created by a Dutch team, was eaten at a demonstration for the press in London in August 2013"
posted by I-baLL at 6:40 AM on May 30


The extent to which this strikes a nerve for some people is fascinating to me. Clearly, some people have deep emotional attachments to the rituals surrounding the preparation and consumption of food.

But for many people, it just isn't sacrosanct. A lot of us just don't care. And the rejection of that — the absolute steadfast refusal to entertain the notion that it's an acceptable way to think or live — just strikes me as so Not Metafilter.

I'd be very interested in Soylent if it actually turned out to be a reasonable product in terms of actual nutrition. I'm suspicious that's the case, but I'm nowhere near qualified to form an opinion. So there's clearly a lot of room for debate, but the knee-jerk "this doesn't conform to my own personal conception of The Good Life" reaction is really weird.

For what other lifestyle choices is that kind of reaction okay?
posted by graphnerd at 6:46 AM on May 30 [15 favorites]


Metafilter: Please cut me another slice of break.
posted by Pudhoho at 6:47 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


graphnerd: "And the rejection of that — the absolute steadfast refusal to entertain the notion that it's an acceptable way to think or live — just strikes me as so Not Metafilter."

Really? I love MeFi, and I love MeFites (for the most part), but one word that I'd never really use to describe us is "accepting", except for a narrow range of exceptions (human sexuality, urban living vs. rural living, dog-lover vs. cat-lover, maaaaybe religion). Boundaries are pretty strict for most other categories (what you think about food, music, work, entertainment, etc.)
posted by Bugbread at 7:01 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


The A Number One reason I don't cook more often isn't a lack of skill, time, or money.

It's a lack of desire to do dishes.


This evokes the image of one of my long-ago 'super-efficient' roommates hovering over the kitchen sink as he shoveled Penny Smart chili into his face directly from the pot he'd warmed it in.

Thanks for the memory.
posted by Pudhoho at 7:01 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


I find it hard to believe there are people who don't derive any pleasure from making food for themselves; baked beans on toast at the temperature you like with the right amount of Lee and Perrins or a fried egg sandwich. Such people do exist, just as there exist people who like to have the television on in the background while they are listening to music and talking to you while vacuuming the floor. Some people I have met would rather 'scoop my own shit out of a toilet and eat that' than eat bland food and others think that cinnamon is a bit too hot a spice for their taste. Some people even listen to Michael Bolton on purpose. Life in all it's rich variety.

I don't know how this person has managed to get so much publicity for their gloopy glop glap which seems to be entering a market already well provided for, but that some people might want to consume this kind of product is a separate issue that I can't argue with. There are bigger issues regarding nutrition than some people choosing to slurp grey goo.

The increasing numbers of people living in cities and the Westernisation of food choices has resulted in poor dietary options spreading globally. In the Philippines there is a rising number of people suffering with heart disease and obesity, the cost of fast food is lower than or comparable with fresh food just as it is in the USA. It is not just a problem in rich countries any more.
One disturbing fact now based on the preponderance of data is the finding that deaths from NCDs in the region are highest in countries that are economically poor.
posted by asok at 7:08 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Why, exactly, are we supposed to care if some people want to eat this? Seriously, why does anyone care?
I don't care if anyone (other than me) eats this. Also, meal replacement powders/shakes/loaves/slurries/etc are nothing new. Still I'm sad to see the media/capital/industrial complex positioning Soylent as a new cool CHOICE rather than punishment or emergency measure. Not because choice is bad, but because of the logic of the system - $3 meal replacements are first an experiment, then a status marker, then a norm, and finally perhaps a requirement. The last two stages of the process are the scary parts. Of course Soylent-qua-product may fail since it's not nacho-flavored, but replacing actual food with industrial goop works to "disrupt" whatever's left of the social rituals around preparing and eating. The fact that the process is well already under way (see people too busy coding to cook, above) does not make this process any more palatable.
The reason it's called Soylent is because they're using irony to misdirect. From the perspective of the technocratic elite this is indeed what you feed people in a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and a hot climate due to the greenhouse effect. Coming soon: Cool Ranch!
posted by jcrcarter at 7:15 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


Wait. What's wrong with eating canned chili out of the pot while standing over the sink? Is this not how it's done? And here I thought I was being gourmet by at least removing it from the can first.
posted by johnnyace at 7:16 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


The convenience of Soylent is a nice bonus, but what I find really intriguing are the reports of increased energy, satiety, and mental clarity.

It's easy enough to obtain and prepare cheap food that will keep you alive, but there's a big difference between 'alive' and 100% healthy and nourished. My hope is that Soylent will provide health benefits comparable to something like a paleo diet to those of us who (a) don't eat meat at home, and (b) have little to no interest in menu planning, food prep, and cleanup.

(FWIW, I've tried living off Ensure for ~ a week, and while I liked the taste well enough, I found I was constantly hungry and tired, even when I was consuming many more calories than is recommended for someone of my gender and activity level. I haven't heard similar reports from anyone who's tried Soylent.)
posted by Kilter at 7:17 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


jcrcarter: "$3 meal replacements are first an experiment, then a status marker, then a norm, and finally perhaps a requirement."

You're taking the piss, right?
posted by Bugbread at 7:19 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I can definitely see Republicans trying to replace food stamps with a Soylent ration.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:20 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


Hell, I could see some of the more nanny state dems (the types who support things like big soda bans) going along with it if the nutritional completeness is real.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:22 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


And what's up with this new "sleeping bag" invention? If this catches on, in five years people will be required to sleep at work and beds will be outlawed, mark my words.
posted by Bugbread at 7:23 AM on May 30 [9 favorites]


$3 meal replacements are first an experiment, then a status marker, then a norm, and finally perhaps a requirement.

You could apply this argument to literally any product of any kind, in any category. "Think your new chair is nice? You won't think it's so nice when THE MAN is forcing them on everyone and couches are banned forever!"
posted by enn at 7:29 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]


Wait. What's wrong with eating canned chili out of the pot while standing over the sink? Is this not how it's done?

That is exactly how it's done.

I was recounting a pleasant memory - made even more pleasant by the additional memory of the roommate washing down his repast with a long draught
from a member of the parti-colored assortment of liqueurs he'd rescued from the trash when our upstairs neighbors cleaned out their liquor cabinet.

Ahhh, fleeting youth...
posted by Pudhoho at 7:47 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Dishes are totally the limiting factor on how much I cook. (I do cook; I just prioritize things like stews that freeze well and make multiple meals for one set of dishes.)

Given that what I hate is the dishes, I can't really see how washing the blender once a day is any easier than throwing a potato in the microwave and adding butter. Give yourself the option of paper plates, and add in some salt and pepper, and you have just about the easiest meal that humans can survive on. It's a lot cheaper than $3/meal, too.

Also, given that nutritionists, dieticians, and nutrition scientists don't currently agree on what the optimum human diet is, I see no reason to expect that an untrained engineer has somehow cracked the code. (Also, in lab trials, mice and rats tend to do worse on this kind of engineered diet than they do on actual, you know, food.)
posted by pie ninja at 7:59 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


...what I find really intriguing are the reports of increased energy, satiety, and mental clarity.

I have (really) never seen a single quack-ass fad diet or health intervention that didn't make precisely those same claims.
posted by borges at 8:08 AM on May 30 [14 favorites]


"I love that soylent has no nutritionist on staff."

I'm not sure where people are seeing the staff list.

I found interviews where the exact opposite is said. For example:

"Once we got some professional dietitians and food scientists to collaborate with us, it got much tastier and more filling."
posted by I-baLL at 8:14 AM on May 30 [6 favorites]


the ratios of macronutrients are hugely different

Different, but not, like, "would kill you" different. The McNuggets are higher in fat and sodium. You'd eventually get heart disease, sure, but you're not going to starve or whatever you're imagining. Really the problem with the McNuggets is that they're lower in calories than I figured, which means you're going to need to eat 500-1000 calories of something else. And it probably shouldn't be fries, since it's already a sodium bomb.

All this "nutritionally complete" talk is fairly meaningless. Human beings have been happily surviving on shit food for centuries, if not millennia. Workers in the Industrial Revolution in Britain lived their whole lives on tea, bread, and butter. They had health problems, but there's nothing to indicate that living on Soylent wouldn't lead to similar ones.
posted by Sara C. at 8:41 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


reading the Ars Technica account of a week on Soylent, the first thing that strikes me is that assembling a day's worth of Soylent is basically cooking.

Yeah, that was my immediate thought too. When I'm by myself and not eating socially, I can get by on significantly fewer dirty dishes than making Soylent seems to create. And that's without sacrificing anything except stuff like "I've already used this spoon to stir my coffee, what the hell, I'll eat cereal with it, too."

Also, Cracklin' Oat Bran is basically Bachelor Chow.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:46 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I still have that light-headed, low-blood-sugar, can't-really-focus feeling until I eat something more substantial. I don't know if it's psychological or if Soylent would be any different.

One thing I gathered from reading Ars Technica's series where they had someone live on this stuff for a week is that Soylent absolutely has solved the satiety* issue. And since it's mostly sugar, I would assume that, on a short term scale, it would probably chase away the low blood sugar angst -- though it's worth noting that the light headed can't focus thing was a side effect for the author, at least early on.

*In fact they may have solved it too well, since it seems like the satiety/calories ratio is kind of skewed in favor of satiety. It's actually sort of the opposite of "empty calories": it'll fill you up before you actually get enough to eat.
posted by Sara C. at 8:53 AM on May 30


And what's up with this new "sleeping bag" invention? If this catches on, in five years people will be required to sleep at work and beds will be outlawed, mark my words.
That would be more credible if sleeping bags had been invented by someone who thought that having a home was kind of a waste of resources and that it would be awesome to be able to sleep at work, at a time when all sorts of policies were encouraging people to sleep at work and people increasingly were sleeping at work. We may get there, but that's not happening yet. What is happening in the US is that the idea of taking a lunch break is steadily disappearing. People are working long hours and spending a lot of time commuting and increasingly relying on convenience food. Silicon Valley libertarians like to use the rhetoric of choice, but it's not really a choice. If everyone else is working through lunch and staying too late to cook and living on meal replacements, then you have to do that too, or you'll look like a bad, uncommitted worker and get fired.

I think people should eat what they want, and if people want to eat Soylent, that's fine by me. But it seems really naive or disingenuous to pretend that Soylent is just another food, because most new food products don't get multiple write-ups in Ars Technica and similar publications. This is about a lifestyle that centers work and makes everything else optional to the extent that is biologically possible. That lifestyle seems like utopia to a very small percentage of the population, which has vastly disproportionate power right now. It feels distinctly dystopian to many of the rest of us.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:59 AM on May 30 [17 favorites]


"And what's up with this new "sleeping bag" invention? If this catches on, in five years people will be required to sleep at work and beds will be outlawed, mark my words."

Already happened!
posted by nerdler at 9:03 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


FWIW if Soylent came pre-mixed and tasted delicious with a non-silty mouthfeel -- especially if it could accomplish that deliciousness and still be shelf-stable -- I would totally keep one in my car and another in my desk for occasional "whoops forgot to eat" moments. I totally get the "would rather do other stuff than eat" thing. It's just obvious from reading the most cursory description of the product that this is not that.

For one thing, it requires assembly. More assembly, for example, than a sandwich or a bowl of cereal.

Preparation requires a blender, a whisk, or some other way of properly emulsifying the whole mess. You've got the water and oil issue, along with that whole problem of fluid dynamics you get when you try to make any other powder-based beverage.

The way it's packaged, it sounds absolutely unintuitive and non-user friendly to prepare. The whole thing is scaled on "enough calories for one day", rather than any standard quantity of food that would fit in a blender, a pitcher, or a mug. The amount of math that has to happen in order to prepare a batch of Soylent in an actual home kitchen is on par with baking. And because it's pegged to food for one person per day, I imagine making it for a family would be even more complicated.

For another thing, when prepared, it has to be kept in the fridge and is prone to separating. This removes any convenience factor that was left after all that math and dirty dishes and kitchen equipment, because you can't just keep a tetra-pak of it in your glove compartment. It lives in a pitcher in your refrigerator, where it has to be poured into a glass.

Also, bottom line, from what I gather it tastes awful. Get back to me when, after all that work, I get a milkshake or a chai latte or that really delicious green Naked Juice.
posted by Sara C. at 9:04 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


One part of the article, that I wish to absolutely give an amen to:

"And then, worst of all, we have to "sprinkle with salt and any spices"—how much salt?"

So, I always undersalt. ALWAYS. And it's not on purpose. I cook, and a recipe asks for "a dash of salt" or "salt, to taste" (although never, it seems, at the final stage where you can actually taste what you're cooking without getting trichinosis or salmonella) or, even worse, just "salt". So I have to wing it, since I can't taste test. And it comes out undersalted. And next time, I try to use even more salt, except, y'know, I didn't measure how much salt I used last time. So I put in enough salt that I'm thinking "Ok, that's gotta be at least one and a half times as much as last time", and yet it comes out undersalted. So next time, I try to put in even more salt...but it never turns out to be enough, because apparently I automatically misremember how much salt I used in the past.

Recipe makers, c'mon, throw us a goddamn bone. You write how much chicken to put, you write how much butter, you write how much cardamom and paprika and mint. Take the fucking plunge and write how much salt!
posted by Bugbread at 9:04 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


It's like the food robocop ate!
posted by ReeMonster at 9:05 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Bugbread, you can always add salt at the end, when the food is safe to taste.

My problem is always oversalting, and usually with foods where you can't do the potato trick.
posted by Sara C. at 9:07 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Bugbread: I think I read somewhere that if you assume 1/8 a teaspoon = "a dash", that's not a bad starting point.

And if it's a matter of "salt and pepper the chicken breast before cooking", assume a spreading-across-the-surface at a rate of about 1/2 an inch circumference of free space around each grain/crystal.

You may be undersalted, yes. But that's why you have the salt and pepper shakers on the table too - so when you sit down to eat and take your first bite, if it's a little undersalted you can add a couple more shakes there at the table and there you are.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


FWIW if Soylent came pre-mixed and tasted delicious with a non-silty mouthfeel

Then it would be this. (Which, incidentally, aren't half bad when consumed ice cold and even come in a caffeinated version marketed as "breakfast" and a decaf lunch/dinner version.)

The only difference is that Kellogg's doesn't market their product as something that you can live on indefinitely, although if you are a nutrition reductionist enough to believe the Soylent hype then they're just being overcautious, since it's essentially the same thing.

I think they avoid the mouthfeel problem by blending in xanthan gum or carrageenan. And they use milk in addition to just soy protein, which probably helps a lot too.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:15 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


nerdler: "Already happened!"

Yeah, from what I'm seeing, that's the exact opposite. "Hey, in addition to sleeping at home, how about sleeping at work, too!"

As someone who did night shifts for 10 years, I would have fucking loved this instrument of oppression.

Sara C.: "Bugbread, you can always add salt at the end, when the food is safe to taste."

Yeah. I guess it's a cultural thing. There aren't salt pepper shakers on the table in Japan. It's assumed that you didn't fuck up and cook wrong in the first place. So the food can be salvaged, but it's a bit of a walk-of-shame to go get the salt.

EmpressCallipygos: "Bugbread: I think I read somewhere that if you assume 1/8 a teaspoon = "a dash", that's not a bad starting point."

Sweet! Thanks!
posted by Bugbread at 9:15 AM on May 30


EmpressCallipygos: "assume a spreading-across-the-surface at a rate of about 1/2 an inch circumference of free space"

Wait, circumference or radius (or diameter)? Because a 1/2 inch of circumference would be like 0.08 inches between each grain, but that seems like a lot of math, so I'm thinking maybe it's actually radius.
posted by Bugbread at 9:20 AM on May 30


it's a bit of a walk-of-shame to go get the salt

Just add it in the kitchen before you bring it to the table.

I have had many embarrassing salt failures in my day, and I have lived to tell the tale.
posted by Sara C. at 9:21 AM on May 30


I-baLL: "I'm not sure where people are seeing the staff list.

I found interviews where the exact opposite is said. For example:

"Once we got some professional dietitians and food scientists to collaborate with us, it got much tastier and more filling."
"

Their website changed recently, but see archive.org capture from December: CEO, CTO, COO, bizdev and customer success.
posted by boo_radley at 9:22 AM on May 30


Missed my larger point in the last comment -- I think that having nutritionists and food scientists "collaborate with us" is different than having one on staff, or even having a chief nutritionist.
posted by boo_radley at 9:24 AM on May 30


I guess the other problem is that I can't tell that what's wrong is the lack of salt. I cook, and I taste, and it tastes...ok, I guess. Not great, but I don't know if it needs more butter, or cilantro, or lemon juice...and then when I serve it, my wife says, diplomatically, "It's good...but it would be even better with more salt". And then I think, "Well, yeah, of course, it's always the salt", but I never want to go ahead and add salt without getting her opinion, because the last thing I want to do is add more salt when the real problem was lack of cardamom or something, and make an inedible dish (which I've done once).

Ok, so I guess this problem is fairly unique to me, but, still, recipe makers, since you're providing specific amounts for everything else, what's stopping you on salt?

Okay, I'm totally derailing. Sorry, I think it's time for me to get to bed.
posted by Bugbread at 9:26 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


You could apply this argument to literally any product of any kind, in any category. "Think your new chair is nice? You won't think it's so nice when THE MAN is forcing them on everyone and couches are banned forever!"
Think your GPS device is nice? You won't think it's so nice when THE MAN is forcing them on security guards, office cleaners, agricultural workers, home attendants, food servers, limo drivers, taxi drivers, garbage collectors, police, warehouse workers, soldiers, plumbers, sales teams, and parolees and [their] privacy is banned forever!
Haw dumb worriers! Capitalism has your back!
posted by jcrcarter at 9:28 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Also, Cracklin' Oat Bran is basically Bachelor Chow.

Now you tell me!
posted by Pudhoho at 9:33 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I never want to go ahead and add salt without getting her opinion

Why not just ask before you bring it to the table? "Baby, can you taste this and tell me what it needs?"

One thing that helped me feed myself better was letting go of a lot of my anxieties about this sort of thing. If one meal tastes only OK, that's fine -- there are two more to eat today, and three tomorrow. If someone knows I'm not a Master Chef and sometimes need help adjusting flavorings to taste, that's also fine. Not everyone is perfect, and it's only through working through these things that we learn and improve.

Think of it like playing a video game (another thing I once had anxieties about, and have learned a lot of life lessons by working through them). If you die in the video game, so what? Just start over, and next time you'll be able to anticipate the hard parts more, try some other strategies, and after probably a few more failures, you'll beat that level.

It's OK to fail on small things that are easily repeated. That's how you learn. Don't worry so much about being judged on tiny failures like whether a dish needed salt or an extra dash of oregano.
posted by Sara C. at 9:40 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


What is it exactly that a nutritionist would do that a reasonably intelligent and motivated engineer could not?

Bah, engineers are blue collar. What you really need are physicists. They can do anything.
posted by Nelson at 9:42 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Besides, to get back on topic, I'm sure one day you'll forget to add the oil packet to your family's daily batch of Soylent, and it'll amount to the same thing. "But dad, it's so chalky..."
posted by Sara C. at 9:42 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I'd heartily recommend The Flavor Bible to all those mystified by what foods to combine with what to create tasty meals. It has a few recipes, but mostly it's an index of, if you have food X, combine it with foods A, B, and C.
posted by nerdler at 9:43 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


After having read this entire thread, I simply do not understand the hostility to Soylent as a concept (that is, the nutrionally-complete meal replacement intended for prolonged, indefinite use.) Why are people seemingly outraged and personally offended because I would choose to never again eat food if I could? Eating is tedious, and it's intimate, and it's something I truly, sincerely, no-shit-for-reals would love to eliminate as much as possible from my life.

And here's the thing - I *like* food - too much even! (and i'm overweight enough to prove it.) I'll eat almost anything (excepting anything anise flavored, because anise is correctly pronouced "anus" after what it tastes like.) But I don't like eating, and I don't like thinking about food, I don't enjoy shopping for food, and I definitely truly do not like preparing food or cleaning up after said preparation. If you do? Great! But you're not better than me because we differ on this, I'm not somehow subhuman because I don't enjoy something that other (most) people do, and I'm not wrong for feeling the way this way (and the converse is true of course - I'm not better or right for the same reasons.)

I just don't get it.
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:00 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]


All this "nutritionally complete" talk is fairly meaningless. Human beings have been happily surviving on shit food for centuries, if not millennia. Workers in the Industrial Revolution in Britain lived their whole lives on tea, bread, and butter. They had health problems, but there's nothing to indicate that living on Soylent wouldn't lead to similar ones.

I disagree; it's fairly meaningful. Your British diet would probably lead to scurvy. And there is something to indicate that Soylent wouldn't lead to scurvy: it contains vitamin C.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:04 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


From The Patchwork Girl of Oz, 1913:
After walking some distance over the road of yellow bricks Ojo said he was hungry and would stop to eat some bread and cheese. He offered a portion of the food to the Shaggy Man, who thanked him but refused it.

"When I start out on my travels," said he, "I carry along enough square meals to last me several weeks. Think I'll indulge in one now, as long as we're stopping anyway."

Saying this, he took a bottle from his pocket and shook from it a tablet about the size of one of Ojo's finger-nails.

"That," announced the Shaggy Man, "is a square meal, in condensed form. Invention of the great Professor Wogglebug, of the Royal College of Athletics. It contains soup, fish, roast meat, salad, apple-dumplings, ice cream and chocolate-drops, all boiled down to this small size, so it can be conveniently carried and swallowed when you are hungry and need a square meal."

"I'm square," said the Woozy. "Give me one, please."

So the Shaggy Man gave the Woozy a tablet from his bottle and the beast ate it in a twinkling.

"You have now had a six course dinner," declared the Shaggy Man.

"Pshaw!" said the Woozy, ungratefully, "I want to taste something. There's no fun in that sort of eating."

"One should only eat to sustain life," replied the Shaggy Man, "and that tablet is equal to a peck of other food."

"I don't care for it. I want something I can chew and taste," grumbled the Woozy.

"You are quite wrong, my poor beast," said the Shaggy Man in a tone of pity. "Think how tired your jaws would get chewing a square meal like this, if it were not condensed to the size of a small tablet—which you can swallow in a jiffy."

"Chewing isn't tiresome; it's fun," maintained the Woozy. "I always chew the honey-bees when I catch them. Give me some bread and cheese, Ojo."
posted by asperity at 10:04 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


3) A restaurant, something like a knock-off Romano's Macaroni Grill, with a waterfall in the main dining area, bursts into flame. A man in a apron staggers in front of the camera holding a jerrycan. He is smiling as if relieved of a great burden. "I'm free because I have ..."and here a white liquid dribbles out of his mouth " ... Soylent.

You will never believe what happens next!

Sponsored by the Weyland-Yutani knock-off Romano's Macaroni Grill.
posted by ersatz at 10:08 AM on May 30


"Missed my larger point in the last comment -- I think that having nutritionists and food scientists "collaborate with us" is different than having one on staff, or even having a chief nutritionist"

I found the staff listing after I posted. It's here:

http://www.rosalabs.com/team/

It seems to list the officers of the company.

Anyways, I found out that "nutritionist" is a label that is not regulated and so anybody can call themselves that. Registered dietitian is probably the best term. Anyways, I don't really understand what having a single dietitian on staff would accomplish when you can instead collaborate with many of them.

They do have David Renteln on staff who is listed as Rosa Labs' co-founder and:

"Prior to joining Soylent, he worked at a biotech devices start up and co-founded an education technology company with Soylent CTO, John Coogan. In addition to serving as VP of Business Development for Soylent, Renteln currently works in a structural biology lab at Caltech, focusing on protein engineering related to immunology. He graduated from Harvard with an A.B. In Human Evolutionary Biology with a minor in Economics and has deferred his PhD in the Biology Division at Caltech to 2014 in order to focus on his work with Soylent."


So that seems pretty good to me.
posted by I-baLL at 10:17 AM on May 30


This thread is really weirding me out.

There are dozens of convenient foods that are easier and tastier than soylent. If you're willing to eat soy, there are hundreds.

The marketing for this product has somehow convinced intelligent people that in the USA--this highly technological, super-nutrient-aware, convenience-loving country--there are somehow no adequate meals that don't involve some kind of complex cooking. It's truly bizarre.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:21 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]


"The marketing for this product has somehow convinced intelligent people that in the USA--this highly technological, super-nutrient-aware, convenience-loving country--there are somehow no adequate meals that don't involve some kind of complex cooking."

Where do you see that?
posted by I-baLL at 10:24 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Your British diet would probably lead to scurvy.

Scurvy really does not work the way that the average person thinks it works.
posted by Sara C. at 10:24 AM on May 30


Workers in the Industrial Revolution in Britain lived their whole lives on tea, bread, and butter. They had health problems, but there's nothing to indicate that living on Soylent wouldn't lead to similar ones.

There was enormous concern at the time of the Boer War due to the incredibly low standard of health of British men due to poor diet and living conditions. It fed directly into the growing eugenics movement, among other things.
In the Manchester district 11,000 men offered themselves for war service between the outbreak of hostilities in October 1899 and July 1900. Of this number 8000 were found to be physically unfit to carry a rifle and stand the fatigues of disciple. Of the 3000 that were accepted only 1200 attained the moderate standard of muscular power and chest measurement required by the military authorities. In other words, two out of every three men willing to bear arms in the Manchester district are virtually invalids. [...] When we add the results of free trade in certain diseases to the effects of bad drink, of improper food, of breathing contaminated air, of dwelling in insanitary dwellings, and of the concentration of the bulk of the population in great masses for industrial purposes, there is no cause for wonder that the physical condition of the town population of these islands is one that warrants the gravest alarm.
Arnold White, Efficiency and Empire, 1901
posted by winna at 10:25 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Ugh I excerpted the wrong comment - I was addressing the idea that the workers in the Industrial Revolution were fine and their crap diet was fine.
posted by winna at 10:27 AM on May 30


Sure, but where's the evidence that a diet based around Soylent wouldn't produce the same results?
posted by Sara C. at 10:29 AM on May 30


"Prior to joining Soylent, he worked at a biotech devices start up and co-founded an education technology company with Soylent CTO, John Coogan. In addition to serving as VP of Business Development for Soylent, Renteln currently works in a structural biology lab at Caltech, focusing on protein engineering related to immunology. He graduated from Harvard with an A.B. In Human Evolutionary Biology with a minor in Economics and has deferred his PhD in the Biology Division at Caltech to 2014 in order to focus on his work with Soylent."


So that seems pretty good to me.


Evolutionary Biology != Dietitian. I have a friend who does similar research (protein evolution), and I wouldn't trust him to know more about nutritional needs than I do, not because he's not smart, but because that's not his area of expertise.

This is the equivalent of saying "You need a structural engineer on this project", and someone saying in response "Oh, we've got a theoretical physicist, seems pretty good to me!".
posted by damayanti at 10:32 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Except that that seems to list only the officers of the company. The company seems to have been founded last year so they don't have that many employees. And why would having one dietitian on staff be more important than being involved with multiple dietitians?
posted by I-baLL at 10:35 AM on May 30


Also, Sara C.: I know nothing about nutrition but here's a nutrition/ingredients list linked to from Soylent's site:

http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0421/5993/files/Complete-Soylent-Nutrition-Facts.jpg
posted by I-baLL at 10:36 AM on May 30


Except that that seems to list only the officers of the company. The company seems to have been founded last year so they don't have that many employees. And why would having one dietitian on staff be more important than being involved with multiple dietitians?


OK; cf. Space X. They work on space travel. You would expect and hope that they would have structural engineers, people with experience with NASA, people with experience building engines, etc. on staff and in leadership positions. Here are their leaders, and that's exactly what you find. If Space X just said "Oh, yeah, we have rocket scientists we consult with on a regular basis", I think people would be more than a little worried. In the same way, it's not crazy to think that a company that works on food substitutes should have dietitians on staff, or really, even better, in some sort of leadership position in the company.
posted by damayanti at 10:42 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I've seen the ingredients and nutrition facts. It's your RDA of calories (circa 2000-2500) composed mainly of sugar and a bit of protein. Then they throw in micronutrients basically in supplement form. It ultimately is bread and butter and milky sweet tea, with a multivitamin thrown in. You're not in danger of imminent malnutrition, but it's really no better than anything else. There is no substantial difference between exclusively eating Soylent and exclusively eating instant oatmeal.
posted by Sara C. at 10:42 AM on May 30


Sure, but where's the evidence that a diet based around Soylent wouldn't produce the same results?

Well, if they had vitamin D fortified food in their diets rickets would not have been as common, right?
posted by Drinky Die at 10:45 AM on May 30


damayanti: SpaceX is a 12 year old company started by one of the founders of PayPal. It has over 3000+ employees and millions of dollars in funding. How are the 2 comparable?
posted by I-baLL at 10:48 AM on May 30


Sure, cooking is a basic human survival skill. So are hunting and gathering, farming, raising livestock, and building shelter. But most people where I live don't do those things for themselves unless they happen to feel like it, and that doesn't make them less human.

Soylent wasn't designed by a doctor or prepared by a nutrition scientist? Neither was the food my parents fed me as a child, or the food I make myself as an adult.

Soylent is an engineered, unnatural convenience food? So are bread, cheese, pickles, and sausage.

I'm personally not interested in eating Soylent, but I have nothing against other people choosing it. I'm not that worried about the dystopic visions of force-fed workers. Sure, Soylent may be one of the many symptoms of Americans' weird relationships with food, but I think it's something pretty far out on the edges of the bell curve. The more worrying (but less interesting) stuff is what's happens in the mainstream.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:51 AM on May 30 [7 favorites]


Sara C.: Here's a pdf of the nutrient/ingredients list from Quaker Oats oatmeal:

http://www.quakeroats.com/libraries/pdf/oatmeal_nutrition_facts.sflb.ashx

Comparing it with soylent I don't see how you can say that "There is no substantial difference between exclusively eating Soylent and exclusively eating instant oatmeal."
posted by I-baLL at 10:52 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Chefs are the new culture heros, offering ever more lapidary delights to an ever more distant and powerful aristocracy and haute-bourgeiousie. They say 50 million people are hungry in the US alone, with another 820 million undernourished elsewhere in the world. Among the non-hungry there's a stunning amount of neurosis and anxiety around food. In this context we are now offered the stuff of flatulent nightmares - of course it pushes peoples' buttons. Soylent has all these (perhaps superficial) markers of the startup culture - lots of establishment press & establishment VC money in addition to internet attention - that echo larger trends wherein necessities (think privacy, clean water, decent education, housing) are being "disrupted" and redefined as luxury goods, while the poor and what's left of the middle class are offered inferior substitutes. So no I'm don't care if SoCal brogrammers want to hack their alimentation, and I don't think the stormtroopers are coming for my breakfast burrito, but as soon as I start hearing that Andreessen Horowitz and the NYT agree that actual human food might soon actually be "optional" it makes me wish I'd moved to the Basque country when I had the chance.
posted by jcrcarter at 10:56 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


How many more millions would one need before they could retain a dietitian? Are people really just defending Engineer's Syndrome on principle?

I have nothing against Soylent as a concept. The hostility towards it is truly bizarre, especially considering the fact that there is just about zero likelihood that it will ever supplant real food.

That said, nothing about the project gives me faith in the quality of the actual product itself.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:58 AM on May 30 [7 favorites]


Looking at ingredients lists now made me want to check out Ensure as people have mentioned it a few times.

http://ensure.com/products/ensure-original

It's a bit annoying since they don't list the amount of the ingredients when you expand the "ingredients" list but it's quite comparable to Soylent. What stood out for me though was cholesterol. If I remember correctly, we need some type of cholesterol but not another type. Soylent doesn't seem to include any but Ensure does. This is actually quite interesting.
posted by I-baLL at 10:59 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


I got my "no different from oatmeal" from reading the nutrition facts on the box of instant oatmeal sitting in my kitchen cupboard right now.

By my count, to get the calories in a day's worth of Soylent, you'd have to eat fifteen packets of instant oatmeal. You'd get less protein, but not to a nutritionally significant degree*. The biggest difference is that fifteen packets of oatmeal is going on a gallon of oatmeal per day, while Soylent gets you the same caloric intake for only half that. On the other hand, Soylent is filling enough that the Ars Technica reporter who tested it felt overfull trying to drink two liters of the stuff. So, ultimately the same problem.

*You don't actually need 150g of protein per day, more like half or a third of that. The protein in 15 packets of instant oatmeal would certainly cover you.
posted by Sara C. at 11:00 AM on May 30


Stitcherbeast: I already linked to an interview where they say that they're collaborating with dietitians and food scientists.
posted by I-baLL at 11:01 AM on May 30


When I was in high school, I hated taking the time to cook. I drank Ensure all the time, for a while. It tastes fine, I felt fine. I love cooking now, so I don't bother with it anymore.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:02 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Sara C: Your oatmeal contains vitamin c?
posted by I-baLL at 11:02 AM on May 30


I think Sara C is trolling us.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:04 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


What stood out for me though was cholesterol. If I remember correctly, we need some type of cholesterol but not another type. Soylent doesn't seem to include any but Ensure does. This is actually quite interesting.

You don't need any dietary cholesterol. Ask a vegan.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:05 AM on May 30


You get that the vitamin C in Soylent comes from the same place as the vitamin C in a multivitamin, right? The body's ability to actually process the micronutrients added to Soylent is questionable at best, and there are absolutely no guarantees that someone living exclusively on Soylent would not have vitamin deficiencies over the long term.

Meanwhile, on the oatmeal diet, the only micronutrient you'd need to supplement is vitamin C.
posted by Sara C. at 11:06 AM on May 30


I think Sara C is trolling us.

I think the inventor of Soylent is.
posted by Sara C. at 11:06 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


I-baLL: ""Missed my larger point in the last comment -- I think that having nutritionists and food scientists "collaborate with us" is different than having one on staff, or even having a chief nutritionist"

I found the staff listing after I posted. It's here:

http://www.rosalabs.com/team/

It seems to list the officers of the company.

Anyways, I found out that "nutritionist" is a label that is not regulated and so anybody can call themselves that. Registered dietitian is probably the best term. Anyways, I don't really understand what having a single dietitian on staff would accomplish when you can instead collaborate with many of them.

They do have David Renteln on staff who is listed as Rosa Labs' co-founder and:

"Prior to joining Soylent, he worked at a biotech devices start up and co-founded an education technology company with Soylent CTO, John Coogan. In addition to serving as VP of Business Development for Soylent, Renteln currently works in a structural biology lab at Caltech, focusing on protein engineering related to immunology. He graduated from Harvard with an A.B. In Human Evolutionary Biology with a minor in Economics and has deferred his PhD in the Biology Division at Caltech to 2014 in order to focus on his work with Soylent."


So that seems pretty good to me.
"

"David orchestrates Soylent’s strategic business partnerships and drives sales channels. "

So, I dunno how that makes him involved with making the product nutritionally complete?

" I found out that "nutritionist" is a label that is not regulated and so anybody can call themselves that."

Like software engineer, or COO, or CEO?
posted by boo_radley at 11:08 AM on May 30


Okay, so I would probably make my oatmeal with soy milk instead of water.

10 cups of Silk Original for 1110 calories and 80 grams of protein.
9 packets instant oatmeal for 900 calories and 36 grams of protein.
--
2010 calories and 116 grams of protein.

Three servings of Soylent would be the same calories and 114 grams of protein. 56 a day is recommended minimum for an adult male.

I'd toss in a multivitamin just to be safe and any other supplements a doctor recommended but it would probably work as well as Soylent and be tastier. It sounds more expensive though.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:14 AM on May 30


Re expense, I guess that depends on the soy milk. I buy store brand instant oatmeal at maybe $2.50 per 10-packet box, which is cheaper than Soylent.
posted by Sara C. at 11:18 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


boo_radley: I already posted a link to the interview where the founder says that they are working with dietitians and food scientists. Not sure what you're looking for.
posted by I-baLL at 11:18 AM on May 30


Sure, but where's the evidence that a diet based around Soylent wouldn't produce the same results?

I do not at this point understand what you are arguing. It seemed at first you were saying that nutrition was no big deal and people could live on tea or whatever just fine so why not Soylent.

When I pointed out that no, people can't live on tea or whatever just fine, you say that where is the evidence that Soylent isn't just as bad as tea. This is a completely opposed viewpoint to my understanding of what you were arguing.

Could you clarify what exactly you are arguing?
posted by winna at 11:19 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


Full disclosure: the whole motivation behind the fact that I just started writing this comment, for which I have only a vague idea, is that the stuff I have at home for dinner isn't very exciting and so I ate some yoghurt and now my whole evening is just going to consist of various activities that boil down to "avoiding making proper food," because I am a lazy, single, slacker dude. I wouldn't recommend my lifestyle to anyone, and my entire adolescence and early adulthood has felt like trying to dig my way out from an avalanche of loneliness, incapacity, and feeling like a stranger to everything.

As part of an attempt to woo a vegetarian, I developed an interest in tofu and broccoli. Cooking became more fun. But I have never figured out how to season away the taste of disappointment. Baking bread is better: it's an instant conjuration of a rusticity and reality that I've never otherwise experienced. My grandfather never understood my job, and I was always bad with wood. My family is wood on the one side, the other side is small towns and information technology. What we ate was either home caught fish or take-away pizza.

The whole vegetarian thing is weird, too. There was another vegetarian, at age 14, and I asked mom if I could be one, and she said I'd have to cook my own food, so I gave up. I had other stuff to do. Now I'm in this limbo where I'm not on the barricades fighting for the poor animals, or even wearing vegan t-shirts, just kind of mostly abstaining. It's the most passive ethical stance possible: it's just something I don't do. I wish I could be more active about ethical things, because that seems envigoring and civically virtuous, but who wants to be that guy? Who wants to tell their grandma the stew is evil and death?

There are places, mostly in northern Europe, where even guidebooks say the local food is just not even worth bothering with. In Sweden, the native cuisine is interesting and has its tasty stuff, but it's almost all meat-based. Pea soup with mustard is nice, and even has some tangential cultural rootedness, though mostly in ironic student circles. Mostly the food one cooks in Sweden is just a random pastiche of imported Mediterranean joie de vivre, branded taco kits, or just meat and potatoes. Traditional cooking, of any kind, is exotic and rare. Swedish food is a midsummer specialty or Christmas lutefisk.

The supermarket is for me an all-sense assault of cultural confusion. I'm always wandering around there wondering what I should buy. People keep telling me I need different things. Looking at "recipes" has always seemed totally absurd, like putting on an amateur theater play with kitchen stuff. There are a few recipes I can make if I want to impress someone, but basically I'm a grazer. I like picnic food. If I have a bar of tofu, some hummus, some bread, some cheese, and an orange, that's my perfect evening. I don't even care about having "dinner." There should just be edible things around. Somehow I just tend to walk past a corner store now and then and see some kind of thing I'd like to eat, and buy some, and I haven't died yet. But I'm always feeling kind of like a food outcast.

I'm like the Travis Bickle of vegans, wandering the city streets contempting the kebab shops and steak houses, disgusted at the charcuteries and fish vendors. I'm the Ted Kaczynski of bread baking, kneading my misanthropy into dough made with biodynamic flour. When I think of just cooking "food," I feel like someone has told me to "say something funny." I see the traces of deep cultural crisis in every part of cooking. But I am pretty good at chopping vegetables.

If I wear contacts, I can chop opinions without problems. Any amount of onions, which is useful in a Zen temple. I am deeply attracted to Edward Espe Brown's narratives about cooking, and when I do cook properly, I enjoy it deeply, for purely sensual and "spiritual" reasons, especially if I have convinced myself that the ingredients I have procured are not the products of enormous corporate evil. Here's a quote:
Manufactured products say, “I’m quick. I’m easy. You won’t have to relate with me at all. Put me in the microwave and I’ll be there for you, just the way you want me to.” Recipes say, “Do what I tell you, and everything will be okay—you too can make masterpieces (and if it’s not going to be a masterpiece, don’t even bother).” To engage with the world is to study what to do with a potato, a carrot, cabbages, and bell peppers. What to do and how to do it. Are you in the dark yet?

Touch with your hands, see with your eyes, smell with your nose, taste with your tongue: let things come and abide in your heart, let your heart return and abide in things. Your capacity for cooking will grow and develop from your devotion to being in the dark, not knowing what to do, but carefully finding your way. You enter the kitchen and become intimate with cooking through cooking. You begin to trust your own aesthetic, and your close experiencing of cooking (and the sometimes uncomfortable feed-back from others) starts to inform your aesthetic further.
I feel like this guy is sort of on my wavelength when it comes to cooking, in that he makes it clear that food can be scary. Some people are afraid of cauliflower. Some people are afraid of butter or olives or wine. I'm afraid of throwing stuff away, I'm afraid of overcooking, I'm afraid of burning my garlic, I'm afraid of messing up the rice, I'm afraid of not knowing what the hell to do with any given thing: fennel, tempeh, kale.

My temperament seems like it could be soothed by quality cooking in the evenings, but that very desire creates stress. I want cooking for the same reasons I want a partner, and I fail at both in similar ways. This may be an almost parodically typical "bachelor" situation, but it's not like being a bachelor has been a viable thing since Seinfeld. I could go into an analysis of hipsters and food, but let's not get side-tracked. What am I trying to say?

Food is hard. Food is painful. Food is intensely pleasurable. Food is comforting. Food is anxiety-producing. Food is very important to people. Food is always threatened. Food causes revolutions. Food is riches. Food is cultural, parental, traditional, tribal. Hummus is part of the cultural conflict between Israel and Palestine. Food is cancerous. Food is allergenic. Food makes you fat. Food makes you think you're fat. Food is the way to someone's heart. Food is the way to rejection. Food is a thing to argue about. Food is something to escape from.

Food is basically the root of all our problems. If we didn't have to eat, we wouldn't have to earn money. You see. Everything would be done for luxury or fun. Food is the archetypal problem. It is always the reason to not do what one wants to do. "Well, but one has to eat." All throughout the animal kingdom there is the primal overriding desire to not have to worry about food. It would be the grand victory of the game of evolution. It would mean solving the problem of animal energy. Perhaps even solving it without severely hurting other species.

Solving the food problem is of course a driving engine of all progressive thought, as well as being the very foundation of civilization. I wonder if the benefactors of Roman roads and aqueducts, Egyptian canals, or Dutch polders, are so eager to mock any "engineer" who would try to simply solve such a problem. Though Soylent itself may be a mockery of a product---I'm not judging that--- the sneering attitude towards engineering as a whole seems to indicate a deep problem. The research behind Soylent seems rather hobbyist, and the marketing may be tacky or Zuckerbergian, but (and pronounce this in your best The Dude voice) think of the children, man: are we telling them that the lamest thing to do is to try to invent something that makes cheap nutrition available to a lot of people? Isn't there something fundamentally wrong about that?

There's also an ecological thought behind Soylent, of course: the aspect of efficiency in production and shipping. Its creator and ideologue looks at vegetable fields and sees 90% water by weight. Further, he hypothesizes that human nutritional needs may be finite. Another hypothesis is that the human soul demands an infinity of molecules, a fractal immensity of mineral and organic variation. As a layman, I just resort to thinking it's somewhere in between. If I get my daily chunk of gross nutrition, as far as published science has established its criteria, and for delight indulge in fruits, nuts, herbs, coffee, radishes, blackberries, chocolate, and whatever else I crave, I'll probably see my diet as good enough for a life.

How healthy does a human have to be, anyway?

I'm a virgo, and someone told me that means I have a complex relation to health. I like that Nietzsche quote about how everyone has their own health. Okay, I really have to boil that rice. Rice and beans tonight. An orange, some yoghurt and muesli.
posted by mbrock at 11:22 AM on May 30 [13 favorites]


Well, I think we got this figured out Sara C. The only question left is what we call our company. To Serve Humanity, Inc sound good to you?
posted by Drinky Die at 11:23 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


IT'S A SUGGESTION! IT'S A SUGGESTION!
posted by I-baLL at 11:24 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I do not at this point understand what you are arguing.

I'm positing that products that do exactly what Soylent claims to do already exist and are already widely available anywhere food is sold.

If Soylent were a delicious pre-prepared eight-ounce shelf stable meal replacement, that would truly be miraculous, and I would 100% get on board.

But as Soylent actually is now, it's a kit that needs to be prepared in a kitchen just like regular cooking, requires you to drink two liters of the stuff per day, and tastes awful.

So... where's the miraculous food substitute we were promised?
posted by Sara C. at 11:24 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


damayanti: SpaceX is a 12 year old company started by one of the founders of PayPal. It has over 3000+ employees and millions of dollars in funding. How are the 2 comparable?


The Vice President of Launch and Test, who has experience designing rocket engines and a degree in mechanical engineering, has been with Space X from the beginning- 2002. Space X has had people with expertise in the area they were pursuing from the get go. So should Soylent.
posted by damayanti at 11:30 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


damayanti:

Elon Musk had $300 million dollars when he founded SpaceX. He could afford to pay experts to be on the main staff. Soylent doesn't have that kind of money but, according to interviews, they are working with "dietitians and food scientists". So I'm confused as to how you can compare SpaceX with Soylent.
posted by I-baLL at 11:35 AM on May 30


requires you to drink two liters of the stuff per day

No it doesn't, you drink whatever amount feels comfortable to you. The guy in the 5-day-Soylent experiment you linked to figures this out on day 2 or 3 and actually has a pretty decent experience with it from that point forward.
posted by dialetheia at 11:59 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Soylent is an engineered, unnatural convenience food? So are bread, cheese, pickles, and sausage.

Bread, cheese, pickles, sausage have history, context, associations, meaning. They define families, ethnicities, they're one of many things in our lives that define our identity itself.

Soylent has none of those. It has no memories, no literary allusions, no rituals, no pairings, no object for cravings, no significance of any kind. From that point of view, it gives you no nourishment at all. It's inhuman, in many senses of the word.
posted by gimonca at 12:04 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]


I'm confused as to how you can compare SpaceX with Soylent.

I'm confused with your priorities in staffing. Again, their business is in food and nutrition. Ergo, a top priority for hiring should be a dietitian. This isn't some sort of weird luxury staff position- this is at the core of what they do. Average salary for a dietitian is around $56,000; 90th percentile salary is $66,000. Even if you don't have $300 million dollars, you can get one.

The fact that they haven't shows, as others in the thread have mentioned, a rather perverse and serious case of Engineer's Syndrome.
posted by damayanti at 12:04 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]


They said that they're working with "dietitians and food scientists". I have linked to an interview where they stated that. Why do you keep saying that they're not working with them?
posted by I-baLL at 12:12 PM on May 30


Really, why would anyone have an electrical engineer or an evolutionary biologist on the staff of a company that makes food? They shouldn't be "collaborating" with dieticians, they should have a company in which the vast majority of the staff are dieticians, food scientists, chefs, and other people who actually have the expertise to develop new food products. I don't get why it's supposed to be a good idea to staff a company with people who know fuck all about the product they are developing.
posted by medusa at 12:13 PM on May 30 [9 favorites]


Really, why would anyone have an electrical engineer or an evolutionary biologist on the staff of a company that makes food?

I don't know, why do we have lawyers running most of our public institutions? Why did we have a general running a health-care system until a few hours ago? Why is Abbott Labs, makers of Ensure, run by a management consultant trained as a mechanical engineer? Because rich people like to be in charge of things and they are rich so they get what they want, because we live under capitalism.

Why are you asking these questions only about Soylent and not about the 99% of other companies where the people with deep technical expertise regarding their operations are not the people in charge?
posted by enn at 12:20 PM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Simply calling this guy an evolutionary biologist is a bit misleading - this is the actual statement of his qualifications:

"Renteln currently works in a structural biology lab at Caltech, focusing on protein engineering related to immunology. He graduated from Harvard with an A.B. In Human Evolutionary Biology with a minor in Economics and has deferred his PhD in the Biology Division at Caltech to 2014 in order to focus on his work with Soylent."

Not intending to defend Soylent by any means, but evo bio as an undergraduate course is often just a way of distinguishing an eco/evo bio degree from a pre-med-style bio degree - although I don't find the BA (or AB as I guess Harvard calls it) to be particularly convincing with respect to his scientific background. I'd withhold comment until I hear what his Ph.D in biology was supposed to be about - it's not that uncommon to do graduate work with a different emphasis than your undergrad work, assuming they aren't miles apart. However, I assume that if his work at Caltech was actually related to nutrition, they'd emphasize that.
posted by dialetheia at 12:25 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Really, why would anyone have an electrical engineer or an evolutionary biologist on the staff of a company that makes food?

They're the founders. They're the ones who conceived of and developed this product, and think they can sell it. They were interested to put the work in.

I guess it would have made more sense for a couple of dieticians or food scientists (but not chefs!) to have done this, but none of them did.

It's a startup. There isn't going to necessarily be people with perfectly matched skills involved. That will come later if/when the business grows.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:41 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


you drink whatever amount feels comfortable to you.

Isn't that true of all food, ever, though?

Soylent would be a pretty amazing product if it was something more like a PowerBar -- a rather small quantity of food that packs a large amount of calories and satiates hunger more than one would expect from such a small piece of food.

But right now, Soylent is just... food. Food that tastes bad, is not pleasurable to consume, and is at best only as nutritious as other foods that already exist. So what's so great about it? So far the only bonus I'm seeing is that you don't have to chew it.
posted by Sara C. at 1:27 PM on May 30


Jamba Juice is great but I wish it really and whole-heartedly tasted like crap, instead of just mostly tasting like crap.
posted by XMLicious at 1:42 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Isn't that true of all food, ever, though?

Well yes, but I was responding to your factually incorrect claim that you had to drink 2L/day, which is why I said it. You keep moving the goalposts. Yes, you could just eat other food instead of Soylent. That is trivially obvious. If you don't like this product, that's fine. Don't eat it. But there are a number of reasons people have given for why something like this would appeal to them, and saying "well you could just as easily eat something else!" without engaging the content of their comment is not helpful.

Variety and flavor are assumed to be inherently valuable throughout this discussion, but that is not true for everyone; some people value predictability and routine more highly than variety, and I can easily see how something like this might appeal to them. Obviously variety is important to get a balanced diet, but that's precisely why a product like this would be appealing - you don't have to make any choices or have any variety to get a perfectly good diet (probably more nutritionally balanced than many frozen-food-based diets are now).

Some days, I am just so tired of making stupid choices all day that I just want to eat generic food product and not make a single other choice for the rest of the day. I think that's what the founder-dude meant by "the food equivalent of water" and "freedom from choice" - sometimes even choosing one flavor of powerbar over another just feels like one choice too many. The appeal of this is that it gives people a simple, reliably-healthy default that they don't have to put a single ounce of willpower or thought into. Whether or not you think that's a good way to live, I am surprised that so many people don't intuitively understand why that might be appealing at times.

People with extreme dietary pickiness or sensory issues might likewise value this lack of variety and flavor; I've certainly felt so sensory-overloaded at times that I would love to have been able to simply take in nutrition without any more stimuli than necessary.
posted by dialetheia at 1:50 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]


your factually incorrect claim that you had to drink 2L/day

How is it factually incorrect?

In order to get the 670 calories per serving, you must drink the full serving.

In order to get the 2010 calories per day, you must drink all three servings. Which is two liters.

It's not a miracle. It doesn't defy the laws of physics. In order to get the benefit of consuming it, you must actually consume it. Just like any other food.
posted by Sara C. at 2:00 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


In order to get the benefit of consuming it, you must actually consume it.

With my new super-food, MetaChow, you get all the nutritional benefits just from arguing about it on the Internet.
posted by neroli at 2:05 PM on May 30 [10 favorites]


(It strikes me that if SpaceX has no rocket scientists - or insufficient rocket scientists - the cost is immediate and very, very high. If Soylent is sorta-kinda-good-enough and then later they discover that it's really not quite good enough, they have a lot more room to hire nutritionists and course-correct.

Several other thoughts:

Almost everyone I know (and literally every writer I've seen about Soylent) who makes a big deal about how they "can't" cook, cooking is boring and a waste of time, how do you food, etc etc is male. It's not that all women are cordon bleus, but the idea that it's somehow legit or cool or "my mind is on higher things" not to know how to throw together an omelet or some pasta sauce....that's a male privilege thing that arises from women cooking for you. How did I learn to cook? I learned from my mother, who learned from her mother, because girls don't get to have their minds on higher things while letting basic life stuff slide. Which is not an argument for or against Soylent - it's just something that has jumped out at me from the discussion.

"Tube food" for the proles and "real food" for the elite is a pretty standard science fiction trope, most effectively used (IMO) in L. Timmel DuChamp's Marq'ssan series. I think it's entirely plausible that there will be rhetoric about how you don't "need" to eat. I expect, in fact, that stuff like Soylent will be justified as a way to address the terrible evils of Having Fat Children - why risk your children's health with cheese and chicken and ice cream and potatoes when you could just feed them Soylent? It's just a version of that go-gurt stuff anyway.

On an individual level, of course if someone isn't into cooking or eating that's fine - people should eat as they please. If someone would rather drink Soylent - and I admit that I am intrigued enough that I would probably try it if it were a bit easier to access, definitely if it were shelf-stable - that's up to them. But I find the techbro rhetoric - especially the emphasis on weightlifting - pretty weird, it's like there's a definite undercurrent of "the best people are wealthy programmers with lots of muscles who don't waste their time on weak stuff like eating" and especially an emphasis on all of life as work. Like, you don't just goof around with your hobbies, or have a casual interest in weightlifting or idle away your after work hours, no you're always working, taking your hobbies Very Seriously, getting better and better and better, etc etc. Like "work" is the best metaphor for "being alive".
posted by Frowner at 2:09 PM on May 30 [21 favorites]


(to clarify - it's not that every dude who can't cook has always had a woman to cook for him. It's that there is a cultural assumption that caretaking - of the body, the home, the emotions - is women's work and men don't need to learn it. Even if men can't cook, the problem is that there isn't a caretaker to do it.)
posted by Frowner at 2:11 PM on May 30 [10 favorites]


I-baLL: "They said that they're working with "dietitians and food scientists". I have linked to an interview where they stated that. Why do you keep saying that they're not working with them?"

Not sure what the miscommunication is here, but my concern is that as a food company, they have a chief nutritionist (or dietician, or food scientist, or someone in a related field...). Nestle's has a head nutritionist, Abbot Labs has a head nutritionist, McDonalds has a chief nutritionist GNC has a head food scientist and so on. I don't care that they're "working with dietitians" -- I would be much more interested in their product if they had a dedicated headcount for nutrition because they make engineered food. I don't expect that person to pull the wagon themselves, but somebody ought to be making an informed decision backed by experience in that discipline. To me, that says "Chief Nutritionist Officer" or "head of nutrition". Not just "worked with dieticians". Pointing out that they've had contact with specialists isn't satisfying to me.
posted by boo_radley at 2:13 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]


So far I can only find info about Cindy Goody who is the director of nutrition at McDonalds and is a registered dietitian. Who are the directors of the other companies? My google fu is failing.
posted by I-baLL at 2:23 PM on May 30


How is it factually incorrect?

Well, just from the headline & subhead from day 3 of the Ars Technica piece, "Moderation leads to actual, for-real enjoyment: By only actually eating when I'm hungry, Soylent becomes pretty awesome." Then, from the text:
Then, a bit before midnight, I got a pair of e-mails from two of the folks at Soylent, one from founder Rob Rhinehart and one from customer service vice president Julio Miles. "We encourage Soylent beta testers to decide how much Soylent they require in a day," he said. Rhinehart had a similar message. They both tell me that I don't have to actually eat the entire bag of Soylent.
posted by dialetheia at 2:29 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]



So a new product comes out, if we know what is in it...eat it if you want all day and all night. I would say the same for people who want to eat nothing but Oreos. So done with the food police.
posted by OhSusannah at 2:36 PM on May 30


It's that there is a cultural assumption that caretaking - of the body, the home, the emotions - is women's work and men don't need to learn it. Even if men can't cook, the problem is that there isn't a caretaker to do it.

While I'm sure there will be cases where this is in play, I think your have the causation backwards for your correlation. Soylent is not really for the people you describe who see food prep as women's work and don't value women's work - those people love food but don't care to prepare it themselves. Soylent is for people who to a large extent are not interested in eating, people who don't care what their nutrition tastes like, or even how it happens (IV drip would be fine, thnx!), so long as it's effective and convenient.
Given that distinction, (and ignoring gender biology) if I was to guess a social reason for your observed gender bias, I would think it's likely because girls are more strongly socialized to believe that cooking is super important and cooking well is valuable and a source of pride, meaning that it takes more "unlearning" to reach the point where Soylent seems like a good idea.
posted by anonymisc at 2:37 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


If Soylent is for people who don't want to bother with eating, then why would girls being socialized to think that cooking is important make them less likely to want Soylent? Girls are also socialized to try and curb their eating, so you'd think that women are more likely to like the idea of Soylent than men if it were to make eating less (and less fraught) a possibility, regardless of how much of a pain (or not) it is to cook.

I actually think that Soylent's downfall is that it requires *too much* eating. I can't imagine trying to choke down enough goop to actually make me not-hungry. The stuff actually seems *harder* to eat than regular food. It's the relative lack of prep part of the equation (and relative lack of choice as to what to prepare) that supposedly makes it convenient, not the relative lack of eating.

Personally, I'd love a food pill in order to get through long shifts when I'm not allowed to eat or days when eating just feels like yet another endless and pointless chore. Soylent isn't any more convenient to *eat* than any other food product, though, and less than some (I'd rather have a glass of milk or a boiled egg, in terms of ease of eating, frankly), so I don't see it as solving or even engaging with that problem at all.
posted by rue72 at 2:48 PM on May 30


Soylent is for people who to a large extent are not interested in eating, people who don't care what their nutrition tastes like, or even how it happens (IV drip would be fine, thnx!), so long as it's effective and convenient.

I'd actually say that it's more a point of pride - what I get from a lot of the Big Soylent Enthusiasts on the internet is that it's better not to want to eat, it's better not to be the kind of person who wants to waste time, etc etc. Hence the techbro-ism about how you can do all these important things like lifting weights and Moar Programming instead of cooking.

Given that distinction, (and ignoring gender biology) if I was to guess a social reason for your observed gender bias, I would think it's likely because girls are more strongly socialized to believe that cooking is super important and cooking well is valuable and a source of pride, meaning that it takes more "unlearning" to reach the point where Soylent seems like a good idea.

See, your phrasing already contains the idea that folks place "too much" emphasis on cooking. Women are socialized not to see that one should "unlearn" the false "super-importance" of cooking, unlike men, because masculinity is freedom from convention, etc etc.

Honestly, I see Soylent as an ideological choice masquerading as a practical one, since as a lot of people have pointed out, not only does it actually require work to prepare but there are already lots of Not-Unlike-Soylent options out there. But they're not techbro options, so they don't convey as much cultural capital. However, I think that many many food decisions are ideological ones masquerading as practical.

I'd like to check back on this whole thing in a couple of years, personally. How will it shake out (shake! ha ha, I kill me) in terms of who is using it to replace most food and who is using it to replace only some? How will people be doing when they've been using it for a year or two? How much of the satiety effect is a placebo or novelty and how much is real? This whole conversation would be really, really different if there were a large group of people who had used it as a substantial meal replacement for a couple of years and we had their experiences to draw on. (And honestly, even if it ends up being bad for you, it sounds like it's unlikely to be so bad for you that a year or so of it is going to kill you.)

I do wonder about fiber, though. Maybe an accompanying fiber-bar product eventually?
posted by Frowner at 2:51 PM on May 30 [10 favorites]


Girls are also socialized to try and curb their eating

"I want to eat but I shouldn't" is the polar opposite of "I don't want to eat but I should"
posted by anonymisc at 2:51 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Not in terms of the result, which is minimizing your eating.
posted by rue72 at 2:53 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


If Soylent is for people who don't want to bother with eating, then why would girls being socialized to think that cooking is important make them less likely to want Soylent?

And I'll continue real quick and then stop: the point isn't that women would/would not want Soylent - it's the culture of "how do I food" and boasting about how you can't cook or hate cooking or have more important things to do. The people who have been writing about Soylent from that standpoint have all been men, as far as I can tell.
posted by Frowner at 2:53 PM on May 30


Was going to say something to that effect. Why on earth did they name it Soylent?

Super-belatedly, this is actually the only reason I want to try it. In fact, I've been wondering if I can concoct my own locally sourced, artisanal ...

Oh my God. I just realized why people hate us hipsters.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:53 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I do wonder about fiber, though. Maybe an accompanying fiber-bar product eventually?

It does contain fiber, that's a good bet on why it keeps the drinkers satiated but some find it too much to choke down.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:55 PM on May 30


See, your phrasing already contains the idea that folks place "too much" emphasis on cooking.

I did that in intentional counterpoint to the assumptions implicit in the language you were using ;)

I definitely agree though that for many geeks, shunning "the physical husk" is a point of pride and part of cultural identity, but I think it's a stretch to think that's another product of the sexism in society. I think it's to do with living in your head. That's an interesting idea that I'll probably chew on, but it rings false to me among the people like that that I know. Though that's not a representative group :)
posted by anonymisc at 2:58 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


And I'll continue real quick and then stop: the point isn't that women would/would not want Soylent - it's the culture of "how do I food" and boasting about how you can't cook or hate cooking or have more important things to do. The people who have been writing about Soylent from that standpoint have all been men, as far as I can tell.

Theoretically, do people eat Soylent because they're too important for "real" food or because they're not important enough for "real" food?

My instinct is to see Soylent as for people who aren't important enough, because in order to ingest Soylent you have to go through all the nasty bits of feeding yourself (ex: heat it up, choke it down) but don't get any of the good parts of food (ex: sensory pleasure, sense of tradition or community).

But I think others are seeing Soylent as something that is for the people who are too important for food prep or eating but don't have someone (ie, some "underling) who they can delegate those duties to.

Both ideas make sense, I think, and they're not even necessarily mutually exclusive (who or what is "important" might shift based on context), but I think those concepts are getting overlapped in a way that's causing miscommunication.
posted by rue72 at 3:00 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I think Soylent is aimed at people who don't want to waste time cooking, shopping for food, worrying about nutrition, worrying about making too much food and letting it go to waste. That's what seems to be the draw.
posted by I-baLL at 3:08 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Theoretically, do people eat Soylent because they're too important for "real" food or because they're not important enough for "real" food?

I think this focus on importance (and an implied pecking order) is what is getting hackles up. I know that some people who aren't into food prep don't see it as unimportant, but more as "You've got this" - food prep is a field that has a lot of people in it, a lot of passion, and no shortage of amazing talent, while there are other fields where there are few "cooks in the kitchen", fields starved of talent and passion. So to some people it makes sense to put your energy into a field that has more use for it, and not apologize for doing that.

I also think a lot of the geek "too important for food" is just people being best-defense-is-a-good-offense about not conforming to the constant social pressures about food. Like vegetarians who try to quietly eat their own way, but people jump down their throats about it and criticize and mock, so they end up being aggressive about it and denigrating right back.
posted by anonymisc at 3:18 PM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Cooking food/talking about food/thinking about food/reading about food is one of my greatest pleasures. However, I feel talking about food is something Metafilter does Really Badly. There are people who don't want to cook for whatever reasons (economical, time, inclination) and there are people who love to cook. And whenever something about food comes up, the people who don't want to cook confess that they love the idea of, say, Soylent, or they love the idea of making their pasta sauce/peanut butter/etc, but prefer the convient pre-packaged stuff. Then those who do love to cook rush in with "but it's so easy/so much cheaper/so much better for you" and proceed to give recipes, despite the varied and legitimate reasons people simply don't want to cook the thing in question.

Some people don't want to cook. My sister, who has two kids, doesn't like cooking. So she doesn't and most of the time her husband does the cooking, despite having a limited repertoire. When I visit, their cabinets are full of pre-packaged convenience foods. It makes me sad. It makes me worry about their health. But you know what? It's none of my damn business. Any attempts to jumpstart a conversation about how "Mel, I can totally teach you a couple of easy basic things" is met with, "Let's see: I have two small kids who require a lot of my attention, I am tired half of the time, I don't get any time to myself. Believe me, cooking is the last thing I want to do."

I have friends who basically see food as "let's get this over with" sort of chore. They know I love to cook and I stop myself from getting into their personal business by not saying "Why don't you like to cook? It's easy once you learn!"

TL;DR -- Soylent holds no appeal for me but I do understand why it appeals to some people. If people don't want to learn how to cook or cook period, it's not worthy of derision or scorn. Everyone's lives are different, everyone can feed themselves the way they want. Shaming them or pitying them isn't the high road.
posted by Kitteh at 3:22 PM on May 30 [7 favorites]


Why I don't cook at home.

That's me cooking a lot of times, so I mostly keep it simple now.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:36 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but someone not wanting to learn how to cook is very much deserving of scorn, because they are saying "I do not want to learn how to take care of myself." Whenever I see those Carl's Jr/Hardee's ads where they say "Without us, some guys would starve," I always think "Yes - it's called natural selection. Stop interfering with the process - you're weakening the species."
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:41 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


tough talk from dudes who won't even cut the throats of cows themselves when they want a burger!
posted by Greg Nog at 3:51 PM on May 30 [3 favorites]


That's like saying you should scorn people who don't learn to hunt their own meat or grow their own vegetables. They can be a nice hobbies and they are useful skills. Someone has to do these things for people to eat, but there is no practical reason everyone should have to learn in a civilization where people learn specialized roles.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:52 PM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Sorry, but someone not wanting to learn how to cook is very much deserving of scorn, because they are saying "I do not want to learn how to take care of myself." Whenever I see those Carl's Jr/Hardee's ads where they say "Without us, some guys would starve," I always think "Yes - it's called natural selection. Stop interfering with the process - you're weakening the species."

Couldn't you say the same thing about someone who doesn't want to learn how to make clothing or shelter, or doesn't want to figure out how to find or create clean water? Those are all essential needs, but are performed for by people specialized in that area. Specialization is one of the things that allowed us to not have to worry solely about absolute necessities.
posted by No One Ever Does at 3:53 PM on May 30 [7 favorites]


Sorry, but someone not wanting to learn how to cook is very much deserving of scorn,

Jesus christ but this gets annoying around here.

Of course I know how to cook, and I am a self-sufficient human being. That is why, since I do want to bake bread, I cultivate vast fields of wheat, which I plant and harvest and take to my mill, which I built myself out of timber I chopped down and cut into boards myself, using hand-forged tools I created out of the iron and nickel that I mine when I'm not busy looking after my livestock, because it's important to know how to raise your own horses if you ever want to go anywhere on the roads which you constructed, because that is how civilization works.

Don't even get me started on how much work went into my home chip-fab which I obviously also constructed myself, in order to use the internet which aw fuck it.

Never mind, I'll just go out by my oil well and use the gun I made in my smithy, to shoot some deer for dinner, I hope that meat doesn't go bad in the icehouse and make me sick because my pharmaceutical factory is suffering from all the time I've been spending grinding my own prescription glasses, not to mention cutting and hauling all that ice.

Yeah, you're right, probably humanity will die off because of people like me, because lord knows that every single member of it up until I was born always raised or hunted or gathered its own food, which is why we've never lived near each other or had a division of labor and if you can't write a sonnet, fly an airplane, tapdance and replace your own brake pads you're obviously just a darwin award waiting to happen.

It's kind of a shock to find out, in my 5th decade, that I've actually been dead for most of that time because of my inability to feed myself, but I'll get used to it I guess.

(on preview - what everybody else said, but hopefully meaner)
posted by hap_hazard at 4:03 PM on May 30 [24 favorites]


So... I love to cook & I love to eat, but because I have a busy schedule that involves being in two cities at once, I often neither have time to cook nor fresh produce to cook with (because why buy stuff in Chicago only to have it rot when I'm in DC?). I'm often alone, too, so the social pleasures of sharing a nice meal are gone. Cooking has become for me an entertaining hobby, something I do the way people restore cars or do woodworking: infrequent, elaborate, and impractically indulgent.

As a result, I have taken to living on tinned beans, doctoring them with whatever shelf-stable stuff is around: chipotles en adobo or green salsa (made w. tinned tomatillos) for black beans; jarred roasted red peppers or zaatar for chickpeas; tuna or anchovies for white beans; olive oil and smoked paprika on basically everything. It's not nutritionally complete, but a brekkie of yogurt on Cheerios (people kibble if ever there was one!) and some citrus fruit makes things nominal.

Because I'm still a foodie/MeFite at heart, I have spent a LOT of time over-thinking my plates of beans. At this point I have a created a set of some 10 different recipes. Like Soylent, they involve no time, effort, or skill: open tins & mix, maybe slice a scallion, 2min tops. Even the over-thinking has already been done. Also like Soylent, I too have named my concoctions after dystopian futurist fiction: I call the recipes "I Have No Time, and I Must Eat" (because canned goods, geddit?). Unlike Soylent, though, they're varied and tasty. I actually crave them enough to make them even when I have time to cook. There are flavors and textures! I understand wanting effortless nourishment, but I cannot imagine why someone would drink Soylent when they could enjoy a plate of seasoned beans.

But if you are tempted to go this route, a piece of advice: be sure to buy Goya. They're the best beans. And more importantly, the cans have pull tabs.
posted by Westringia F. at 4:37 PM on May 30 [13 favorites]


I love food and I love to cook, but I also like to occasionally go on a ketogenic diet for a few weeks. I'm not a dietician or a doctor; I just know that I feel healthier, have more energy, and sleep better during and after a "carb fast." It's easy enough to just eat meat and leafy greens every day, but I've found it difficult to consume enough fat, and keeping track of the nutrition profiles of everything I eat can be a hassle.

I'd heard about Soylent and thought it sounded interesting, so for the past three weeks I've been making my own. I usually mix up the powdered ingredients in the evening, then blend them with oil(s) and water each morning to make a pitcher that contains all of my calories for the day. Even with the measuring and mixing, it's more convenient than cooking anything more complicated than beans and rice or lentils. I've been drinking my custom soylent for almost every meal -- I've had two or three "real meals" each week -- and I haven't seen any adverse effects.

I wouldn't want to live like this forever, but for people who are trying to stick to a specific diet for a limited period of time, I don't see the harm in this kind of liquid meal replacement.
posted by bradf at 4:57 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Blimey, there's a lot of misconception about Soylent in this thread.

Full disclosure; I know how to cook, I like to cook, have no involvement or investment in Soylent and am unlikely to become a customer.

First, they picked the name Soylent intentionally to make it memorable, and spark comment. In that, they appear to have been successful.

There seems to be this weird combination going on of
a) This has all been done before by pharmacy companies; why bother?
and
b) chucking a bunch of ingredients in a blender isn't food, and therefore this is no different to subsisting on bacon sandwiches.

The point of Soylent is to be balanced, cheap, be easy to store, and require minimal preparation; AND to be fully open as to what goes into it so you can make your own if you so wish.

Consumer grade retail liquid diet products are heavy on the sugars; while soylent does have sugars in it (primarily maltodextrin IIRC) it's a much lower percentage. More importantly, consumer liquid diet products really lack fibre, which can lead to some very unfortunate digestive effects. They are not intended to be a food replacement, they're sold as only supplements. They're also not cheap.

Medical grade liquid food does exist - thus proving the concept can and does work - and has been available for a long time as noted for those who need specific controlled diets. However; they have two drawbacks. The first is that the way to make them is generally either secret, or patented. The bigger one is that they're not cheap. Yes, if you get them subsidised by insurance companies, they're cheaper than soylent, but the price of soylent is what you see. The goal is to get it down to $5 a day. Unsubsidised medical grade diets are a lot more than that.

For example, Plumpy'nut is a great therapy food for famine victims that has saved a lot of lives, even though it's a supplement and not a complete replacement. It's also patented, and Nutriset has successfully sued other companies to stop them making it cheaper. Similar issues surround the existing medical food products.

Soylent is not designed as a replacement for people who like to cook, who have fully equipped kitchens, who have a ready supply of fresh fruit and veg for properly balanced nutritional meals.

There's a pretty good correlation between poverty and obesity in the west. 'Food deserts' do exist, where it is expensive and impractical to get the ingredients, store them, or even have the appropriate amount of equipment (fridge, freezer, cooker, reliable affordable gas+electric, all the pots and pans we take for granted etc) to cook well and have to time to do so, or even learn to do so. In the west, the result is often surviving on fast food of poor nutritional value; cheap calories, but not even close to balanced or complete. In places without subsidised bad food (looking at you, Iowa corn agribusiness -> HFCS), you see people living on rice and beans or the like. Again, cheap calories, but not balanced.

Adding some flavourings helps with the taste, and the texture is improving (the 'chalky' texture is due to the need to add fibre). It's not perfected yet. Nutritionally though, it beats the hell out of living off mcdonalds or rice and beans for every meal.

Yes, Soylent is inferior in taste and texture to your properly cooked home meals, or a great restaurant. Be grateful that you have the money and time to be able to eat properly - a lot of people on this planet don't have the same opportunity to do so.

If all goes to plan, eventually anyone will be able to setup a soylent production facility, using locally sourced ingredients, and give people the option to supplement their crappy dirt cheap food with decently nutritional affordable meals that need nothing more complex to store and make it than water, a container and something to mix it with.

So what if its development is funded by rich western people on kickstarter who hate the idea of having to 'waste' time in the kitchen? It's not a perfect product yet by any means, but it has a lot of potential, and I really hope to see it reach it.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:10 PM on May 30 [9 favorites]


Frowner: "what I get from a lot of the Big Soylent Enthusiasts on the internet is that it's better not to want to eat, it's better not to be the kind of person who wants to waste time, etc etc."

I get that impression from the Soylent folks themselves, and some of the folks who write articles about the company, but when it comes to the comments section, I get the complete opposite impression. The folks who like the idea of Soylent say "Some people like to cook. That's fine. I personally don't like to cook or think about what to eat, so this would be great", and the folks who dislike the idea of Soylent say "I do like to cook and to think about what to eat, and you are wrong, stupid, sad, and/or evil for not wanting to cook."
posted by Bugbread at 5:16 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]


ArkhanJG: "There's a pretty good correlation between poverty and obesity in the west."

Honest question: is that true for most of the west? My impression is that it's basically the US, Canada, and Scotland, but not the rest of the west, but that's just an impression.
posted by Bugbread at 5:21 PM on May 30


So... Food deserts exist. Rather than try and remedy the issue by bringing actual food to these areas, we slap a band-aid on the issue by telling poor people 'hey, eat our nutritionally-complete tasteless glop because it's healthier for you AND we get to shame you for wanting something with actual taste... Which is probably going to be a fast food burger that you shouldn't be wasting money on!'

People don't have time to explore healthier food options because they're working three jobs? Screw looking at labor practices, let's feed them glop!

Soylent isn't pasta - quit throwing it at problems and hoping it'll stick.
posted by mikurski at 5:45 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Soylent isn't pasta - quit throwing it at problems and hoping it'll stick.

who throws pasta at problems
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:48 PM on May 30 [3 favorites]


We have clearly had different experiences at the Olive Garden.
posted by mikurski at 5:51 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I like to eat good food as much as the next person, but I ordered a weeks' supply of Soylent to try out because I so frequently end up skipping lunch due to being too absorbed in whatever it is I'm doing. I think it's the same for most of the people who find Soylent attractive: it's not "Soylent vs. a healthy meal full of whole foods," it's "Soylent vs. not eating" or, at best, "Soylent vs. processed snack foods."

I often have the same overwhelmed-by-choice feeling that others have described, which makes Soylent attractive. Someone else has done the research--being very transparent about their process and the ingredients they're using, which is reassuring--and provided an easy, simple answer to the question "What should I eat?" As the article points out, it'll be a boon to people who are depressed or have a fraught emotional relationship with food.

People seem to feel that drinking Soylent shows anti-real-food sentiment, but I think for a lot of people it removes the negative associations with food--as an obligation, an annoying and constant chore, a bunch of stressful decisions. It allows you to enjoy food when you choose to, as a purely recreational experience, and not have to worry about it when you don't.

Why Soylent and not Ensure or some other meal replacement product? Ensure is expensive and medicalized and has too much sugar (though I went and looked at the nutrition info and it looks like they've reformulated it to have less.) Most other meal replacements are aimed at people trying to build muscle or lose weight, so they seem inappropriate if you're just trying to maintain homeostasis. But Soylent is specifically formulated for my use case.
posted by fermion at 5:51 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


"Soylent vs. processed snack foods."

But Soylent is a processed snack food. This is where they lose me.

Also, how are you going to find the time to prepare it if you don't otherwise have time to stop and eat? It's not a pre-packaged shelf-stable beverage. It's a powder. It's not even portioned out into per-person servings, either, you have to mix up two quarts at a time and store it in the fridge between servings. Where, apparently, it will separate. Which, ew. It's almost as if it was designed to be inconvenient and unattractive.
posted by Sara C. at 6:04 PM on May 30


I honestly don't have any issue with the idea of a shelf-stable alternative food - I could definitely see keeping a six-pack of the stuff around in the pantry for if I ran out of groceries.

What irks me with Soylent is the self-backpatting feeling I get from their PR - that venture-capitally 'we've made Food 2.0!' Thing.
posted by mikurski at 6:08 PM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Food deserts exist. Rather than try and remedy the issue by bringing actual food to these areas, we slap a band-aid on the issue by telling poor people 'hey, eat our nutritionally-complete tasteless glop because it's healthier for you AND we get to shame you for wanting something with actual taste

Literally NO ONE has said this.
posted by empath at 6:08 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]


Eh, the idea that Soylent is better than a frozen burrito or macaroni and cheese or beans and rice kind of is that argument.
posted by Sara C. at 6:12 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: "Eh, the idea that Soylent is better than a frozen burrito or macaroni and cheese or beans and rice kind of is that argument."

"Kind of"? In what way is "Soylent has more nutrients than frozen burritos" kind of the same as saying "poor people, eat tasteless glop so we can shame you"?

I made yakisoba last night. It was tasty. That's kinda like saying that cheap eateries should all go out of business so only rich people can go out to eat.
posted by Bugbread at 6:15 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Also, I want to make a remark regarding sugars and the need to add a nutritionist or doctor to the Soylent mix (ba-dum!).

The reason that electrolyte replacement solutions -- Gatorade, Pedialyte, the oral rehydration solutions given to patients with diarrhea -- are sweet is that it was discovered in the 1960's that absorption of water and nutrients are coupled to glucose absorption. If you give a patient with cholera an electrolyte solution without glucose, it will run right through him and he will die of dehydration. Add sugar -- even though he doesn't need the calories -- and he'll live.

So while I am disgusted with the amount of sugars and corn syrup that finds its way into all the food in the US, and while I am just as cynical as everyone else about the corn lobby sticking its syrupy fingers into the sugary meal-replacement pie, I think it's important to realize that there are nutritionally sound reasons to put sugars into foods that are meant to help people absorb nutrients. They are not just "empty calories."

And even though this is a very famous result in public health/medicine/nutrition, it's is something that I didn't know about until I happened by chance to attend a very interesting talk at Hopkins. It blew me away, in large part because I could imagine myself turning up my nose at Pedialyte being "sugar water", and in my hubris giving a sick child something which would... :( I don't even have a kid, and the thought shakes me to my core.

I'm sure there are plenty of other such things I don't know. If I were designing an engineered minimal food, I think it's highly likely that I'd end up with something that looks adequate on paper, yet ends up not being bioavailable on its own. Do the Soylent engineers know about this? Do they know if maltodextrin works as well as glucose? Do the know whether or not it matters? Do they even know to ask the question?
posted by Westringia F. at 6:32 PM on May 30 [17 favorites]


But Soylent is a processed snack food. This is where they lose me.

No it isn't. Or at least that's not the intention. The difference in intention is clear - it's pretty difficult to find a processed snack food where you don't start feeling crappy after eating nothing but that snack for a week or more.

But it doesn't seem to be a similar sense of the word "processed" either - it's not about breaking down corn waste in a process that renders it edible and putting it through some other process and additives to get it to clump into a filler because it's cheaper than using real dough, by contrast it's about including nutrients in their most pure and raw state possible, with as little processing of the mixture as possible. That approach is found in the products of "Health Food" stores, not convenience stores.
posted by anonymisc at 6:53 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


The reason that electrolyte replacement solutions -- Gatorade, Pedialyte, the oral rehydration solutions given to patients with diarrhea -- are sweet is that it was discovered in the 1960's that absorption of water and nutrients are coupled to glucose absorption.

So does that mean that the "sport" flavors of the water enhancer products introduced in the last few years, that come as a concentrate in a tiny squeeze bottle, don't do anything for your electrolytes because they're sweetened with sucralose?
posted by XMLicious at 6:53 PM on May 30


it's not about breaking down corn waste in a process that renders it edible and putting it through some other process and additives to get it to clump into a filler

Where do you think the maltodextrin comes from? Do you think it grows on maltodextrin trees? And how is the maltodextrin in Soylent different from the maltodextrin in Sun Chips?
posted by Sara C. at 7:00 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


If you genuinely believe that you can eat nothing but sun chips for days or weeks, the same way you can (we are told) eat nothing but Soylent, and not start feeling worse for wear, on the grounds that both sun chips and Soylent have some nutrients in common, then sure, Soylent won't seem to offer you anything. But if they achieve their goals, the belief won't be true.
posted by anonymisc at 7:10 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I'm sure if I ate 2000 calories a day of Sun Chips, I'd probably be fine. With a multivitamin, I could probably do it indefinitely.
posted by Sara C. at 7:11 PM on May 30


Literally NO ONE has said this.

In what way is "Soylent has more nutrients than frozen burritos" kind of the same as saying "poor people, eat tasteless glop so we can shame you"?


From ArkhanJG, previously:

There's a pretty good correlation between poverty and obesity in the west. 'Food deserts' do exist, where it is expensive and impractical to get the ingredients, store them, or even have the appropriate amount of equipment (fridge, freezer, cooker, reliable affordable gas+electric, all the pots and pans we take for granted etc) to cook well and have to time to do so, or even learn to do so. In the west, the result is often surviving on fast food of poor nutritional value; cheap calories, but not even close to balanced or complete. In places without subsidised bad food (looking at you, Iowa corn agribusiness -> HFCS), you see people living on rice and beans or the like. Again, cheap calories, but not balanced.

My read on this: Poor people don't eat well. They may not have access to healthy food at a price accessible to them, so they buy accessible food like fast food.

It's not perfected yet. Nutritionally though, it beats the hell out of living off mcdonalds or rice and beans for every meal.

Yes, Soylent is inferior in taste and texture to your properly cooked home meals, or a great restaurant. Be grateful that you have the money and time to be able to eat properly - a lot of people on this planet don't have the same opportunity to do so.

If all goes to plan, eventually anyone will be able to setup a soylent production facility, using locally sourced ingredients, and give people the option to supplement their crappy dirt cheap food with decently nutritional affordable meals that need nothing more complex to store and make it than water, a container and something to mix it with.


If Soylent becomes a commonly-used thing, then that means that poor people will now have two choices when it comes to what they can eat for food: A) they can spend their money on something which is nutritionally complete, but is 'inferior in taste and texture', or B) fast food in all of its unhealthy glory.

Given the nature of how low-income individuals are currently shamed for making choices vis-a-vis comfort over financial virtue, I don't think it's unreasonable to make the assumption that someone who chose a cheeseburger or a frozen burrito over a Soylent shake would be judged on that basis.
posted by mikurski at 7:12 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]


Given the nature of how low-income individuals are currently shamed for making choices vis-a-vis comfort over financial virtue, I don't think it's unreasonable to make the assumption that someone who chose a cheeseburger or a frozen burrito over a Soylent shake would be judged on that basis.

And someone who chooses the Soylent will probably also be shamed. (If you're poor, it's your own fault because you're making shameful decisions, so, working backwards from that axiom...)
posted by anonymisc at 7:17 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Especially since we have no real evidence that Soylent is actually better for you than something like beans and rice.

I'll grant that, in an ideal world, if it turns out that the human body is actually able to metabolize all the micronutrients in Soylent exactly as hoped, and there's no quirky missing piece without which you get pellagra, and we stop finding out pesky things like "full-fat milk is better for you in ways we can't entirely explain yet", Soylent should be slightly better than fast food, because it's lower in sodium.

But it's not really better than a varied diet that sometimes includes fast food and other times includes other stuff. And it's absolutely not better than any of the many pre-packaged equivalents that already exist (for instance my oatmeal example upthread), or beans and rice.
posted by Sara C. at 7:20 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


> So does that mean that the "sport" flavors of the water enhancer products ... don't do anything for your electrolytes because they're sweetened with sucralose?

Goodness, I have no idea. I do know that Pedialyte is also sweetened with sucralose, but not to the exclusion of sugar (anhydrous dextrose is listed as the first ingredient in the powder & 2nd after water in the rest of the products), and rehydration therapy solutions have salt & sugar in equal molarities, which ends up being a lot more sugar than salt. From the little I know, I'd wonder if this stuff nothing but tasty snake-oil that looks healthful but is no better than plain water. OTOH, maybe it's fine if you're healthy and have sugars in your gut from something else (unlike if you're sick enough to need a nutrient solution or are drinking nothing but that)? I don't know.

But that's sorta my point about why I'd want dr/nutritionist's input if I were going to eat nothing but one thing.
posted by Westringia F. at 7:32 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I'm sure if I ate 2000 calories a day of Sun Chips, I'd probably be fine. With a multivitamin, I could probably do it indefinitely.

My brushes with mono-eating leads me to doubt, but it would be nice if this were true, so let's assume that it is. In that case, it looks like the issue is that food company marketing has missed the colossal elephant in the room (On Ask Mefi alone, Bachelor Chow is more frequently asked about than almost anything else) - so many people are trying to find this product, even though it is easily made or already exists, but seeking in vain because it has not been marketed to them or labelled in a way they understand that it does what they seek. So when Soylent said "Hey look - Bachelor Chow!", it exploded all over the news, went viral, etc.

There has long been well-known pent-up demand for this product. If Soylent is nothing special, just riding the wave of pent-up demand because their marketing was the first to speak to this market, then that's a story in its own right: How did food companies fuck up so badly and leave so much money on the table for so long?
(Perhaps they didn't. Perhaps they did the market research and found that people who want Bachelor Chow, once given it, don't stick with it? Or something like that?)
posted by anonymisc at 7:37 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]


How did food companies fuck up so badly and leave so much money on the table for so long?

Probably because they're not prepared to make claims that Food Item X can be eaten to the exclusion of all else, due to liability. What happens when someone tries this and sues due to an unforeseen health outcome?

Even Soylent's founder has backed off the "sustainable bachelor chow" claim.
posted by Sara C. at 7:43 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I had absolutely no idea there were so many people who don't like to eat.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:47 PM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Possibly. I thought about that, but it seems at odds with the behavior of food companies in the USA - they have a long record of Big-Tobacco-style swearing black-and-blue that X doesn't cause Y while sitting on a pile of internal research showing that X causes Y.
OTOH, legal is a very nervous department... :)
posted by anonymisc at 7:47 PM on May 30


it's about including nutrients in their most pure and raw state possible

See, that's how I see processing for the most part. People always seem to look down on things like TVP for being "processed" because they see it as a cheap filler. But it's just soy protein like the Soylent processes rice to get rice protein or corn to get maltodextrin. It's about the nutrition you get from the food in the end, not the level of processing.

So anyway, Sun Chips. 15 servings for 2100 calories. Only 30 grams of protein. Probably not gonna cut it.

I'm with Sara C. for the most part here, but she is going too far with using things like beer or chips as an example. Rice and beans though? Yeah, I don't think Soylent has much of an advantage on them.

1 cup rice for 675 calories and 13 grams protein. 14 servings of black beans for 1400 calories and 98 grams protein. 2075 calories a day, enough protein, tons of fiber. Take the multivitamin.

I would be interested on an educated opinion on why Soylent is vastly superior to that diet outside of the possibility of less farting all the time. Get a rice cooker and it's no more difficult to make. It's cheap. It's been a staple across the world for centuries for a reason.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:54 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Assuming it's difficult to make a (legally-safe) long-term Bachelor Chow, I'm still surprised no-one has even been talking to that market and saying "It's almost-Chow! Don't live off ONLY this, but you can use it for most of your meals". There are definitely foods that fit that bill, but I've never met any being explicitly billed as such to the "Is-there-a-Bachelor-Chow?" demographics. (I imagine I share enough proximity to the demographics that if I haven't seen it, that's a marketing fail.)
posted by anonymisc at 7:55 PM on May 30


As for the marketing...I'd guess more foodie approved products have been the big sellers lately. There has been a lot of backlash against foods with "chemicals" and "processing" in favor of more whole foods. Soylent is basically all processed ingredients and additives so it's the exact opposite of that trend. It's a lot to ask of a big corporation to go against the grain like that, and I don't know that the customers would be quite as ready to embrace the product from a source they are cynical of instead of the lone scientist rebel. When he processes, it's making food pure. When they do it, it's making it impure. Kind of genius the more you think about it.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:09 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Only 30 grams of protein. Probably not gonna cut it.

I still think that would be fine for a few months. You'd eventually start feeling run down, and in the long term it would not be great for your health, but are you going to die? No.

Regarding beer, there's always this guy, who seems to have lived to tell the tale. His writing is much more about the spiritual aspect of his fast than about the physical side, so it's hard to tell how it went on a nutritional level.

OK now I'm kind of tempted to do some kind of extreme mono-diet thing where I only eat Sun Chips or oatmeal for a month or so and document the results.
posted by Sara C. at 8:19 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Also I have to say I'm really not sold on the idea that there is a demand for Bachelor Chow. most of the questions in the wiki were variations on a "nutritionally complete" theme, not explicitly people looking for a product like Soylent.

Clearly there is demand for Soylent, specifically, though I'm curious about how much of it is novelty factor, and how much of it is an extremely niche market which the developer has realized a unique ability to market to (since the overlap between bachelor chow and Kickstarter seems pretty solid).
posted by Sara C. at 8:26 PM on May 30


This Nutrition Analysis Tool from UIUC (a place well know for mixing agriculture and geekery in equal parts*) might be useful for folks trying to construct minimal diets out of more standard ingredients. You can even add some approximation of Sun Chips ("SNACKS; CORN-BASED, EXTRUDED, CHIPS, PLAIN, LIGHT," though maybe that's more like Fritos). I'm sure there are more polished tools out there -- the site design makes MeFi look modern -- but I've been using this to over-think my beans since 1998, and it hasn't let me down yet.

_____
* This would be the school that ported a cow, although not the way you might initially think.
posted by Westringia F. at 8:28 PM on May 30 [3 favorites]


If people really and truly loathe the whole process of preparing and/or eating food, then I think that must almost be some kind of eating disorder, or else maybe a kind of super-religious rejection of the flesh. But if you do feel this way, apart from thinking probably you should talk to someone about why you hate your material being so much that you reject eating, you should probably make some kind of rudimentary prison type diet for yourself with a better variety of eatable things, so you don't miss out on all those micronutrients whose names and functions we don't know. Sara C mentioned the full cream milk thing, and there are heaps of other things like that. We don't eat vegetables for fibre + vitamins + minerals alone.

On the other hand, most people's diets are really pretty great, with a surplus of protein and carbohydrates especially, so if you are too distracted to eat a meal, just skipping isn't going to kill you. You don't need to drink the nasty sludge stuff. You could even eat a banana. Or nothing at all, once in a while or even once a day isn't going to hurt you.

I like Michal Pollan's approach to eating, so really these sci-fi super processed food things always freak me out.


I wonder what people who drink that sludgy stuff smell like?
posted by Serafina Flummery at 9:14 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


If Soylent becomes a commonly-used thing, then that means that poor people will now have two choices when it comes to what they can eat for food: A) they can spend their money on something which is nutritionally complete, but is 'inferior in taste and texture', or B) fast food in all of its unhealthy glory.

Given the nature of how low-income individuals are currently shamed for making choices vis-a-vis comfort over financial virtue, I don't think it's unreasonable to make the assumption that someone who chose a cheeseburger or a frozen burrito over a Soylent shake would be judged on that basis.
If you don't think poor people are already judged every day for how they eat, I have news for you.

There's absolutely plenty of shame already for eating fast food/ready meals, instead of buying veg, and not just poor people. Anyone that doesn't fit the bronzed supermodel/sixpack look gets plenty of comments about how weak willed and inferior they are compared to their fit betters - I speak from plenty of personal experience. I very much doubt the existence of soylent will make that any more the case than say, the existence of diet shakes already do, thanks.

People get shamed when they don't learn to cook, and have a fully stocked kitchen. It's happened plenty in this very thread - there's very little sympathy for not being willing or able to cook, for whatever reason, even here. Soylent isn't going to change that, either.

Also, I said Soylent is inferior to good quality full food in taste and texture; I intentionally didn't compare it to fast food or existing diet products, so please don't put words in my mouth. Sounds like it's pretty much the same as a veg smoothie or diet shake or even a milk shake - not something I'd particularly enjoy eating all the time, but it's not terrible.

By your logic, we should what? Ban soylent? Get all the Ensure taken off the shelves because of the body shaming that happens because it exists?

Of course soylent is not a solution to world hunger. The makers have never said that. You don't fix a problem like a billion hungry people with some powered goop. But soylent can help some people - it already is, if you read the fine article. That's better than doing basically sod all about it, which seems to be the current status quo.

I'd love, no love to contribute to fixing the real problems of poor nutrition. Of course, that means we're going to need to solve the underlying problem of completely unfair resource distribution; so that's ending vampire capitalism, stopping the rich and corporations sucking up all the wealth and power, and having the politicians do their bidding instead of ours. We should rebalance the justice system while we're at it. Then we can tackle the abuses by agribusiness and fast food business. Oh, and we can tackle the many psychological and physical issues that lead to dysfunctional relationships with food too.

Since soylent obviously isn't the solution to all that - how could it be? - anyone, feel free to share what you've been doing this week to bring about the end of world hunger instead, and we can help you out with that.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:13 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]


If people really and truly loathe the whole process of preparing and/or eating food

The anti-soylent people in this thread for some reason have a tendency to grossly exaggerate and misread what people are actually saying in this thread. Not particularly enjoying cooking and eating is not the same thing as loathing it. Not having time for cooking or learning to cook is not the same thing as being unable to cook.

Everybody should be free to choose how they spend their time. If they want to spend less time bothering with food, they should be able to.
posted by empath at 3:20 AM on May 31 [9 favorites]


I wonder what people who drink that sludgy stuff smell like?

I dunno, like rice and oats?
posted by Drinky Die at 6:23 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]


I have just come to the thread, so I haven't had time to read all the 360+ comments, but here are a few thoughts ...

Why do we assume that cooking/feeding is the sole job of the individual, or the nuclear family? Just as with the West's assumption that the job of raising children is solely the duty of parents, the notion that every person should have their own little kitchen and buy all their own food and cook everything themselves is part of our obsession with individualism. Why not a more community based model of food preparation and distribution? I for one would be happy if I never had to cook again, because I HATE it. I would happily give all the money I spend on groceries to some sort of co-op that would be able to buy better quality food in bulk and then have it prepared by people who know what they are doing and ENJOY doing so. In my ideal world, every neighborhood would have its own cafeteria, where the whole community could go to eat -- or take it home if they wanted. And of course, the food would be largely produced locally, and the people doing this work would earn a healthy living doing so. Obviously this is a pie-in-the-sky dream (pun intended), but really, if we are trying to rethink the way we eat, why restrict ourselves to individualist, market-based, capitalist sort of solutions?
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:51 AM on May 31 [3 favorites]


the notion that every person should have their own little kitchen and buy all their own food and cook everything themselves is part of our obsession with individualism. Why not a more community based model of food preparation and distribution?

They're called restaurants.

There's a reason that the rise of fast food coincided perfectly with the mainstreaming of middle class married mothers* joining the workforce, car culture, and the death of the traditional nuclear family.

It's also pretty interesting that restaurant food is so heavily stigmatized. I mean don't get me wrong, I like cooking, it's a useful life skill, and I think the culture around home-cooked food is an important thing. But there are many, many perfectly valid options for people who don't enjoy cooking or don't have the time for it or are single or whatever. We just make sure to erase them or make them "bad choices".

*oy, the alliteration there...
posted by Sara C. at 11:04 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]


Missed my point, but that's OK.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:24 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


Saxon Kane: "Missed my point, but that's OK."

I don't really see how she missed your point. There are lots of restaurants that focus on using local ingredients. A restaurant like that: 1) buys better quality food in bulk, 2) has it prepared by people who know what they are doing, who 3) in my experience, perhaps do not "enjoy", but certainly do not "hate" doing it, 4) are frequented mostly by people living nearby - "members of the community", and 5) offer to-go.
posted by Bugbread at 4:39 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


I don't think it even has to be a special restaurant that uses local ingredients.

Go to any restaurant, including McDonalds, and order a salad with the dressing on the side. That's a perfectly good nutritious meal right there. If you bring it home and make your own vinaigrette (30 seconds and easier than assembling Soylent), you can be sure to avoid the sodium and fat bomb that is the real reason fast food is bad for you. Even using their dressing in moderation is probably fine. I don't think fast food salads are particularly interesting, or delicious, or cost effective, but they're there and they're perfectly good if one doesn't enjoy/have time for cooking.

Same goes in the prepared foods/deli section of any supermarket. Just make reasonable choices (don't eat an entire rotisserie chicken for dinner every night) and you're doing at least as well as Soylent, though you'll spend a little more.
posted by Sara C. at 4:57 PM on May 31


Sara C.: "I don't think it even has to be a special restaurant that uses local ingredients."

I don't understand this statement. Saxon Kane is saying in their ideal world, there would be community co-ops that used local ingredients. What does "it doesn't even have to be a special restaurant that uses local ingredients" mean? Are you saying Saxon Kane wrong about their own ideal world?
posted by Bugbread at 5:28 PM on May 31


I'm saying that there already is a solution to the problem of people who don't cook or live alone or are busy or whatever. Many solutions, in fact.

I'm not really making any particular argument with Saxon Kane, who can obviously envision any kind of future he wants. But his vision is very much already rooted in reality.
posted by Sara C. at 5:31 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]




I just couldn't imagine not being able to do basic cooking. What if there's a natural disaster or a zombie apocalypse? What if I wanted to go traveling and all the eateries were closed when I got there, or I wanted to go camping? It's almost like not being able to bath yourself without help -- sure, in today's society we have solutions to those problems most of the time, but that doesn't mean you haven't lost a valuable skill or given up some personal freedom.

As for this guy, those articles make it pretty clear that he's a bit crazy. Seems like he has some childhood food issues. Not in a way that screwed his life up or anything, just enough to explain his bizarre thought process about this invention of his. Not sure why it gets so much attention, because it's hardly a new concept at all -- new meal replacements come up all the time from what I can tell. Maybe it's simply because he's an interesting character?

And lets not get started on the idea that it makes sense to use this product in the developing world, as if China's problems are going to be solved by a highly processed food sludge (OMG, did you know that the Chinese spend half their money on food!? Clearly they need my food replacement sludge to save them!)
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 6:16 PM on May 31


A lot of my chemical engineer friends work in the food sector. They are bright people of capable of learning, and you have to be extra special prejudiced to think an engineer cannot do some reading on a subject of interest and build on that.

so I studied Aerospace Engineering at Uni, and while I don't work in the field many of my friends do... they're bright people capable of learning, as am (I'm sure) most professional nutritionists... I expect a professional nutritionist could do some reading and design a perfectly good model aircraft if that was a subject of interest for them, just as my aero eng mates apply themselves to their non-work interests...

but I wouldn't fly in a plane designed by a nutritionist, and I wouldn't eat a 100% meal replacement chow designed by an electrical engineer, because once you start basing human wellbeing on your decisions I have an expectation of actual expertise...


... an engineer with an overinflated opinion of himself (or shorter, an engineer) ...

lolz yeah we're all such ego-inflated assholes aren't we...
posted by russm at 6:44 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


>> Granted, sometimes this kind of low residue diet is wanted due to being an astronaut or a colostomy bag

> Worst. Career choice. Ever.

Well, to be fair, loquacious had just said "otherwise you turn into a human soft serve machine or something," and as "somethings" go....
posted by Westringia F. at 7:00 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


Granted, sometimes this kind of low residue diet is wanted due to being an astronaut or a colostomy bag


We are all looking at the stars...but some of us want to be the gutter.

no wait
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:22 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


My problem is always oversalting, and usually with foods where you can't do the potato trick.

Psst, the potato trick is an old wives' tale.

But back to Soylent. I'm a chef. I'm emotionally invested in helping people put delicious things in their mouths. I do think that cooking is a basic skill that everyone should have at a basic level--like math, for example. Pretty much everyone can add/subtract/divide/multiply. Very few need to use calculus.

So I usually think of (home) cooking the same way: you should know just enough to be able to make something that tastes okay for you. Going beyond that is like learning calculus; fun for some, necessary for others, irrelevant for many.

Plus, all you people who like to eat but don't like taking the time or doing the dishes are the people who put money in my pocket, so it's kiiiiiiiiiiiiind of hard for me to argue against my own self interest ;)

But what bothers me about Soylent is:

1) Fibre. We need undigestible material going through our intestines to keep them healthy. So, I dunno, add Metamucil to your Soylent maybe. (Yes, I know there are people on liquid-only diets. They are also, generally, medically supervised to ensure continued intestinal health.) Ah, here is a comment explaining that in far greater detail.

2) Bioavailability of vitamins and minerals. As far as I can tell, there has been literally zero scientific testing of whether the human body will actually absorb the nutrients in Soylent, to say nothing of long term effects.

3) Micronutrients that we may not even know about yet. All the time we're finding out about how Substance X affects things in the body (like, say, essential fatty acids)... So Soylent would be needing to continually change its formulation to be 'nutritionally complete.'

4) I can really, really see governments that already hate having people on welfare forcing them to eat this stuff instead of food, because it's cheaper.

5) Why the fuck does it separate? There's tons of available emulsifiers on the market that could be mixed into the Soylent powder to keep it stable all day. Soy lecithin, xanthan gum... this speaks to the lack of research on this and the Engineer Problem and apparent lack of anyone with actual medical and nutritional experience at the top levels of the company.

6) This is, as said above, a solved problem. More to the point, if it were actually possible to sustain yourself on this, don't you think the US armed forces would be using it instead of MREs? It would be cheaper, make for lower pack weight, be simple as hell to ship and store... it would be a holy grail. But! It seems like the act of eating is psychologically necessary for humans. If it weren't, we wouldn't even have the term 'comfort food.'

7) It basically looks like coloured semen. Which is not, surprisingly, something I'd want to drink even a cup of, let alone two litres in one day.

I mean, if you think this is a good thing for you, then go for it. Personally? If I were going for meal replacement like that I'd be going for stuff that's actually been clinically tested and created by actual doctors and nutrition experts.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:42 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


Soylent has fibre.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:43 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]


the sodium and fat bomb that is the real reason fast food is bad for you

I thought the current wisdom was that sodium is fine unless you have high blood pressure, that fat is generally a good thing (but not trans fats), and that the evil of fast food was sugar and high-calorie portions?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:52 PM on May 31


I don't really see how something savory/salty like a chicken nugget or a french fry could be problematic on the basis of sugar, and you can eat as many or as few calories as you like.

Looking at the actual nutrition facts of McDonalds' savory menu items, aside from the generally high calorie counts, they're mostly just high in fat and sodium. If that's good for you now, then whoopieeeeee, fast food isn't nearly as bad as we all thought, and there's no point in all this Soylent talk. Just send everyone to Burger King.
posted by Sara C. at 11:56 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


Besides, Soylent is basically a sugar slurry, so if anything high in sugar is bad for you, Soylent is bad for you.
posted by Sara C. at 11:58 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]


McDonalds adds a lot of sugar to some of their savoury items, especially when you add in the condiments. Maybe most people just have their fries and McNuggets bare, but I suspect that isn't the case, and if you get extra dipping sauce, then that bumps up the sugar intake quite a bit. So I think sugar is still a reason why McDonalds can be so bad. High fat and sodium is the other obvious problem, but it's also their general use of highly processed, poor quality (nutritionally speaking) ingredients.

As for Soylent, I'll take the guy more seriously when he puts a guarantee on his claim of nutritional completeness.
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 1:24 AM on June 1 [4 favorites]


What irks me with Soylent is the self-backpatting feeling I get from their PR - that venture-capitally 'we've made Food 2.0!' Thing.

I honestly don't care what people choose to eat, but this comment expresses exactly what turns me off so much about Soylent. And, just because someone is an engineer in one field doesn't mean they have unlocked the secret to building all things. The arrogance around the product is what makes it so offensive.
posted by missmerrymack at 9:03 AM on June 1 [4 favorites]


If that's good for you now, then whoopieeeeee, fast food isn't nearly as bad as we all thought

I think the current understanding is that fast food is bad because it's very, very calorie dense while at the same time not being particularly satiating. So it's designed to encourage overconsumption, and a meal will leave you feeling hungry much faster than an equivalent number of calories obtained through less-processed food. And the portion sizes are ridiculous in calorie terms.

I don't doubt that you probably could have a nutritionally complete (at least to the limits of current nutritional understanding, which shouldn't be taken to be the end of all knowledge), reasonable calorie diet eating from fast food restaurants, but most people would find it to be misery-inducing since they'd be hungry very soon after eating, but would have expended their calorie "budget" and wouldn't be able to eat again.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:52 AM on June 1


Someday, the Singularity will come and sweep one away from all this messy embodiment, the eating, the sweaty exerting energy to move one's meat-body through space. Someday, the burdens of eating food and exercising will be done away with and the intellect can swim (metaphorically) in a sea of data.

For those waiting on the Techo-Rapture-Without-Religion, until that great upload date comes, there's Soylent.

Soylent: Because living like a human with a body is too messy for some people.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:26 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


it's also their general use of highly processed, poor quality (nutritionally speaking) ingredients.

You can't get more highly processed than the ingredients in Soylent.

The calorie thing, with fast food, is spot on.

But the bottom line is that, no matter what food you're eating, there are as many calories in it as there are, and you consume as many as you choose to consume. Soylent would be as prone to making you fat as a cheeseburger is, if it actually tasted good.

I will grant that Soylent's disgusting flavor/mouthfeel combined with the fact that it's relatively low-calorie (you have to drink an awful lot of it to get the RDA for calories for a normal adult) means that, if anything, it's probably good for dieting. But, again, that's because it tastes bad and isn't appealing in any way.

Once Soylent solves the problem of how disgusting it is, Soylent will be the new McDonalds in terms of nutrition outcomes.
posted by Sara C. at 10:37 AM on June 1


> Someday, the Singularity will come and sweep one away from all this messy embodiment, the eating, the sweaty exerting energy to move one's meat-body through space.

It's the 8hrs of nightly downtime that gets me. I don't know a single self-respecting systems engineer that would put up with a design like that.
posted by Westringia F. at 11:11 AM on June 1 [6 favorites]


And, just because someone is an engineer in one field doesn't mean they have unlocked the secret to building all things. The arrogance around the product is what makes it so offensive.

They're entrepreneurs who thought they could turn the wealth of existing research into dietary requirements into a product. If that's arrogance then so is fixing your own car, doing your own plumbing or baking your own bread. It's not like they're out there claiming to be able to perform heart surgery.

I can see thinking the "food 2.0" marketing is arrogant. But I also think that part of Metafilter hears "engineer" and thinks "smug nerd who thinks he's better than me".

Soylent would be as prone to making you fat as a cheeseburger is, if it actually tasted good.

There's more to it than tasting bad. Some foods will make you feel full even if they don't taste horrible.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:35 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]


If that's arrogance then so is fixing your own car, doing your own plumbing or baking your own bread.

But cooking for yourself isn't the analogy here. It's the equivalent of soliciting a couple million dollars in crowdfunding pre-orders for services to fix your neighbors' plumbing with your self-taught untested plumbing skills while claiming you'll be producing master-plumber-grade outcomes, when there's no shortage of master plumbers that needs to be compensated for or any extenuating circumstance like that, that's the arrogant part.

But I also think that part of Metafilter hears "engineer" and thinks "smug nerd who thinks he's better than me".

I'm an engineer and that's pretty close to what I would tend to think of someone who proffers an engineering occupation as credentials that he's "really learned how to break problems down" in a way that transcends things he's actually got experience with. Thankfully I've gotten away from more frustrating facets of the job, but in my industry (software engineering) you'll not infrequently spend your time fixing or compensating for half-assed crap that other engineers slapped together, whether it's co-workers or the code jockeys at a software vendor. And the worst thing is, these are the sort of people who frequently end up becoming management and thus set deadlines, overload teams, and pressure others into producing crap even if they're entirely able to avoid it.

I'm all for "a man's reach should exceed his grasp", this just doesn't seem anything like 3.5 million dollars' worth of someone's reach exceeding their grasp (or whatever the total investment so far has been) nor does it look like anyone is being particularly scrupulous in ensuring there's as much substance to the enterprise as its lofty goals and marketing materials articulate—that they're even going to create anything near to the ultimate liquid meal replacement, much less "the ultimate food" that will revitalize our civilization's food production system—and hence it doesn't look particularly noble or epic to me.
posted by XMLicious at 3:32 PM on June 1 [6 favorites]


Step one says to "film the pan with a little" oil. How much is a little? It says "film," so does "a little" in conjunction with "film" mean to ensure the entire bottom of the pan is covered in oil? If so, to what depth, exactly? Or does "a little" semantically override "film" and you really only need a few millilitres? If so, how many?

Step two says to "warm the pan over medium to medium-high heat." Which one is it? What set of initial conditions are we attempting to achieve? "Medium" isn't a temperature, so exactly how hot should the pan be? How do we know when it’s hot enough? Should we get a thermometer and attempt to measure when the pan has reached thermal equilibrium with the burner beneath it?

Steps three and four are even more problematic. Step three says to break the meat into "several" pieces, but then step four says to "continue breaking the ground meat into smaller and smaller pieces." Why are these two discrete steps? Is there supposed to be a delay between steps three and four? What constitutes "several" pieces? How do we know when the beef is sufficiently broken up?
This reads like something out of a "Big Bang Theory" script.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:33 PM on June 1 [5 favorites]


Not to mention that the author, in a previous series, managed to measure, mix, add water and oil to, blend, and independently flavor the Soylent all by his ownself, so clearly he 100% knows how to cook and is just being difficult with the above.
posted by Sara C. at 5:55 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]


Step one says to "film the pan with a little" oil. How much is a little?

Sounds like someone needs Cooking For Engineers.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:00 AM on June 2


I started wondering about what happens people on Soylent poop. So I did a quick Google and found a couple of articles, from Popular Science and Ars Technica. Both link to the Wikipedia page, The Bristol Scale of Stool Hardness.

There are little pictures on that page. Little examples.
posted by JHarris at 6:08 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


It's the 8hrs of nightly downtime that gets me. I don't know a single self-respecting systems engineer that would put up with a design like that.

Five nines it fuckin' ain't.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:39 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I don't know a single self-respecting systems engineer that would put up with a design like that.

The cetacean design team came up with a much more elegant solution. Hopefully after next review phase we'll get fixes for the punctum caecum issue (cephalopods work group fixed it) and the palmaris longus, made redundant when the "claw" feature was dropped.


The whole thing's kludged together.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:45 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


First the housing market, then dating, now food.

Is there anything brogrammers can't ruin?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:36 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Obviously this is a pie-in-the-sky dream (pun intended), but really, if we are trying to rethink the way we eat, why restrict ourselves to individualist, market-based, capitalist sort of solutions?

I was in two different food co-ops in graduate school in which everyone cooked once a week for everyone else. The amount of meal planning I had to do was basically limited to one night per week. Actually, in one of the co-ops, it approached zero, because two other people handled placing orders for the fresh and dry foods as their "chore" (my chore was keeping track of and refilling the spices). My dues for an entire semester in one of the co-ops were $550, which covered dinner nightly plus whatever leftovers and dry goods/eggs/etc I wanted to prepare myself for breakfast and lunch. As a result, I saved a ton of money and got much better at cooking while still getting to eat a really wide variety of foods. If you can find this kind of arrangement, I highly, highly recommend it.

But I cook for myself now, and basically, it's not great. My willpower is already depleted enough by getting through the work day (and sometimes further by getting myself into the gym, when I can manage it) that I often succumb to grabbing something like Subway, just because I don't want to spend the extra forty-five minutes cooking and another twenty cleaning. It's not very good for my health and it's much worse for my wallet. I would totally use a meal-replacement in that scenario, especially one that wouldn't rot my teeth like Ensure.

Anyway, this particular product may certainly not be as well researched as it claims to be, and lord knows (esp. as a new SF resident) I am certainly no fan of brogrammer/engineer-supremacist culture. I also totally agree that there are definitely some dimensions to this that intersect with gender, and I thought the "privilege" crack in the FPP was tone-deaf stupidity. However, beyond that, the moralizing attitude in this and in previous Soylent-related threads is something I also find vexing and disappointing. For example, I was pretty surprised that the sentiment was expressed upthread (and in previous threads) that choosing to eat a product like this is so intrinsically disordered that it is worse than just not eating. I have first-hand experience of being clinically underweight at 6'1" and 135 lbs, largely from behaving like this, so I can tell you first hand that no, actually, drinking a meal replacement shake a couple of times a day is way better for you than just skipping a meal whenever you don't feel like eating or cooking. (If you don't want my personal anecdote, I can also tell you that being underweight is not particularly healthy from a statistical perspective, either, even after adjusting for confounders like smoking.) Michael Pollan is not a moral leader and has plenty of weird biases and blind spots of his own (e.g., GMOs), and consuming vs. not consuming Soylent is not an issue of character or morality.

This is a cheap mass-gainer shake with oil and vitamins. Really, that's it. It's not revolutionary, but neither is it some kind of assault on our shared humanity.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:52 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


(Oh right, it also has some Metamucil in it.)
posted by en forme de poire at 8:04 PM on June 25


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