24-year-old Rob Rhinehart turned heads a few months ago with a simple announcement – he no longer needs to eat food in the conventional sense.
Rhinehart has created what he calls “Soylent,” a powdered concoction that seemingly contains all the nutrients and biological fuel people need to go about their lives. Added to water, it’s constituted the lion’s share of his diet for nearly four months, and he’s just launched a fundraising campaign on CrowdHoster to bring it to the public (it’s a product by Crowdtilt – think Kickstarter with absolutely no fees). Donors to the cause can receive a week or even a month-long supply of Soylent.
Soylent is a polarising creation, to be sure. In the rush of media coverage since Rhinehart revealed his experiment, he’s been accused of being some sort of anti-food militant. This is hardly the case.
“Regular food is great. I absolutely don’t want to ‘end’ it,” he told us. Rhinehart still eats standard food on occasion and is the first to acknowledge the sociological value of communal eating. But for the day-to-day in-and-out of consuming food, there’s a large enough slice of the population who’d rather not bother with cooking. Soylent presents them with a reasonable, more desirable alternative.
Rhinehart’s tracking his condition very closely to make sure Soylent works. In recording general health metrics and blood serum levels of essential nutrients, he’s able to identify problems and tweak the Soylent recipe accordingly. He’s hit a few speed bumps along the way, such as joint pain related to a sulfur deficiency and an accidental potassium overdose, but he seems to have things ironed out now. And you have to respect a guy who puts his money where his mouth is, laying his health and body on the line.
But the proof’s in the pudding – here’s a guy alive and well who estimates he’s eaten about 20 conventional meals in the last four months.
If it seems weird to try to survive on what amounts to little more than a smoothie, consider this: In an interview with Vice, Rhinehart explained that “we need carbs, not bread. Amino acids, not milk. It’s still fine to eat these whenever you want, but not everyone can afford them or has the desire to eat them. Food should be optimised and personalised.”
But forget for a moment those first-world concerns of “Oh, I’m too tired to cook.” There’s an exciting humanitarian element at play here. Soylent is cheap to produce – a month-long personal supply could cost around $100 when produced at scale (one month of groceries costs the average American around $600 or more). If Soylent can truly deliver on its promise to keep the human body powered effectively, then it will become a huge asset in fighting the world’s hunger problem. Rhinehart thinks big and gets visibly animated when discussing this, saying, “I want it to be as widely available as possible. I’m imagining small packets of Soylent in stores, vending machines, everywhere.” He wants to make it as easy to get as a cup of coffee.
I’m hardly some sort of epicurean foodie. I’m generally pressed for time (who isn’t, right?) and don’t enjoy cooking for myself, so my personal diet is a little haphazard as a result. With the potential to squash my grocery bill, free up more time, save water from washing dishes, and keep me healthy all at once, Soylent screams for my attention.
If Soylent is selling anything besides powdered nutrients, it’s a simpler life. And I’m buying.
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