Look, I get that eating healthily is important.
But I like junk food. I like hamburgers. I like candy. I don’t like the expenditure of time, effort, and energy that comes with cooking healthy meals. I also don’t like the monetary cost associated with it.
When I heard about Soylent, an affordable nutrient-rich powder that can be used to make healthy meal replacements, I was intrigued.
Soylent — named as a wink-wink-nudge-nudge reference to the 1973 sci-fi movie “Soylent Green” — first gained traction when founder Rob Rhinehart wrote a blog post called “How I Stopped Eating Food”. It got passed around quite a bit, kicking off major interest for a quick and easy health food item that was cheap and nutritious.
Now, Soylent is venture funded to the tune of $US2.3 million and is seeing $10,000 worth of orders per day.
Many don’t see food as a problem to be solved, so Soylent has naturally has caused some angst. Martha Stewart offers the melodramatic critique that Soylent is cause for being “afraid — very afraid.” A prominent food thinker and author told us that Soylent is “moving us farther away from understanding where our food comes from.”
I personally don’t see the big deal, but I’m also not claiming to be some sort of food authority. I’m just a guy who’s intrigued at the prospect of not having to overthink on how to eat healthily, and would gladly eat “healthy food” if not for the time or money often required to do so.
For the last two weeks or so, I’ve been experimenting with how Soylent might fit into my life. The verdict is that it does, though on a once- or twice-a-day basis. In theory, you can replace all your meals with Soylent, but I came to prefer using it in conjunction with “normal” meals.
The product itself is a powder that, when mixed with water and a pre-measured oil preparation, becomes a drink that purports to contain all the nutrients your body needs to be healthy. A one-week supply costs $US85. If you use it for three meals a day, that’s $US4.04 per meal. A two-liter container will hold a day’s worth — three “meals” — of Soylent. Rhinehart and plenty of Soylent customers themselves make the drink the primary component of their diets, living on it entirely or nearly so.
Soylent is not out to “end food.” This is a silly, misguided notion that speaks to a wholly incorrect idea floating around that you have to go all-Soylent or not at all. It’s a false choice that misrepresents what Soylent’s all about: convenience. Eat food when you want, drink Soylent when you want.
I approached my Soylent test-drive from the following angle: I would drink Soylent for a meal unless there was something specific I wanted to eat instead. A lamb gyro from a certain halal cart near the office or a late night Seamless delivery for just-gotta-have-it buffalo wings, for example.
Any of my colleagues will confirm my impulsive eating habits, but I routinely mixed a day’s worth of Soylent each evening, leaving it in the fridge overnight to consume the following day. I soon developed a routine of having Soylent for breakfast, having “real” food for lunch, then more Soylent for dinner.
There were variations within here, of course. I went out to dinner with friends and ate conventional food. I had a craving for an egg sandwich one morning, so I made one for breakfast. This totally fits within the Soylent paradigm — it is cheap and readily available at home, so if I want a healthy meal without the thought and energy required to prepare it, it fills that role in a second. If I feel like being a culinary superhero cooking for one, that option remains unaffected.
Here is a run down of the good, the bad, and the rest of it…
It works. Soylent is cheap, easy, nutrient-rich, and curbs your hunger. You feel like you’ve eaten something.
Soylent is tasty, even dessert-like. For a drink that purportedly contains all the nutrients the human body needs (which I immediately associate with gross-tasting vegetable smoothies), properly mixed Soylent has a taste resembling that of a vanilla milkshake.
It takes no effort to mix. Start with powder. Add water. Add oil. Shake until the clumps are gone. You’re finished.
I’m only running the dishwasher every four or five days. I usually run my small countertop dishwasher every other day to clean my plates and other kitchen paraphernalia. But you don’t need plates or silverware to consume Soylent, and drinking glasses can of course be reused throughout the day.
I’ve noticed a big improvement in my overall mood
and wakefulness each morning. Waking up used to be a hazy battle of will to get out of bed. Lately I awake with a snap.
I never felt hungry. On the few days where I only drank Soylent, I had the same sated feeling as if I had eaten a day’s worth of conventional meals. I’m an active cyclist and Soylent was more than enough to power some vigorous pedaling around New York City.
Soylent is dirt cheap for such a health-optimised product. Customers buying a one-week supply at the $US85 price point can eat three “meals” per day for $US4.04 per meal. It is cheaper than fast food, healthier than fast food, and faster than fast food.
If you want to entertain the big picture: It’s not hard to imagine Soylent as an effective low-cost tool for simultaneously fighting world hunger and improving nutrition at the same time. I’ve got no idea what that looks like practically, but the idea of Soylent as “low-cost nutrition delivery mechanism” around the world seems pretty obvious.
Bathroom-related results will vary. I don’t have anything to report on this front, but others have cited being excessively gassy upon integrating Soylent into their diets. This seems to be the exception, not the rule. (Quick aside: while I was eating solid food throughout the experiment, I understand that those who opt for a 100% Soylent diet will still defecate as if they are eating solid food. Soylent has the appropriate amount of dietary fibre for this.)
Fear of the unknown. There’s still no reasonable consensus on how a person “should” eat. Just consider the embarrassing number of self-prescribed diets and food lifestyles out there: your vegans, your paleos, your gluten-frees, your low-carbs. Even the Soylent critic previously mentioned up top writes in his book that the “only things that health authorities seem to agree on are that fish is healthy and Twinkies are not.”
So I readily confess a certain degree of fear in taking my diet into my own hands so drastically. But nothing hurts, I feel quite all right, and I’m enjoying having some more time and money at the end of each day.
Rounding It Up
The longer I availed myself of Soylent, the less I used it each day. The first few days were 100% food replacement, then I began regularly eating a standard lunch in the middle of the day. Now, some two weeks later, Soylent is my guilt-free, time-saving dinner to top off the workday after two regular meals. I don’t totally have an explanation for why this is the case, but it is.
For me, Soylent proves its value at the end of a workday. Upon arriving home from work, I finish “dinner” in less than five minutes without any cooking and and am instantly free to spend my evening however I want. It feels like typing in a productivity cheat code.
I will continue to use Soylent, though not as a total food replacement. It’s healthy, convenient, and affordable, which is all it’s ever claimed to be.
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