It’s not people, but is it palatable?

On social media I recently came across a product which seems to be so appealing on the one hand and yet so tragic on another. The product is Soylent, which claims to be a full replacement for all nutrients in a powder, which you mix with water to make a shake (the featured image is from the website). You drink the shake instead of eating your meals and you get everything you need, nutritionally, and apparently it might even taste okay.

The name is a comic reference to the film Soylent Green, the premise of which revolves around an overpopulated earth requiring a new food source – and that food source (it turns out) is made from people.

The name is not the most important aspect of the product. The idea is not that we are running out of food so much as spending too much time preparing good food. I suppose the worrying consequence of this is that we are eating lots of easy but bad food (whether fast food or simply lazy food). To quote from the website:

Soylent™ was developed from a need for a simpler food source. Creator Robert Rhinehart and team developed Soylent after recognizing the disproportionate amount of time and money they spent creating nutritionally complete meals.

Soylent is a food product (classified as a food, not a supplement, by the FDA) designed for use as a staple meal by all adults. Each serving of Soylent provides maximum nutrition with minimum effort.

It turns out that the creator is an engineer, and this is kind of neat – that the food is engineered to perfection, much like a tool perfectly fulfils its function. And I must say it’s very appealing – choosing what to have for breakfast and lunch is not something I am at all interested in on a weekday. And, should it ever make its way to the UK (not possible at the moment) I will certainly give it a go and see what it’s like.

However, there are a lot of things that are disturbing about this idea. Food is so much more than just nourishment – we gain comfort and delight out of it, and it’s often a social experience. One commenter on the original post was sad that a good lunch break would be lost if you just sat at your desk and drank a shake. Of course, you could go and do other things, but in many workplaces if you don’t actively decide to do something, you just end up working through the lunch break.

It would also be interesting to see whether there were any other side effects – whether the body would miss chewing and if that might have knock on effects – whether physiological of psychological. I know that I would be distraught if I couldn’t eat textured foods with interesting, complex flavours, and have variety in my meals.

But perhaps there is something to this for short term or one-off occasions. So I wait in anticipation of being able to try it out – and in the mean time, I’m using my jaw to chew my meals like a chump.


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