Last month I ordered a 5-day supply of Soylent, and since it provides all necessary nutrients I’d planned to live on nothing but Soylent for 5 days. Unfortunately it never happened like that, and it’s not because it doesn’t taste good, I actually like the taste, it’s just that I can’t live on Soylent alone for the same reason I can’t live on yoghurt alone. A pot of yoghurt might be a nice treat once in a while, but it’s surprisingly difficult to eat/drink the same stuff every day for every meal. Maybe there’s some historical reason for humans to seek a varied diet, or maybe it’s just personal habit that I can’t completely give up on solid food.
When I first tried it I think I poured out too much powder and didn’t dilute it enough, the result was that it was thick enough to trigger my gag reflex, so drinking it was unpleasant. I’ve since learned to dilute it a little more, and I rarely use as much as a third of a pack for every meal. That probably meant I didn’t get enough calories, but it’s okay because the water kept me bloated and well-hydrated. I don’t do enough exercise and suspect I’ve put on weight, so I don’t need all the carbs. The taste is unfamiliar at first but I grew to appreciate it.
For most of the time I drank only one meal of Soylent a day. That meant that if Soylent wasn’t covering some nutrients I needed, I still got them from elsewhere. Plus if I continued to eat at least some solid food I avoided potentially ruining my digestive system. Having said that, my ‘normal’ diet consists of a mix of oven pizza, pasta, bran flakes with soy milk, boiled peas, and the occasional takeaway on my day off. I tried doing salad a few times, but one of my peppers went mouldy, and then I couldn’t justify buying more if I knew they wouldn’t last through the week. Cooking is a hassle, and it’s not easy with limited space and limited time.
There’s also a concern over hygiene, I don’t think Soylent isn’t regulated as food, so there’s no proper official body saying that it’s been safely prepared. I’ve eaten food in dodgy-looking restaurants before, and I’ve eaten food which is well past its sell-by date. The thing is that there’s a system of checks and inspections which monitor food preparation. It’s a lingering thought, the person who made the powder, did they wash their hands? Did they use clean pots for mixing everything? I don’t know because there’s no regulatory oversight. It’s even more worrying because Soylent is a powder and it’s vulnerable to going off if it gets exposed to moisture. I was extra careful about sealing everything and keeping it dry.
I’ve now exhausted my supply of Soylent so I’m back to eating peanuts and noodles. It was a good experience, and I’d do it again. It didn’t feel as new or as cutting-edge as it seemed before, and I get that it has an association with the culture of tech startups. It appeals to a sort of scientific narrative that humans can improve themselves by applying new technology to their lifestyle. It’s rationalised nourishment; cheap, standard, and quick to consume. These things make it seem exciting, but I remember muscular dudebros gulping protein shakes at university and it seemed totally normal, it’s just part of their culture. The popularity of Soylent among tech types feels like that protein powder concept has been refined and re-sold to a different crowd as a brand new innovation. Right down to the language, it’s food in beta with an open source recipe which is forked and iterates in numbered versions, we talk about it as if it were a software project.