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Food or not: the rise of Soylent, food replacement 2.0

Updated on June 6, 2013
Soylent poster by Brian K Ward on Flickr
Soylent poster by Brian K Ward on Flickr

"Soylent green is people!" With those famous words, a meme was born. Soylent green, a food substitute made to keep an overcrowded population alive in the far-off year of 2022, is a fictional construct of a sci-fi writer's imagination. The idea of food substitutes is not new, and for those with a desire to cut out the trouble of food preparation from their daily diet, the idea of a non-people soylent green is alluring. No one ever really tackled a homebrew soylent green on a widespread level. Not until Rob Rhinehart, that is.

A twentysomething looking to expedite his food prep, Rhinehart created a food substitute he called Soylent. With its wizard's brew of vitamins, minerals, and other healthy nutrients, Rhinehart claimed that a diet of Soylent not only was tasty, it brought him to a fitness level and clarity he'd never experienced.

DNews explains Soylent

The story of a homebrew nutrition

Rhinehart went through lots of trial and error to create his blend of powders and nutrients. Because Soylent was to be his sole means of nutrition, he had to be extra careful. Anything vital missing from the mix would make him sick, a fact he learned the hard way when an initial batch was missing iron and he started getting anemic.

He tweaked his recipe during a 30-day challenge of eating nothing but Soylent, and early on, he claims, "All I crave is Soylent." By the end of the experience, he was a convert. He shared his story with the web at large, and people were soon knocking at his door for the mix, eager to partake in his concoction.

Soylent Green is... crackers by Andree Kröger on Flickr
Soylent Green is... crackers by Andree Kröger on Flickr

The soylenters charge onwards

The response to his blog posts about Soylent was intense. Rhinehart released that he wanted to spread the Soylent love, and he created a crowdfunding project to mass-produce Soylent and get it FDA approved. The funding campaign was an immediate success, reaching its $100K benchmark well before the end date. Backers would receive batches of Soylent ready to be whipped up at home.

The amount of fervor was incredible enough to warrant a subreddit on Reddit called, appropriately, r/soylent. There people tried to DIY their own Soylent at home using Rhinehart's initial ingredients list and talked about their excitement over the new advent of supposedly tasty food substitution.

Liquid fuel (not Soylent!) by kc7fys on Flickr
Liquid fuel (not Soylent!) by kc7fys on Flickr

Soylent in the news

Soylent created a buzz early on not only because of futurists and transhumanists and minimalists all aiming to get a piece of the action, but because of the sheer strangeness of Rhinehart's project. Many feared that Soylent wasn't nutritionally sound. Without FDA approval, Soylent isn't guaranteed safe for consumption, especially over a long period of time.

The Washington Post released an article citing interviews with nutritionists, and the initial reaction was that Soylent was probably A-okay for nutrition. In a sense, Soylent is like the liquid medical diet administered to patients for the sake of keeping the body functioning and alive. Because it's homebrew, there are safety factors at play with ratios and amounts, but otherwise, the idea behind Soylent is sound.

But... what does it taste like?

Rhinehart claims Soylent is delicious. Pictures of it, alternately beige or yellow, don't necessarily seem appealing. For food lovers who thrive on delicious photography, nothing about Soylent appeals. But those aren't the people Rhinehart is marketing too. Soylenters are those for whom food is nuisance--a very different mindset from a foodie!

Soylent itself is a mix of oils, medical-grade powders, chemicals that aid in proper nutrition, and a bit of salt. Rhineharts confesses to a kitchen not unlike a chemistry lab, with counter tops covered in staid containers with scientific labels.

There is a very social aspect to food, and at first glance, Soylent doesn't provide that give-and-take, that interaction. Looking at forums and blogs, however, there's a sizable community growing. Perhaps these soylenters are creating their own foodways with Rhinehart's non-food.

Rhinehart himself offers commentary on the social detriments of food. Not only is there a time factor to preparation, the costs of eating out can be huge. He bemoans the way food causes so many health problems and social ills, delegating woman to the kitchen and putting people on a cycle of consumption. In his eyes, food should be a hobby. He doesn't decry food. In fact, he says he still enjoys it. But Soylent allows him to eat food on his own terms and enjoy food rather than eat it for sustenance.

Learn more about Soylent

Like it or leave it, Soylent is an interesting case of Man vs. Food. Here are additional links to learn more about Rhinehart's plan to eradicate the need for food.

DNews tries Soylent for a week

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