When I think of a balanced meal, I see a plate with meat (or tempeh, for all you vegans out there), a hearty helping of veggies and some starchy carbs. Rob Rhinehart, the creator of Soylent drinks, does not share my vision.
He's created a meal-replacement beverage to end all food. Chew on that.
What's the story?
Back in 2012, Rhinehart was just another software engineer at a tech startup in Silicon Valley. He worked long hours for relatively low pay and couldn't justify the time and money it took to buy three meals a day. So he set out to reimagine what it meant to eat a meal in the first place.
He experimented with ways to strip down meals into their chemical components and reformulate those chemicals into something cheap, efficient and easily consumable. Rhinehart ordered 35 essential nutrients online, poured them into a blender, added some water, and Soylent was born.
Armed with a drink of his own creation, Rhinehart consumed nothing but Soylent for 30 days. By the end of his nutrient-packed detox, he'd lost weight and felt healthier than ever. Three years later, the beverage has attracted millions in investments and gathered a cult following in the Bay Area. Rhinehart still drinks it at almost every meal.
One bottle of Soylent packs 20 grams of protein and fat — roughly the same as a piece of lean chicken. In addition to housing one-fifth of your daily essential nutrients, each bottle contains algal oil for energy and soy protein to aid in digestion. And at $2.42 for a 400-calorie serving, it's cheap to boot.
The drink is marketed as the "food of the future" — a combination of carbs, lipids and proteins that can be created in labs and supplied to the masses. Rhinehart sees this highly-mechanized food production as a way to preserve natural resources and create meals that aren't as taxing on the planet.
Curious to try the drink that's touted as environmentally-friendly despite being so inherently unnatural, I placed my order online and set the parameters for my challenge. I'd see if I, an eternally-hungry-constantly-eating lover of food, could get by consuming nothing but Soylent for one whole day.
What's Soylent really like?
I headed into the morning of the challenge daunted by the idea of totally replacing my daily food intake with a drink in an unlabelled white bottle. After taking the ceremonious first sip, I shared some of my Soylent supply (it's delivered in packages of 12) with curious coworkers. It garnered mixed reactions.
Some of us likened its flavor to cereal milk — subtle with a bit of a nutty aftertaste. Others compared it to vanilla Slimfast. As the drink started to warm up, its dull flavor got harder to face. Its thick, almost chalky texture made it difficult to gulp down and it took me about an hour to get through my first bottle of the day.
By the time I was done, I was energized enough to turn down my usual morning coffee and I definitely felt full. But the drink sat heavy in my stomach and a subtle wave of nausea came as the morning drew to a close.
By the time noon rolled around, smells of lunch fare filled the office and caused my motivation to wean. I ventured to the fridge to grab my Soylent bottle, completely uninterested in my second serving of the day. I started to miss the physical act of chewing and only managed to get about half of it down by the time 2pm rolled around. By this point, I find myself wrapped up in a full-blown mental battle — I don't want to give up on the challenge, but I'm hungry and craving just about everything edible.
I ultimately give into to the temptation of solid sustenance and close the lid on Soylent for the day. I head out to buy a salad. Lettuce has never tasted so good.
The bottom line
Soylent was a fine replacement for one meal, but I wouldn't recommend relying on it for much more than that. Though it didn't leave me feeling nutrient deprived or energy deficient, its flavor was pretty joyless and its texture wasn't much better. I totally support a food future that's less dependent on natural resources, but I just don't think this is it.
Photo credit: Chloe Bulpin, mbg creative