"Life after food." Sounds like science fiction, right? To Rob Rhinehart, it's the future. Rhinehart is the creator of soylent, a "thick, odorless, beige liquid" that is supposed be a completely nutritious meal substitute. The way Rhinehart sees it, the world's current food production system is incompatible with population growth and soylent is the answer to combatting global hunger. “You’re not going to feed a booming population with organic farms,” Rhinehart says. He doesn't want people to stop eating food altogether, but hopes soylent becomes as ubiquitous as water, to feed those who don't have ready access or time for a meal.
Since the product is still being tested, the exact ingredients aren't known yet, but it's an evolving mixture of oat starch, vitamins and "industrial nutrients like calcium carbonate," omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. One package, mixed with water, is supposed to be enough to sustain you throughout the day.
Soylent has piqued the interest of enough people that Rhinehart's team already has over $1 million of pre-orders and recently received a $1.5 million investment. No one but Rhinehart, however, has actually tried subsisting on the macro-nutritious shake for an extended period of time. Until now.
Brian Merchant of Vice took a 30-day soylent challenge, where he consumed only soylent (ok, and a few beers and a piece of gum) for a month, and documented his experience. His video brings viewers into the somewhat creepy soylent factory in Oakland where Rhinehart extols the virtues of his special shake; into Merchant's home, where his girlfriend is none too pleased with the stuff; to Boston, where a curious researcher is eagerly awaiting his first shipment; and to the doctor's office, where Merchant asks if this experiment is hazardous to his health.
Merchant describes soylent as tasting "exactly how it looks" -- not the biggest compliment for what looks like milky sludge. The Boston-based researcher that Merchant visits says it "tastes like horchata," however, and a co-worker likens it to a protein shake. In the end, reviews skew negative, but this may be missing the point. Soylent isn't supposed to taste good -- it's not supposed to mimic food or the process of having a meal. "Soylent is a gadget, not another health product." It's a utility, meant to save time and, Rhinehart hopes, the planet.
"What if we could try to replace the meal-centric rituals of the past (and today) with entirely new ones?" wonders Rhinehart. Maybe we should wait until after Thanksgiving to try that out.