Saturday, August 8, 2015

Soylent: Why I Like It but why I Cancelled my Subscription (with Soylent 2.0 update)

Let's get it out of the way, out of our system, and over with right now.

Soylent Green is people.

There we said it. Now we can move on.

For the uninitiated, Soylent is a staple food created by Robert Rhinehart and his team of scientists to be a cheap, easy to prepare, convenient, nutritionally complete meal. Theoretically, you could live off of the stuff but in practice, few people save for the extremely hardcore are actually trying to live completely off of 100% Soylent. Even its creator says Soylent makes up about 80% of his daily calories while he eats out the rest of the time. So for those of you who think Soylent is on a mission to eliminate normal food: chill out.

I tried out Soylent for a month as an experiment and I must say I was pleased with the results. Mainly that I didn't die as a result of drinking Soylent. I didn't lose weight or get sick at all. Despite all the whining from some journalists who tried it and didn't like the taste, I thought Soylent was quite enjoyable and even almost addictive... I couldn't wait for my next drink. When mixed well, the texture is smooth and almost milky with hints of oats/flour in the taste. "Liquid bread," I've heard it called. It was very convenient on gym days when I forgo lunch to play basketball and work out. When I get back to my desk, I just gulp down the Soylent and get right back to work. It also makes going out to lunch with coworkers in the SF Marina district more palatable since I can save money on lunch four days in the week and "splurge" on an outside meal every once in a while ($12 mediocore pho at Saiwalks, anyone?). On our roadtrip to Disneyland, I brought along a pitcher of Soylent, which I drank instead of having to rely on crappy highway fast food for my sustenance. 

As much as I like the idea of Soylent, though, I decided to cancel my subscription. The cost per meal is roughly $3, but at $70 a month for the smallest order you can make, it's still too expensive for me. I have no problems eating on <$1 for breakfast and lunch with cereal, oatmeal, and  bananas. Also, Soylent 1.5 (once opened) spoils too easily. The powder itself goes bad after a week of opening the container and once you add water, it's only good for 48 hours. This makes it somewhat less convenient for picking which meals to replace with Soylent since you have a time limit with each batch. There were times when my wife (who wasn't a fan of the taste and texture) wanted to eat out, meaning I would have to eat out too, while my already-prepared Soylent was about to spoil. Soylent 2.0 aims to solve the issue, with a shelf life of one year in liquid form that doesn't need to be refrigerated.. While I cancelled my powder subscription, I pre-ordered the bottled version of Soylent 2.0 and will give it a try (check back with me in October when Soylent 2.0 starts to ship).

Speaking of Soylent, I don't understand the vitriol and contempt directed at Soylent and its creator. Many internet articles are trying to paint Rob Rhinehart as a loon, a cult leader, a con man, an engineer-turned-mad-scientist who likes to play god. I mean just look at the titles of some of these articles that came out in the wake of Soylent 2.0's announcement:

This is unbiased "journalism" at its best. Oh wait, it's just news on the internet. Why should we expect internet news to be held to any kind of standard, or to have anything as ridiculous as unbiased reporting or journalistic integrity? Soylent tends to draw out strong reactions from people, with very few opinions landing in the middle. These food "journalists" are revolted to their very core about the idea of Soylent, and maybe with good reason: they'd be out of the job if people stopped eating food. Again though, Soylent isn't meant to eliminate normal food in our lives, but it brings up many interesting questions about nutrition and food. I believe it's short-sighted and maybe even selfish to believe that we can continue feeding the world with the current system we have in place and never have to change our eating habits at all. If we want to tackle tough questions like sustainability, removing animal cruelty from our "civilization," world hunger, or even space travel (what do you think we're going to eat out there, beef?), we need more people to step up and offer solutions. People are always coming up with interesting ideas out there for sustainable food. For example, what if we could make burgers out of stem cells or use insects as a main food source? Instead of immediately dismissing these new ideas as crazy talk, what if we tried to see it for what it is, what its benefits and weaknesses are, and how it can be improved? If we think about food and nutrition in a logical, rational manner, maybe we'd see that our current practices are unsustainable and that we need radical thinking to get out of the hole we've dug for ourselves (like our over-dependence on meat). Or you can go back to eating what you normally eat every day, not thinking about where it came from, whether it's sustainable, and not caring about the consequences of your diet or if future generations will be able to live the same way you do.

As for me, I will continue to keep an eye on Soylent and other new food "technology" being developed. I'm all for cheap, nutritious, healthy food, and if the price of Soylent keeps going down, maybe one day Soylent or something inspired by Soylent can take a shot at alleviating the hunger problem in our world. We can dream, can't we? Go big or go home.

And now, my PROS and CONS summary of Soylent (1.5):

PRO: You save a lot of time by not having to prepare meals or go out and buy food
CON: All that time you saved and every waking moment of your life is spent thinking about Soylent, reading about Soylent, and blogging about Soylent

PRO: More time to work, exercise, goof off, or socialize during lunch
CON: Feel like a creeper for watching other people eat their lunch while you sip on Soylent

PRO: The taste and texture of Soylent 1.5 is great. I have no problems eating it without any extra flavoring, and the neutral taste means you won't get sick of it. Think of it like rice.. you don't ever get tired of it, despite it not having any taste on its own. I find blending a banana with a single serving of soylent tastes pretty good too
CON: My wife hates the taste and texture of Soylent

PRO: No changes to bowel movements or flatulence (no more than usual, I would say)
CON: I can't tell if I'm just used to the smell of my own fart now

PRO: Long shelf life if unopened
CON: Must eat within one week of opening the powder bag, and within 48 hours after mixing with water

PRO: Become the envy of all your geek friends
CON: Become shunned by all of your normal friends

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