by David Mendez
Vice Magazine's UK arm recently published a fascinating Q&A interview with a man who has come up with a fairly revolutionary way to live without actually, uh, eating anything.
Rob Rhinehart is a 24-year-old software programmer from San Francisco who apparently feels that food was just too damn inefficient, and took it upon himself to streamline the nutrient-obtaining process — "hacking the body," as he says — by mixing nutrients, in their most basic reasonable forms, into a nutrient shake he calls Soylent. Yes, as in Soylent Green.
So what’s in Soylent, exactly?
Everything the body needs — that we know of, anyway — vitamins, minerals and macronutrients like essential amino acids, carbohydrates and fat. For the fat, I just use olive oil and add fish oil. The carbs are an oligosaccharide, which is like sugar, but the molecules are longer, meaning it takes longer to metabolise and gives you a steady flow of energy for a longer period of time, rather than a sugar rush from something like fructose or table sugar. I also add some non-essentials like antioxidants and probiotics and lately have been experimenting with nootropics.
And that tastes as good as a burger?
It tastes very good. I haven't got tired of the taste in six weeks. It's a very "complete" sensation, more sweet than anything. Eating to me is a leisure activity, like going to the movies, but I don't want to go to the movies three times a day.
What are some of the benefits to the food-free lifestyle? Any drawbacks?
Not having to worry about food is fantastic. No groceries, dishes, deciding what to eat, no endless conversations weighing the relative merits of gluten-free, keto, paleo or vegan. Power and water bills are lower. I save hours a day and hundreds of dollars a month. I feel liberated from a crushing amount of repetitive drudgery. Soylent might also be good for people having trouble managing their weight. I find it very easy to lose and gain precise amounts of weight by varying the proportions in my drink.
There are drawbacks: It doesn't keep long after mixing with water, so I still have to make it every day. If I make a mistake with the amount of an ingredient it can make me sick, but that hasn't happened in a while. Also, some people really enjoy food a lot more than I do, so they may not like the idea.
How could Soylent affect the world's eating habits?
Consumer behaviour has a lot to do with cost and convenience. There are plenty of ways to be healthy, but Americans are more likely to be overweight simply because the food that's cheap and convenient is unhealthy. I think it's possible to use technology to make healthy food very cheap and easy, but we'll have to give up many traditional foodstuffs like fresh fruits and veggies, which are incompatible with food processing and scale.
Rhinehart has fascinating ideas here, but I'm still not sold — mostly because I'm a big fan of tasting different things from time to time. Either way, you can find out more about Rhinehart's Soylent shake (which, he promises, has absolutely zero human in it) at Vice, or at his blog, where he's chronicled his experiences.