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Jun 13 2014

Soylent? Really?

There is a new food product that supposedly provides you with all the necessary nutrition in liquid form so that you don’t have to waste time shopping for food, cooking, cleaning etc. In a move that I must admit is marketing genius, the 25-year old inventor and CEO of the company has called its product Soylent, which was certain to attract attention from those who recall the classic 1973 dystopian film Soylent Green, even if the implications from that film are disturbing.

Here’s the trailer.

In an interview with Stephen Colbert, the inventor talks about how when he worked as a coder he wanted to be able to work non-stop and resented having to take breaks to eat. With this food, he says that you don’t have to leave your desk.

This is part of a disturbing trend in the US and that is to think of food as essentially consisting of a few active ingredients. The task then becomes to identify those ingredients, extract or synthesize them, then mix them up to give us the illusion that we have got all we need. But surely food is more complex than that? Surely an orange is more than just a vehicle to deliver Vitamin C to our bodies? Also, as Colbert points out, eating food is not merely a nutrition break but also gives us pleasure and is a social act.

(This clip aired on June 11, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)

19 comments

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  1. 1
    Al Dente

    I certainly wouldn’t buy a foodstuff called Soylent. I know what it’s made from.

  2. 2
    Holms

    Even aside from the stupid gimmick name, I can’t get over the idea that this ‘food’ is basically just soy milk with some multi-vitamins dissolved into it.

  3. 3
    WWWWWW

    the Dunning-kruger effet strikes again! It’s very telling that the first person in the 21st century that became popular attempting to do this seemingly has no real knowledge of biochemistry, I remember hearing something about how he used one of the worst types of proteins at first? I probably know less than he did and to me that’s like, the most obvious mistake you could make! Besides fiber is an incredibly important part of nutrition, I’d like to see what an examination of his gut flora would tell us, are they doing fine or is it just the ones that can feed off simple sugars or whatever?

  4. 4
    jonP

    Spoiler alert:

  5. 5
    Trebuchet

    I’ll take Comradde Physioproffe’s food, thank you very much.

  6. 6
    One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login

    I have been following the Soylent saga since Rob’s initial blob post went viral. I signed up for the kickstarter, and am patiently awaiting the time when they finally get down to shipping small (2-week supply) orders. I don’t intend to subsist entirely on Soylent; I intend to continue sharing (and helping to cook) family suppers every day. But I do look forward to using the product for my breakfast, lunch and snacks.

    The comments above, including Prof. Singham’s, do not reflect any familiarity with Soylent. For a start, the full FDA-formatted ingredients and nutrition statement is here: (http://www.soylent.me/#nutrition). @Holms will see that it contains no “soy milk” whatever. Although the FAQ (http://www.soylent.me/#faq) does say it contains “small amounts of soy lecithin (which does not contain any of the allergen-causing elements of soy).” (It goes on to say that “The name “Soylent” comes from the book Make Room! Make Room!” — not quite the same as the movie.)

    While I think Soylent will remain a niche product, there is a sizable minority of people who lack either the time, the knowledge, or the facilities to prepare their own meals, and end up living expensively and un-healthily on take-out and packaged stuff (the classic tale of the grad student living on ramen). Quite a vibrant community of such people have coalesced in the Soylent forum (discourse.soylent.me ) which as a forum, is remarkably polite and well-managed.

  7. 7
    One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login

    Sorry, “blob” –> “blog”, speaking of which, in In Defense of New Food Rob addressed a number of the criticisms that had been leveled at Soylent. If you are moved to pooh-pooh the whole idea, you might read it first.

  8. 8
    deepak shetty

    @One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login
    there is a sizable minority of people who lack either the time, the knowledge, or the facilities to prepare their own meals
    Fruits?nuts?

  9. 9
    twosheds1

    Soylent originally came from the book on which the movie was based: Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison. It’s soybeans and lentils. (Hence the name) Soylent green was a vegetable substitute. Not people.

  10. 10
    jaxkayaker

    @WWWWWW

    “June 13, 2014 at 7:21 pm (UTC -4) Link to this comment
    the Dunning-kruger [sic] effet [sic] strikes again! It’s very telling that the first person in the 21st century that became popular attempting to do this seemingly has no real knowledge of biochemistry, I remember hearing something about how he used one of the worst types of proteins at first? I probably know less than he did and to me that’s like, the most obvious mistake you could make! Besides fiber is an incredibly important part of nutrition, I’d like to see what an examination of his gut flora would tell us, are they doing fine or is it just the ones that can feed off simple sugars or whatever?”

    Dunning-Kruger effect, indeed. Thanks for demonstrating it. Besides your capitalization and spelling errors, the nutritional label states that each serving contains 36% of the daily value of dietary fiber. He didn’t give numbers, but he stated in the interview that Soylent contains fiber.

  11. 11
    Glenn

    “With this food, he says that you don’t have to leave your desk.”

    Soylent and Depends sold together are a marketing match made in lazy heaven.

  12. 12
    John Morales

    In an interview with Stephen Colbert, the inventor talks about how when he worked as a coder he wanted to be able to work non-stop and resented having to take breaks to eat. With this food, he says that you don’t have to leave your desk.

    You’d think a self-described coder would consider both input and output.

  13. 13
    cafink

    The Skeptics Guide to the Universe discussed this about a year ago (in episode 402) and they seemed pretty unimpressed, mainly because this guy is pretty much re-inventing the wheel:

    S: Yeah, he just reinvented in his kitchen something that already exists on the market; multiple brands. You know? Someone’s already done all the science, has already completely balanced all the nutrients and put it all together for you and it actually tastes good, too.
    B: Is Ensure meant to be a complete diet replacement?
    S: Yes. That’s exactly what it is. It’s meant to be a complete diet replacement.

  14. 14
    lorn

    Ahhh … but this is not soylent green, it is more of a beige color, so … soylent tan. Not soylent green means no people, suicidal or otherwise, involved. Soylent tan means … well … we don’t know what it means.

    My bet is that it includes suicidal cows, bred to want to die. Who force feed themselves to guarantee the richest meat. Who shoot themselves so nobody has to feel guilty.

    We miss you Douglas Adams.

  15. 15
    Trebuchet

    So, basically Ensure (TM) with more fiber and less sugar. Neither of those is a bad thing particularly but it doesn’t sound all that impressive. Bet it costs more, as well.

  16. 16
    Trickster Goddess

    Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” provides a good rebuttal against the idea that real food can be replaced by some concoction with nutrients added.

  17. 17
    Menyambal

    Liquid nutrition in a can has been around for seeming ever. So has powder to mix up liquid meal replacement. And food bars and jerky and peanuts and dried fruit.

    It sounds like the guy just wants to chug his lunch in one go, without needing to take hands off the keyboard for more than a second.

    Is chewing and tasting also a distraction? How about a food-delivery business where you stand there and feed the customer so they don’t have to stop computing?

  18. 18
    left0ver1under

    The naming of the product reminds me of the “diet suppliment” of the 1980s, AYDS. The difference being, Soylent was chosen after the fact, not before.

    Obviously that stuff isn’t being marketed to cannibals. But the name might lead people to infer it has soy in it, even though it doesn’t according to the ingredient list on the site. Some people are allergic to soy, so any product that contains it is off limits (or might contain it, since companies’ products sometimes have cross-contamination or change ingredients without notice).

  19. 19
    Holms

    @6
    So it is not a gimmick name then… just a misleading one. Cool.

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