soylent

A post on Facebook last night caught my eye:  Soylent – the easy, healthy future of nutrition.  I spent the next several hours reading about the product and its development and future, and I was fascinated.  But first, let me back up a bit.

In the ag industry, we talk often about the responsibility (and privilege) we bear of feeding the world.  I’m proud to be part of an industry that provides a safe, nutritious, affordable food supply for people, including myself.  As the world’s population grows over the first half of this century, global demand for food will nearly double by 2050.  Capacity is tight on land for raising crops and livestock, and it’s estimated that 70% of that increase will have to come from enhanced efficiencies – higher yields or better technologies.  And food waste is a ridiculous problem that compounds all this, but let’s have that discussion another day.

Enter Soylent.  It was designed by Rob Rhinehart, a 20-something software engineer as a way to save money and reduce the time and inconvenience of making food.  (I, personally, love the experience of making food and eating food, but I guess not everyone does.)   Rhinehart did a lot of internet and textbook research and personal experiments.  I can only imagine what his home kitchen lab looks like.

So what is it?  Soylent is a food substitute intended to supply all of a human body’s daily nutritional needs, made from powdered starch, whey protein, olive & fish oil, and raw chemical powders.  (Thanks, Wikipedia.)  It looks like…Cetaphil and tastes like not much, from what I could tell.  Rhinehart has been living on it (as 90% of his food intake – he still eats a few meals) for 7 months and feels great.  He regularly monitors his blood levels and everything’s apparently been a-okay.

Its critics are loud: dangerous, ludicrous, red flags for eating disorders, they say.  And it’s true – Rhinehart doesn’t claim to be a nutritional expert and there have been no clinical trials. Sketchy?  Maybe.  But Soylent has $800K in crowdsourced funding, over $1m in pre-orders, and a truckload of positive anecdotal evidence.

It could go nowhere.  But it could also be huge.  Will food substitutes ever replace traditional meals in the U.S. and other first-world countries?  For a few people, maybe.  (If it really is the real deal for a food substitute, it could be an ideal bachelor meal.)  And do I want to see food substitutes replace farming and agriculture?  Of course not.  But even in its current start-up state, Soylent has the potential to provide food for the world with minimal waste and maximum innovation.

Sources:  1, 2, 3, 4