I’m absolutely terrible at cooking. It’s not that I can’t follow a recipe or anything like that, more it’s to do with the fact that I don’t particularly enjoy the cooking process all that much, seeing it as more of a necessity rather than something that can be enjoyed for its own right. There’s a few reasons for this, mostly being that I’ve got many other things I’d rather be doing, but I’ve also got something of a weird attitude to food that I can trace back to my childhood. Essentially it’s something of a disinterest in eating, something which I’ve struggled with as I’ve transformed myself from a 185CM 65kg person into the 90KG man beast I am today, So you can then imagine when I saw Soylent I instantly drew parallels to my own life and I was drawn in by the promise of convenience and optimal nutrition.
Soylent, for those who are unaware, is a food replacement product that’s the brainchild of Rob Rhineheart, a Y-Combinator alum who’s background is in electrical engineering, computer science and the Silicon Valley scene. It’s goal is to be a nutritionally complete food replacement that contains all the necessary things to keep your body going, and nothing that it doesn’t. Rhineheart has been working on this formula for quite some time, documenting his escapades on his personal blog, and has been fine tuning it based on how his body has been reacting to his use of it. Since he’s still alive and doesn’t appear to be suffering any ill effects there appears to be some credence to his claims although, as always, this is the Internet so it’s not surprising that a healthy dose of skepticism has been thrown his way.
As someone who already consumes quite a bit of liquid calories the appeal of Soylent to me was the fact that I could have it as an on-demand meal replacement that wasn’t stupendously expensive. You see whilst I work out a lot more than your average person the kind of gains I see are quite limited and that’s entirely due to the fact that I struggle to get enough calories in me to support said gains. Soylent then could prove to be the kicker to get me over my current gain hump as well as being that convenient meal replacement that I could go to when I just couldn’t be bothered going down to the shops to pick something up. Of course I had to start doing some digging to find out if Soylent could really do all the things it said it could do and this is where things started to unravel a bit.
The idea of a nutritionally complete meal replacement isn’t new with the most prevalent product being Ensure Complete. These products are pretty expensive by comparison however with a typical daily intake being almost an order of magnitude more expensive than Soylent claims it will be. However these other products were developed by people who are in the business of doing this and whilst I’d love to believe that Rhineheart managed to cram decades worth of biology and nutrition information into Soylent you can’t really be confident in his expertise in this area. He does say he’s been consulting with experts and that all his ingredients are FDA approved however that doesn’t mean the end product is safe, especially if it’s going to people’s sole source of nutrition.
Indeed whilst many of the short term experiments appear to have positive outlooks I can’t help but feel that Soylent may be overreaching with some its claims. This is somewhat par for the course in Silicon Valley as in order to attract attention over there you have to be “disrupting” or “reinventing” something in order to get noticed but this isn’t a photo sharing app, it’s a product that’s being marketed as being the last source of food you’ll ever need. In that regard I feel they need to temper people’s expectations as it’s entirely possible that Soylent works brilliantly for the precious few who’ve tried it (read: relatively slim IT folks, most of whom already have a healthy lifestyle) and could be an absolute train wreck for others. This is true of all nutrition and I don’t see why the current mono-formula of Soylent would be any different.
In all honesty I really want something like this to be real, safe and successful as I know it’s a product that I would end up using. However at the same time I want it to be based on solid science with the appropriate trials and review mechanisms done in order to ensure its safety. This is the same amount of scrutiny I’ve applied to all the other supplements and powders I’ve ingested over the years and I’m not about to break my rule just because it’s coming from Silicon Valley. I’m hopeful that the Soylent crew will eventually get to that point but for now I’m going to plant myself firmly on the fence.