Welcome to the first installment of “Food Basket Topics“, with this week’s topic being Soylent. Have you ever wondered what if an ‘all-rounder’ food could exist, containing all the nutrients and energy you need, transportable and maintained at an affordable cost? Wouldn’t it be a solution to the world’s food security and hunger problems? Rob Rhinehart, creator of a powdered drink called Soylent, have been taking a brave venture into that idea.
“Soylent: How I Stopped Eating for 30 Days”
In a 30-day challenge done by Brian Merchant from the MotherBoard, he had followed a journey embarked previously by Rob himself. As the weeks had progressed, his reviews for Soylent had became negative overtime. At the start, the drink seemed promising, it had fulfilled his hunger, kept him energised while maintaining the nutrition he needed.
The video described 9 main ingredients : Oat flour, Maltodextrin, Rice Protein, Canola Oil (or olive), Fiber, Potassium Gluconate, Sodium, Iron, Zinc Chloride, but it contains a total of 39. Other Vitamins, Minerals and supplements in precision. The key idea was to provide the body with absolute essentials and remove any unwanted chemicals, an idea based on the body’s biology than strictly nutrition .
The Soylent diet had slowly went grim in the subsequent weeks, with a few reasons such as weight loss, jaw pains, irregular bowel movements and cravings for solid food (psychological aspect of food consumption). This was in contrast of Rob’s experience, which he had indicated feeling energised, improved mood and mental acuteness with positive results in a blood test .
Other reviews were mixed, in the perspective of taste, a few had agreed with its taste while others complained of a ‘distinct’ smell, taste of medicine, thick and even akin to cardboard. When suggested as a solution to hunger, many were agreeable that it has some place in the food market and potential growth.
A Promising Future
Rob was on point with his idea however, there are food security and related health issues that are present throughout the world that involves malnutrition, starvation, food spoilage and an increasing population. With an increase of unpredictable weather patterns due to climate change, many agriculture systems are becoming more vulnerable with many rural populations facing real threats from food shortages .
If more clinical and long term trials are done on Soylent’s safety and it receives international acceptance, the beverage itself might help recovering populations from a natural disaster or to register as an immediate food aid. In urban environments where convenience is so prominent (e.g. The Cup Noodle Diet), Soylent can help to remedy these poor diets by ensuring that adequate nutrition can be met. This can also help the over-worked, instead of the alternative of ringing up McDonalds for a Quarter Pounder.
In addition, the advent of Soylent (or the idea) may help to steer away from the in-efficient system of mass-agriculture that generates alot of waste (confined livestock operations), large scale pollution (insecticides, pesticides, fungicides), inefficiency and large contributions to global warming (methane).
Interestingly, what if there exists a Soylent formulation for livestock? The diet itself would eliminate the large amounts of waste, benefit the animals and create a sustainable alternative than growing massive acres of mono-culture crops.
My personal qualms with Soylent is perhaps the very concept that it only provides the bare minimum. This means that the product works as a ‘one size fits all diet’ based on what our bodies need and yet our individual requirements may differ from one individual to another, in terms of ethnicity, age, gender or in illness. Perhaps a concocting slightly variant formulations can adjust to the differences.
Secondly, I worry that the idea may stem from the body’s requirements in ‘stationary environment’. With differences in the types of stresses that our bodies endure or we put on ourselves (by exercise), is Soylent flexible enough to cater to these changes? Thirdly, it lies with the flavour and can be a subjective issue to tackle. I believe that there should more alternatives in its powder packs that consumers can choose so that they may suit each Soylent to their preference, without having a detrimental effect.
Lastly, this concern (I think) is present among Soylent consumers, in its long-term risk assessment being absent. Would the diet result in a severe deficiency after long term consumption due to an overlook of a key nutrient/ mineral? How sure can Rob know what the body truly needs if the information known at the present time is still a work in-progress.
With that said, the company itself is working hard to further improve and perfect Soylent’s formulation and it seems to be feasible as a short-term solution to food issues at the moment and potentially, long term.
“Could You Stop Eating Food?
RhineHart. R. 2014. What’s In Soylent [online]. Available from: http://robrhinehart.com/?p=424 [Accessed 14 April 2016].
RhineHart. R. 2013. How I Stopped Eating Food [online]. Available from: http://robrhinehart.com/?p=424 [Accessed 14 April 2016].
World Food Program. 2016. Climate Impacts on Food Security [online]. Available from: http://www.wfp.org/climate-change/climate-impacts [Accessed 14 April 2016].