Articles

Soylent: How I Stopped Eating for 30 Days

September 6, 2019


I think humanity is gonna continue to grow,
everybody eats and everyone needs energy
and these constraints are only going to get tighter.
And we’re going to have to…
take our understanding of the body and nutrition
and design something new,
make something man-made…
for man, for humanity.
This is Soylent,
some people are calling it
the future of food.
I’m gonna meet the man who invented it,
find out how it might change the way we eat
and I’m gonna live on Soylent alone,
for 30 days straight.
Soylent is a total food replacement
and I’ll be living on the mixture alone,
just like the man who invented it.
It tastes exactly…
like it looks.
Soylent, canola oil,
fish oil capsules and water.
That’s my entire diet for the next month.
I’m a little apprehensive,
I can’t imagine eating this for the rest of today,
not the rest of
one month straight.
30 days of Soylent,
30 days…
of liquid goop.
We’re on the root to Soylent HQ across the way in Oakland here.
We’re gonna find out where Rob Reinhart and his team
make the food of the future.
– Hey, Rob.
– What’s up?
– Hi.
– Come on in.
I don’t think we’re going to
feed an exploding population with organic farms.
We’re going to need to look to the future.
We’re going to need to improve things and optimize things
and a lot of that comes from science and technology,
so this idea is going to…
solve, you know, a lot of problems in food that we have
not just hunger, it’s the environmental impact.
It’s – you know, poorly balanced food
which leads to obesity.
I’m very optimistic about the future, I think it’s gonna be great,
people are gonna be very healthy and energetic,
you know, our environmental impact will decrease,
we’re gonna have…
abundance.
I have a very strong memory of when I was very young,
I think 6 or something and then…
I was eating lettuce or kale or something and I remember thinking
it was very strange,
that I would like eat leaves
as a human.
You know, I’m like living in this house and going to school and then
eating leaves?
I remember thinking that was very strange
like this is something for animals.
Why would I eat this?
Rob clearly still has issues with food.
As a 24-year-old software engineer,
he decided he was tired of our status quo eating habits
and set out to invent the food of tomorrow.
He came up with a chemical cocktail called Soylent
and to prove it worked,
he lived off it for 30 days.
You know the first few days it was kind of nerve wrecking,
I felt like I was kind of,
pushing out from ashore,
that there was no, like, traditional food in my body,
only this like, mixture of chemicals that I…
assembled based on rudimentary knowledge but
I’d never felt so great in my life.
He documented the experience on his blog
and his quest to replace food was noticed by the media.
Soon Soylent was a bona fide online sensation.
So naturally, he launched a crowd funding campaign
to take his project to the next level.
I’m an engineer
and I created Soylent because my existing options for food
were limited,
I wanted to have more freedom with my time and money
and I wanted to be healthier.
I’ve been living almost entirely on Soylent for the past 3 months.
I’ve never been healthier in my life.
He raised 800,000 dollars
in less than a month.
It’s a good start.
With those funds he founded a company
comprised of bright young men in their 20s.
A close friend of the group
says they were known as the startup bros,
even before Soylent.
And indeed this is Rob’s third and most successful venture.
Cheers.
They’re clearly influenced by the culture of Silicon Valley
but instead of designing apps,
they’re working with food.
I remember the day we launched,
we were just blasting music,
you know, just so excited about what was going on.
So happy that there was like this –
this first milestone of success,
you know, really that first feeling for us
of just like, yes, this is going somewhere,
we have – we have something that people are willing to
give their credit card, pay for it and at least try once.
And what is it exactly that everyone is so eager to buy?
Soylent is a bare bones nutritional mixture,
made up of 31 basic ingredients.
These are the major ones,
oat flour, maltodextrin, rice protein, canola oil, fiber
and smaller amounts of minerals like potassium gluconate,
sodium, iron, zinc and chloride.
In total there are 2,400 calories
in the mail version of Soylent.
And no cholesterol whatsoever.
While I was on the diet,
Rob was buying many of these ingredients in bulk
from chemical suppliers or right of off Amazon.com.
We try to get the –
you know, optimal amounts of
all of these different nutrients
and then from there you’re optimizing for
bio availability, cost, sustainability,
which is why we, you know,
went to vegan
and eventually we’d like to get something
as independent of agriculture as possible.
You know, theoretically I think a lot of this stuff
could be made with…
just sunlight, water and air.
Just the way the plants do it,
you know, plants do it in a certain way
but if we just trying to produce a certain chemical,
it doesn’t matter how you make it.
The whole operation was being carried out
in an old garment factory,
where cleanliness didn’t appear to be a priority.
At one point, our cameras caught a rat
screwing around the area where Soylent was mixed.
It’s a reminder that because the FDA considers Soylent
a dietary supplement,
the product or the factory it’s made in,
doesn’t need to be inspected or approved
before it goes to market.
After I told Rob, he said that he wanted to be totally transparent.
He knew the factory wasn’t ideal,
that it was a product of the company’s growing pains,
he was making the most of his limited resources.
It makes you wonder what you’re getting yourself into.
That gives you a small pause,
going about…
30 days of drinking the product they’re making in this warehouse.
This is gonna be a thick one.
2 minutes…
and I feel like I’ve eaten already.
I feel kind of like –
I’m already half full,
like I feel better –
pleasantly surprised that I feel better.
After just, downing a glass of Soylent.
A lot of people see food as this essential,
you know, sacred, unchanging thing but
I don’t think that’s really based in evidence.
I don’t think it’s right to really,
think that just because something comes from nature
it’s going to be the best.
You know, it’s usually the opposite today.
Things that we design are the more useful things.
With Rob’s idea in mind,
we decided to head over to the anti-Soylent,
a farmer’s market,
to talk some more about food.
You know, I think if people, ate the foods that,
took a lot of resources to produce just…
less,
then we could find a really nice, sustainable level.
So I don’t think we should give this up
but it is important to…
realize what it is really,
you know, this is an organism,
this is something that we’ve cultivated,
over a long period of time.
What is your favorite fruit or vegetable?
I actually rather like tomatoes.
– Tomatoes.
– Yeah.
Red is my favorite color and you know, I have
an attachment to it. When I was a boy
my dad and I grew tomatoes
and it was a lot of fun.
If our tomatoes, like, got eaten by bugs,
we weren’t gonna starve.
You know, it was more about…
just doing something for fun and that’s how I see this today.
It’s really nice to be secure
in something as important as health and diet.
And then we can enjoy this stuff,
you know, just because want to,
not because we have to.
Rob isn’t suggesting that we give up food altogether,
though he says it’s possible.
He personally eats 2 meals a week.
It’s good enough.
So I’m curious
what you would say
to folks who think that this is the solution.
I don’t think that’s really practical,
I mean, the numbers just don’t work out,
this is just not gonna scale to the extent to feed
7 billion, 10 billion people, it’s just not –
it’s not gonna scale that far.
You know, we started with what nature provided us,
because it was good enough and then
once we understood what we really wanted from it,
we produced, you know, more advanced versions.
Like people used to ride horses for transportation
and then we designed cars.
You know, a lot of things come at some point for nature but
it’s becoming further removed as we better understand
the process and we make things better for ourselves.
Humanity has a long history
of trying to create a healthier, cheaper,
more efficient replacement for food.
From Jules Verne’s nutritious air
to the Jetson’s famous food in the pill
to Nasa’s space food,
our science and science fiction are full of artificial eats.
Soylent is in many ways a continuation of this tradition.
But there’s nothing fictional about it.
Except for the name, that is.
Soylent green is a 1973 Charlton Heston film
about a dystopian future
where New York is so overcrowded
that people need to eat wafers,
nutrient rich Soylent, to survive.
At the end of the film,
it’s revealed that,
well…
Soylent freed these people.
Well you know, we want the company to be very transparent,
in that we don’t use human body parts and…
I think, I really like the name,
I think that gives the right idea across of
what do you expect, it’s called Soylent,
it gets the job done, it’s cheap,
it’s efficient, you know?
Get this to take care of your needs and then,
eat well on the weekends.
After I returned to New York,
I continued to document life on Soylent
with daily webcam diaries.
I feel pretty full, pretty healthy,
no too…
out of the ordinary.
So I just clogged my drain with Soylent.
I…
found out that it was contaminated with mold
and then I decided to dump it out.
So that’s a Soylent filled sink.
My Soylent has had traces of green…
in it when I’ve
mixed it up.
It’s my last thing of Soylent, I’m hungry so
to the best of my ability I separated it
from the rest of the batch,
I’m still gonna try to…
eat the rest of it.
The taste was the least of my worries,
after a week on Soylent,
it didn’t bother me at all.
Bottoms up.
But I wanted to take a deeper look
at Soylent’s culinary qualities.
So I invited 3 New York City food critics to try it out.
It reminds me of something that I don’t want to mention.
I think you’d be pretty depressed it you got to eat this every day –
A little bit like wet cardboard, a little bit
like oatmeal that hasn’t been cooked yet.
It’s like you took oats and just soaked them in water.
But it’s the little lumps that really freak me out.
– Oh, fuck, that’s pretty gross.
– Look at this yellow gummy stuff.
Do you feel…
any more satisfied than you did before you sipped?
No, because my tongue feels really weird
and I need palette cleanser right now.
My heart rate is a little higher.
I don’t know, it’s nerves from eating something that’s so alien
and a stupid – Yeah, it’s future food.
And that’s not even been tested by any
reputable source, except some crazy dude in the hills.
A lot of people do think Rob is crazy to try to replace food.
Regardless, Rob is not too concerned about the taste either.
He has bigger plans for Soylent.
I see, you know, the –
the future of it, you know,
maybe in 20 years or something very much like water –
like it will maybe even be this
civil resource that we purify and distribute and you know,
people still pay their water bills, but no one
is really lacking clean water.
Because we’ve put a lot of work into
making it sure that everyone can access it.
And I would like this to kind of go the same way
is that no one would have to worry about getting their food.
Rob’s intentions here are clearly noble,
nearly a billion people go hungry every year.
And when people can’t afford to eat,
this is what can happen.
When there is social unrest, when people are rioting,
behind that, is a lot of hunger and a lot of suffering.
And there’s really no reason,
from the point of view of the availability of food
for that to happen.
Yaneer Bar-Yam is a complex system’s theorist,
who authored an influential paper
that show that riots and social unrest
are tied directly to high global food prices.
It’s quite clear by looking at the…
timing of the food riots in the Arab Spring,
that they coincide and were really driven by…
the food prices.
Cheap, abundant foods then,
are essential for global stability.
Could something like Soylent help?
Whether or not a –
a food that would be inexpensive could have an impact,
it is possible it would have many other effects throughout the
agricultural and economic system.
We are concerned systematically
about the ability to test innovations
that are implemented in large context.
Whether its GMOS
or whether it’s other kinds of innovations,
there’re lots of opportunities to make things worse,
more than it’s easy to make things better.
Doctor Bar-Yam wasn’t too optimistic about Soylent
but in Boston we ran into someone who was.
A researcher who’d pre-ordered Soylent
and was eagerly awaiting his supply.
I come home a lot of the time
and I really don’t want to make dinner.
And I thought I would try Soylent out as a solution to that.
So how much did you order?
I ordered a week’s worth, 65 dollars.
What do you think it will taste like?
I’m expecting bland.
It’s sort of Horchata like.
I love Horchatas, I’m not sure I’d say I love this.
Well do you think it’s the food of the future?
Do I think it’s the food of the future?
No.
It is not the food of the future.
So far it really hasn’t been as insane
as I thought it was gonna be…
to leave food behind.
2 weeks…
without any solid food.
I feel OK.
I don’t know how you’re not going crazy,
I’d be going insane if I had to
drink Soylent all the time.
– You seem skinnier.
– Skinnier?
Yeah, I found out that I actually have lost 5 pounds.
After over 2 weeks on Soylent,
I generally felt OK.
But I was getting increasingly nervous
about the impact on my health.
So I decided to head uptown
and get checked out by doctor Anelise Engel,
an internal medicine specialist and weight loss expert.
– How old are you now, Brian?
– I’m 29.
– And your height?
– I am 5’11’’, 6 feet.
– All right.
– You can just step on.
It really worries me, that –
is a product that is produced by a lay person.
Ascorbic acid, that’s vitamin C, cellulose gum –
Doctor Engel points out that total food replacements
like Optifast have been on the market for decades.
Rob’s major innovation then
might be marketing this product to the masses.
A prospect that worries Doctor Engel.
Eating it’s not just…
for the body to survive but also involves pleasure, involves…
socialization
She was right.
I tried to tag along when friends went out for lunch or dinner.
It didn’t feel right. So I started staying home.
I think it’s healthy to like food.
People that cannot eat…
can become severely ill.
I think it can have serious consequences.
For how long more you’re going to use this…
Soylent?
– 2 – about 2 weeks.
– 2 weeks.
Yeah.
Should I worry at this point?
Well, first of all it was your choice to start this liquid diet and
I do not recommend that you keep going
and you’re losing weight,
I wouldn’t recommend exercise at this point.
OK – OK.
But you don’t think that there’s anything…
serious I could develop by trying this diet in just one month?
Any serious problems for me?
I don’t know. It’s unknown.
What I would tell you is that to –
to pay attention to symptoms.
And if you have even mild symptoms, then stop.
This is completely safe, I mean, gastroenterologists and
a lot of people with –
professional, medical background,
have said that in a medical setting, patients have done something
like this for a very, very long period of time and been fine.
This’s happened before and it’s been proven to be completely safe,
we’re just making it practical.
Despite Rob’s assurances,
there’s still have been no long term clinical trials
carried out on Soylent.
He’s basing his claims on his own experience
and that of his Beta testers.
I haven’t been hungry,
I’m loosing weight.
Bowel movements are…
a little weirdly unpredictable.
The taste doesn’t bother me…
really anymore.
But…
the restriction…
does.
My mind started wandering to food
and that hasn’t happened before like at –
[stammers] I wanted fried chicken, that’s what I wanted.
I feel like I’ve adopted the…
diet….
of…
a dystopian future, man.
And it’s not a pleasant one.
Yeah, I mean,
I find it gross, it kind of looks gross, it smells gross,
makes you stink.
– It makes me stink?
– Yeah.
What does it make me smell like?
Soylent, you smell like Soylent all the time.
Yeah but – what else? What does Soylent smell like?
It’s gross.
The very idea of Soylent obviously produces some strong reactions.
Would it ever have a shot in the mass market?
To find out, I surveyed some of my co-workers.
It tastes like medicine.
The finish is the worst part, it kind of tastes like,
you just ate a handful of Flintstone vitamins.
I’d rather drink this every day then…
you know, starve. I’ll finish it.
The reaction skewed negative.
Cinnamon would help.
All right, take it away.
If you just drink this, you don’t have to eat,
ever again.
I want you to know it smells horrible.
Oh, the texture’s like really thick.
Some people actually liked it.
It’s not bad. This tastes like a protein shake.
Oh yeah, it’s not that bad.
Forget the smell and the taste,
by my final week of Soylent it was life without food
that was getting to me.
I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore.
OK, listen –
I couldn’t join friends for meals or for drinks on Soylent,
more than 2 made me sick.
My jaw ached for not using it enough, I had to buy gum to work it out.
And than anything eating is one of the most important
social rituals we have.
I started to feel excluded…
and yeah, maybe even a little depressed.
Weighed myself, I weigh, look at –
I’m weighting at like 148, 149, so that’s about 10 pounds –
10 pounds gone.
That’s this guy after…
the 30 days of Soylent yourself.
I’m glad – [stammers] I’m glad I’m done.
I’m glad I’m done.
To celebrate my return to food,
the Motherboard team took me out to lunch.
Rob was in town meeting with investors and he came along too.
– Hello.
– Chicken with waffles.
What do you think, is it a big shock?
I can feel it –
Like, I can feel it travelling down my esophagus.
That’s a first – I can feel that solid food moving.
My month on Soylent was a long and strange one.
But after an anxious start,
I generally felt healthy,
normal, pretty much the whole way through.
At the end of 30 days the only abnormality lab tests uncovered
was a vitamin D deficiency.
I hadn’t spent enough time outdoors.
If clinical tests are carried out
and it’s proven safe,
I might try Soylent again in the future.
You just wanna work all day and get it away to have to stop to eat lunch
and sometimes you just go until 5 PM and not eat lunch and
then be really hungry and strung out.
– So I can see you’ll just –
– Yeah.
Soylent makes it easier for you to just get through the day.
And I’m not the only one.
Over 1 million dollars in pre-orders are now shipping around the globe
to customers.
People like Casey Friedman.
I will have more thoughts when I get it.
– When you get it.
– And I look forward to getting it.
The company’s left behind its dirty factory in Oakland.
And moved into brand new offices in Los Angeles.
And it’s mass-producing Soylent
in a facility in Modesto.
And to top it off,
Soylent just received an additional 1.5 million dollars
in venture capital investment.
You know, maybe the utensils of the future
are just like a pitcher, a whisk and a Nalgene bottle,
instead of like forks, knives, plates and stuff.
Regardless of what you think of Soylent
or the man who makes it,
it’s now officially one of the biggest,
most public steps ever taken,
towards what you might call, a life after food.
I’m really happy that this is gonna help so many people.
So, I’d just like to say that, you know,
a lot of people that are scared of things in agriculture
and food, like additives but
honestly I think that these things are completely safe and
food is gonna continue to improve and…
that we’re gonna be part of that process.
In 20 years it will just be coming out of a tap
next to water, right?
– Soylent –
– That’s the idea.

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