Chewing, We Hardly Knew Ye: A Soylent Reading List

Image: Bryan Ward.
Image: Bryan Ward.

Meal-replacement mix Soylent had a wildly successful Kickstarter, a year of massive growth where demand far outpaced supply, and has now raised $20 million in funding, led by Andreessen Horowitz. Some hail it as the health-ensuring time-saver we’ve all been waiting for. Others lament it as the latest harbinger of our Silicon Valley-enfoced dystopian future. But what’s it actually like to drink the stuff, physically — and emotionally? These five writers muse on what it feels like — and means for us as a food-centric society — to be free from food.

1. “Freedom from Food” (Nicola Twilley, Aeon, October 2014)

In the end, the time and money saved by switching to drinkable meals couldn’t make up for one fundamental drawback for Twilley: taste. “The only real upside to replacing food with Soylent was that my first real food after five days – half a proper New York bagel with butter, Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam cheese, a perfect Jersey tomato, and a pinch of Maldon Sea Salt – tasted so utterly, incredibly good that the hand with which I lifted it to my mouth started shaking uncontrollably.”

2. “Soylent Survivor” (Chris Ziegler, The Verge, July 2014)

Ziegler never got tired of Soylent, and actually began looking forward to each glass of the nutritional slurry — but found himself shut out of countless communal activities organized around food, from lunch meetings to birthday parties, and missing that point of contact. “So it’s a trade-off between efficiency and, well, living. Soylent isn’t living, it’s merely surviving.”

3. “The Enduring Appeal of a Meal in a Pill” (Richard Faulk, Discover, June 2015)

Soylent isn’t the first heralded food substitute poised to change the way we eat; Tang opened the door to an onslaught of powdered, processed foods 60 years ago. Carnation Instant Breakfast first appeared in 1964, and the idea of an all-in-one food pill was bandied about in the 19th century. For Faulk, Soylent is just the latest iteration, and won’t be the last: “Like Frankenstein’s monster, any idea as audacious as human-manufactured food cannot die forever.

4. “The Powdery Power of Soylent” (Fenella Souter, The Age, February 2015)

Self-professed foodie Fenella Souter was admittedly unenthused for her Soylent experiment: “I left the cartons in the hall, where they sat as ominously as Cyril Connolly’s pram, except here was a sombre enemy to culinary art. With luck, there would be a house fire.” Although she never really enjoyed Soylent, only making it through five days of a planned seven before succumbing to the siren call of food, she did become accustomed, showing that even a committed food-lover can see a role for Soylent in our culinary landscape (and suggesting that it will be able to live up to its $20 million potential).

5. “How I Ate No Food for 30 Days” (Brian Merchant, Vice, November 2013)

As he dug into both his supply of Soylent powder and the personalities and infrastructure behind the product, Brian Merchant realized what a game-changer Soylent has the potential to be: “It’s fast, hacked food for hackers who value efficiency above all else. It’s audacious—a voluntary total food replacement meant to transform the very way you live. Framed this way, Soylent is a gadget, not a health food product.” (After thirty fairly happy days on Soylent, he rejoined the world of chewers with a glorious fried chicken meal.)