Soylent: Acceptable Food Substitute or Abomination?
When I was a kid, I read The Magic of Oz, which included a subplot in which Professor Wogglebug decides to solve the problem of food preparation and distribution by creating Square-Meal Tablets, which are—you guessed it—square tablets that provide the same nutrition as food.
The Professor was so proud of these Square-Meal Tablets that he began to feed them to the students at his college, instead of other food, but the boys and girls objected because they wanted food that they could enjoy the taste of. It was no fun at all to swallow a tablet, with a glass of water, and call it a dinner; so they refused to eat the Square-Meal Tablets. Professor Wogglebug insisted, and the result was that the Senior Class seized the learned Professor one day and threw him into the river—clothes and all.
That’s my go-to reference for Soylent, since I’ve never seen Soylent Green (I know, it’s people) but am very familiar with the idea of not wanting to swallow a meal substitute and call it a dinner. (To borrow another Wizard of Oz reference: “What a world, what a world.”)
Before we get into the discussion of “is Soylent an acceptable food substitute,” let’s take a look at how much switching to Soylent is going to cost you.
Soylent’s website advertises “Spend under $10 per day on food—less than the cost of a takeout meal.” With a 56-meal package of Soylent running at $130, that does come out to $2.32 per meal. ($130 is technically the subscription rate; if you would like 56 stand-alone meals with no automatic renewal at the end of your two weeks, it’ll cost you $155.)
Soylent also advises that 56 meals will last you for two weeks, although 14 days times three meals is only 42, which suggests that they want you to eat Soylent for everything, including snacks, and also implies that Soylent is going to leave you hungry between meals.
I currently budget $350/month for food, and have spent $242 on food so far this month. If I had spent the past four weeks eating Soylent instead, I would have spent $260; a full month of Soylent would run $325.
I thought about trying Soylent out myself, but the website included no option for “single Soylent meal” and I was uninterested in paying $155 for 56 of them. Luckily, there are plenty of other people who have tried Soylent, including Vox’s Dylan Matthews:
It’s pretty gross! Shaking it up again renders it drinkable, but it’s not an especially appetizing thing to look at.
Sounds like a ringing endorsement. Matthews continues:
The biggest issue, taste-wise, was clumping. Pitchers aren’t actually great mixing tools; powder gets stuck to the bottom, it’s hard to maneuver mixing implements like spoons or chopsticks, and the Soylent pitcher is tall enough that those implements aren’t actually that useful. The result was — even after a night in the fridge broke up those clumps a bit — a drinkable but chalky and occasionally dry mix. It definitely beats cooking, but it could be a lot better.
So we’ve got a gross pitcher of unappetizing stuff with a taste described as “clumping.” The upside? $2.32 a meal, it’s delivered directly to your house, and it apparently beats cooking.
Soylent also contains all of your recommended nutrition, and the nutrition facts again imply that they want you to drink four things of Soylent per day, since each serving contains roughly 25 percent of everything you need to be a fully nutritioned human. (Except fat, which runs at 37 percent per serving, so you’ll end up with 148 percent of your recommended fat intake after consuming four Soylents.) You’ll also drink roughly 2000 calories, which means Soylent is not specifically designed to be a weight loss tool.
At this point I can’t say anything else about Soylent without clumping down $155 for a few bags of the stuff, so I’m turning it over to you. Is Soylent the answer to our food problems? If we take Rachel Laudan’s “we need better processed food” argument to its inevitable conclusion, do we automatically end up with Soylent? Does the idea of paying $2.32 per meal to get nutritional powder delivered to your door and never have to cook or grocery shop again sound appealing?
Also, which of our readers has tried Soylent? If you’ve mixed up your own Soylent pitcher, please give us a full report.
This story is part of our food month series.