Soylent Brown

SUBHEAD: Yes the nightmare is has come alive. Eating real food is becoming an expensive recreational art form.

By Eliza Barclay on 30 October 2013 for NPR News -

Image above: A batch of Soylent powder mixed with water - just like mom used to make - if your mom were a robot creating a life-sustaining frothy nutrient slurry for her foster human offspring to consume. From Ars Technica article below.

Soylent [Noun] An undesirable, lackluster, and artificial foodstuff, as a substitute for real meat. The name comes from a combination of 'soy' and 'lentils'.

Back in April, we Rob Rhinehart's experiment concocting something that could give him all the nutrition and none of the hassle of food.

Rhinehart, you see, is a 25-year-old electrical engineer in San Francisco who'd grown exceedingly frustrated with the time and effort of purchasing, preparing and consuming food, not to mention the cleanup. When he went in search of a cheap, nutritious powdered food product he could whip up, he found nothing. So he decided to make one himself.

Last week, Rhinehart on his blog that he had raised $1.5 million in seed capital from several venture capital and angel investor firms in Silicon Valley, including Andreessen Horowitz and Initialized Capital, to scale up production of his product, called Soylent. He added that he'd gotten another $1.5 million in pre-orders.

Apparently, his off-the-wall idea has some legs.

We were among Rhinehart's skeptics, we'll admit. We weren't sure that a layperson could come up with a meal replacement product equivalent to a diverse diet of real food.

But in the months since he first announced his project, he's gotten a ton of feedback on his formulation. (Here's from someone who tried two weeks on Soylent.) And he's also discovered that there are a lot of people out there likely to buy it.

Among them are young singles like him who are working 60-plus hours a week and paying off student loans. In other words: people with no time or interest in cooking, and little disposable income for restaurants.

Since we last spoke, Rhinehart has adjusted his pitch a bit. Rather than calling Soylent an "ideal diet," he's calling it a healthier, convenient alternative to takeout and rice and beans — the food he used to subsist on, and the food he believes his target market consumes regretfully.

"I'm not demanding that anybody live on this exclusively," he says. "It's supposed to be an easy staple meal."

And as for the people who were shocked, even rankled, by Rhinehart's assertion that he knew what the human body needed, he's thrown them a bone.

He now has a team of advisers, including a doctor to help him get the nutrient ratios right: at the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University. One of the big changes he made was to the amount of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the formulation.

Soylent's main ingredient is oat starch; the rest are industrial nutrients like calcium carbonate and magnesium gluconate. It's gluten-free, vegan and halal. "It's supposed to be something anyone can enjoy," Rhinehart says.

The product might still draw criticism for its lack of disease-fighting found in fresh fruits and vegetables. "I wanted to keep it to bare essential nutrients," says Rhinehart. "At this point, until we know more about phytonutrients, it's better to stick to strictly essentials."

Rhinehart has now been consuming Soylent for about 10 months. He says he makes two to four shakes a day, during the week. (His fridge contains only Soylent, water and beer, he claims.) On the weekend, he goes to restaurants with friends — what he calls recreational eating.

After a few months of Soylent, Rhinehart wrote that he felt better than he'd ever felt, physically and mentally. And today?

"Back then, I was coming off a terrible diet, but yeah, I still feel great," he says. "I still get blood tests, body metrics, and everything still looks good."

Come December, Soylent will begin shipping to everyone who has pre-ordered it. (The cost is about $65 for a week's supply of meals, or about $3 a meal.)

And Rhinehart will be moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where warehouse space is cheaper, he says. And will those famous LA tacos tempt him to give up Soylent during the week, we had to wonder?

"I like food, I really do," says Rhinehart. "There are just other things I find more interesting right now. Food is not nutrition to me, it's art. After I finish paying off my student loans I'll go to more art galleries and I'll eat more food."

Embrace the chalky weird sweetness
SUBHEAD: A tall glass of lukewarm Soylent can make for a queasy breakfast on day one.

By Lee Hutchison on 27 August 2013 for Ars Technica

I don't do well with following directions in the morning, and this particular morning I have a bunch of extra stuff to remember. I screw up immediately when I roll out of bed, stagger into the bathroom, and swallow my usual morning multivitamin. Only as I place the bottle back in the medicine cabinet do I see the yellow sticky-note on its side: "NO," it tells me.

It takes more than a sticky note to override a multidecade morning multivitamin habit, but if a 24-year-old engineer named Rob Rhinehart has done his chemistry correctly I won't actually need the little orange pill today. A bag of powder sitting on my kitchen counter will supply my body with every scrap of nutrition it needs. This is Soylent, day 1.

Day 1, 08:00: Weights and measures

With one cup of coffee down and with much less stagger in my walk, I'm back in the kitchen, facing a counter full of Soylent implements.
The first task involves math. One silver plastic pouch contains one day's worth of Soylent, which must be mixed with two liters of water. I've heard tales of previous Soylent versions clumping if not mixed thoroughly, so I want to use my awesome Blendtec blender (of "Will It Blend" fame) on the stuff to ensure homogeneity.

However, the blender only holds an approximate maximum of one liter of liquid. So, the math: I measure the Soylent pouch, remove half its dry weight, run that through the blender, pour the contents into the pitcher, and then blend the remaining Soylent.
Next to the five bags of Soylent are several small vials containing grapeseed oil and five fish oil capsules. The grapeseed oil containers get mixed into the day's batch of Soylent pre-blender and provide fats and stuff; the fish oil capsule gets swallowed separately.

There's probably a better way to go about this, but I've had a hard enough time finding a pitcher to hold the two liters of finished Soylent and I want to get on with the experiment—I'm burning with curiosity to try the stuff. I measure, scoop, blend, pour, and repeat.
Moments later, I've got a pitcher of about two liters of frothy beige liquid. Yes, frothy—it's got quite a bit of head on it. I poke at it with a whisk to see if I can maybe convince it to deflate a bit, but it's determined to stay bubbly. Attacking the stuff with the Blendtec probably wasn't the best plan.
The documentation says to chill before serving, but I didn't get to be the reviews editor of a major technology website by reading stupid directions. I measure out about a third of the pitcher's contents into a large cup and eagerly bring it to my lips for an introductory sip.

It's chalky. Even before I notice a taste, the mouthfeel blossoms and I smack my lips a few times as I swallow. It feels like a fine powder is coating the inside of my mouth—it invites a lot of lingual exploration to root out pockets of leftover sediment. The taste, when it comes, is oddly nondescript. It's a bit sweet, and the sweetness has a bit of an artificial note to it (the sweetness comes from maltodextrin, one of Soylent's carbohydrate sources).

The froth is definitely a factor in the mixture's mouthfeel too, and I have to sort of slurp through it. The room temperature mix isn't unpleasant, but it's not great, either. I take a second sip and again my mouth is coated in chalky suspended powder. After swallowing I still feel compelled to run my tongue around in my mouth and over my teeth to get the chalkiness to go away.

Behind the vague sweetness, there's not much of a taste—perhaps a bit yeasty or earthy. Soylent has a surprisingly long finish, too. The aftertaste hangs around for quite a bit of time, though it's not an awful aftertaste. Just a bit like vaguely sweet flour-y dough.

Soylent is just thick enough, and the suspended particles are just big enough, to encourage chewing. I sit and slowly chomp my way through the inaugural breakfast mug of the stuff. As I near the bottom, almost with alarming suddenness, I go from feeling fine to feeling very, very full.

The room temperature frothy stuff in my cup suddenly appears to be the very opposite of appealing, and I begin to think that consuming two-thirds of a liter of an untried food substitute on a morning stomach that's more used to a small bowl of oat bran was probably not the greatest plan.

Gamely, I power on and finish my cup. There are several minutes of unease while I tell my stomach that it needs to shut up and deal, and it threatens to violently give back what I've sent it. Eventually, I win, but the lesson has been learned. Tomorrow, I should maybe split that morning serving up into two—or several.

A minute later, the Soylent burps start. They're not terribly pleasant. They have an almost cloying sweetness to them. I down some water and try really hard to not notice.

Day 1, 11:30: Lunch part one

 I usually escape for lunch right as the clock hits 11:00am—Deputy Editor Nate Anderson has accused me of eating lunch like a senior citizen—but I'm still feeling very full from that morning's dose of Soylent as my normal lunchtime passes. By 11:30am, I figure I better take a stab at consuming some more. I've still got more than a liter of the stuff to pack away and it's not going to drink itself.

The Soylent has separated a bit in the fridge, stratifying into a beige layer, a clear layer, and a frothy mountainscape on top. I contemplate dumping it back into the blender to destratify it with extreme prejudice, but I don't want to aerate it further and make it foamier. Instead, I grab the whisk and beat on it for a few seconds to re-blend before gingerly pouring about half of the morning's breakfast-sized portion.
It's still very chalky. Not gritty—there's no feeling of sand or anything, just smooth powder rolling through my mouth. Fortunately, being chilled has drastically improved my perception of how it tastes. It's a lot easier to drink down now than it was in the morning, and I zip through the serving in a couple of minutes while I write.

It's probably too early to notice anything physical. Other than a bit of rumbling in my gut, I feel quite normal. The brief bout of nausea from breakfast is gone, and the second helping goes down nicely.

Day 1, 14:30: Second lunch

 This is about the time I'd push back from the computer and go hunting around in the kitchen for something to snack on, so I grab the pitcher, whisk away the layers, and consume the other half of my lunch. It's still all chalky earthy indistinct sweetness.

The Soylent burps from breakfast leveled themselves out after a short amount of time and weren't repeated after my first lunch. I feel okay with leaving the safety of the house (with its close bathroom), and I run some errands. While I'm out, I look at the folks around me, all living their pedestrian food-based lives. They don't know it, but I've got a little bit of the future in my tummy.

Day 1, 18:00: Prepping to run

There aren't that many feelings so far to report on. It's a bit after 18:00 as I write this, and in another hour I'll be headed out for a 5k run. I don't feel particularly energized, but I don't feel particularly un-energized, either.

At this point, I feel pretty much like I usually feel in the evening, with the exception that I'm totally not hungry—not even a twinge. Anyone thinking that there might be satiety problems with Soylent should stop worrying, because I don't feel the slightest urge to eat right now. I don't feel stuffed full of food or anything, either. There's just a lack of hunger.

Soylent founder Rob Rhinehart let me know that while there haven't been any complaints among beta testers of the violent explosive diarrhea that my coworkers are so desperately hoping I come down with, there have been reports of some gassiness as folks adapt to the change in intake. So far, this hasn't happened—I haven't been any more (or less) gassy today than normal.

The digestive end of things will come into sharper focus tomorrow after the Soylent has a full day to work its magic. So far, everything is status quo, except for some very excited gut noises about 30 minutes ago (unaccompanied by any feelings of imminent poop rocketry, fortunately).

I wanted to get this report up on the front page tonight before it gets too late, and so I'll leave you guys here for now. Tomorrow, I'll report on how well the Soylent-fueled run went, and whether or not a day of Soylent gives you terrifying Soylent nightmares. Stay tuned.

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