Soylent, ready to ship. Image: Soylent
A couple months ago, 24-year-old software engineer Rob Rhinehart whipped up Soylent, a cocktail of "vitamins, minerals, and macro-nutrients," and started ingesting it instead of food. He purportedly ate nothing but the nutrient shake for 30 days, and he documented the process on his blog. We called him the Post-Food Man. The internet soon went nuts, and many post-food wannabes started bombarding Rhinehart with requests for some of the disgusting-sounding elixir.
So he did what anyone does with such a product nowadays—he crowdfunded an operation to start brewing up Soylent en masse.
Rhinehart launched a campaign on Crowdhoster. The project was funded within hours—and the cash keeps pouring in. As of this writing, Soylent had attracted over $220,000 in funds, and there's still a month to go.
Here's the pitch:
For many people, on many occasions, food is a hassle, especially when trying to eat well. Suppose we had a default meal that was the nutritional equivalent of water: cheap, healthy, convenient and ubiquitous. Soylent will be personalized for different body types and customizable based on individual goals. It allows one to enjoy the health benefits of a well balanced diet with less effort and cost.
So yeah, that means they're actually going to start churning this stuff out—in an "FDA-approved facility"—and selling it on the market. It's all pretty incredible. I mean, I'd always thought that as far as unmarketable product ideas go, a grey-colored chemical drink named after processed human flesh wafers would sit right atop the list. (Rhinehart does point out that in the less-famous novel on which the cult film Soylent Green was based, soylent was made of soy, but everyone on the planet except maybe the book's author is thinking '... is people') But the sheer audacity of the project, and the allure of the product itself has galvanized forward-looking consumers.
Rhinehart and company do warn that "All scale production efforts have the potential for setbacks including supplier issues, manufacturing issues, sourcing, contaminants, and proper control." So all you post-foodies might not want to get too excited; Soylent may be a while off yet.
Still, it's a fascinating prospect, and an attempt to realize one of the longstanding themes of sci-fi—the non-food food. Food scientists have been working on this front for decades—Tang, protein shakes, Power Bars; there's all sorts of stuff on the market that would look positively alien to a human eater a hundred years ago. Rhinehart's project embodies this ethos.
"I don't think we need fruits and veggies, though," he told us. "We need vitamins and minerals. We need carbs, not bread. Amino acids, not milk. It's still fine to eat these whenever you want, but not everyone can afford them or has the desire to eat them. Food should be optimized and personalized."
It's certainly that Soylent aspires to take it all the way, and aims to do away with traditional food altogether that it's earned such widespread intrigue. And it's funny that Soylent should mention the FDA, too, seeing as how federal inspectors are sure to be one of those freshly interested parties. It opens up the big question now: Will they allow Soylent to market its product as a food alternative? A big part of me hopes so. And I guess we're going to find out.