I Ate Soylent for a Day: 'Food' Special

When I hit the road to attend and write about an industry events such as Light Reading's Big Telecom Event or the recent Open Networking Summit, I start with the best intentions to eat healthily. I often grab a healthy lunch from an airport concession stand and wash it down with black coffee.

But after a day or two of mind-bending discussion about the latest developments in software networking and DevOps, my will power collapses. Soon I'm making the late-night walk of shame to the candy counter in the hotel gift shop. I wake up the next morning surrounded by empty M&M bags, like a binge-eating Lenny Bruce.

A big part of the problem is that when you travel on business, unhealthy food is all around -- at buffets, fast food stalls and business meals in restaurants -- and healthy food is often hard to find.

What if I could bring healthy food with me? I'd still face temptation from all those conference buffet tables and restaurant meals. But it would be easier to eat healthy if healthy food was always at my fingertips.

Bringing meals with me would add to my luggage, but it's not like I travel light. (See Staying Productive With My Office-in-a-Bag.)

With that in mind, I started looking into several food products that have been engineered to deliver complete nutritional needs. The granddaddy of these, announced more than two years ago, is Soylent. Marketed as "a full day of balanced nutrition made in 3 minutes for $3/meal," Soylent is a bag of mixed nutrient powders that you blend with water and drink. The manufacturers and enthusiasts say you can survive on nothing but Soylent all day -- and some do for months -- though most Soylent users live on a mixed diet of Soylent for some meals and snacks, and regular food for others.

I decided to try Soylent to see how I liked it, and whether I could use it for a few meals or snacks on the road to channel my unhealthy eating into healthy patterns.

Click on the photo below for a slideshow of my Soylent experience.

You Sure There's No Cat in There?
Sammy dubiously examines a jug of Soylent.
Sammy dubiously examines a jug of Soylent.

I also tried MealSquares, a square cake or muffin roughly twice the size of a deck of cards, which also supposedly contains all the nutrients you need to live on.

I'll tell you about my Soylent experience today, and then we'll talk about MealSquares another time.

Probably not made of people...
Say the name Soylent and everybody thinks of the 1973 Charlton Heston movie that ends with the revelation "Soylent Green is people!"

The real-life product Soylent isn't made of people -- or so the manufacturers tell us!

Soylent is made from a publicly available recipe which includes such mouth-watering ingredients as waxy maize starch, maltodextrin, and potassium gluconate. It won't exactly remind you of your grandma's home cooking, unless grandma was an organic chemist.

You can make your own Soylent. There are variants from other companies, with names like Schmoylent, Queal and Joylent.

Soylent was conceived in 2012 by Rob Rhinehart, then a Silicon Valley engineer. He and his roommates were the founders of a failed telecom startup, developing inexpensive cell phone towers, when he conceived the idea of a simple, cheap, convenient, healthy food source. "They had been living mostly on ramen, corn dogs and Costco frozen quesadillas -- supplemented by Vitamin C tablets, to stave off scurvy -- but the grocery bills were still adding up. [Rhinehart] began to resent the fact that he had to eat at all."

Find out more about working practices on Light Reading's business/employment channel.

Reddit user Xiuhtec explains the philosophy of Soylent:

"Soylent isn't here to replace dinner dates, lunch with coworkers, or family get-togethers," he says. "It's meant to replace the sandwich you eat alone at your desk, or the McDonald's you pick up on the way home from a 13 hour shift, or the potato chips you grab out of the vending machine because your stomach is growling at 3pm. It replaces the mundane meal-as-necessity, not the social meal-as-bonding-ritual."

I've been meaning to try Soylent since it first became commercially available more than a year ago, but was put off by the price. The smallest available shipment from the Soylent website is a weekly quantity, 28+ meals, priced at $70. Seems like a lot for something I might take one mouthful of, hate, and spit out.

Next page: Like a Prop from Scarface

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KBode 7/23/2015 | 11:13:26 AM
Re: Ambronite - organic real-food version Looking at the Ambronite ingredient list I'm pretty impressed:




Seems like it's a good idea to get as much whole food as possible. I'd be curious how much of the nutrition becomes inert due to heavy processing?
Susan Fourtané 7/23/2015 | 6:42:35 AM
Re: Ambronite - organic real-food version Nice you found your way here. I was telling Mitch I tried Ambronite at Slush a couple of years ago, or maybe three?. It was before you launched the product, maybe at the Slush press conference in Helsinki. I remember it was delicious. :) But I don't remember with what it was mixed. -Susan
Susan Fourtané 7/23/2015 | 6:37:02 AM
Re: Ambronite - organic real-food version Mitch, Yes, Ambronite is the thing I said before I have tried, but didn't remember the name. I liked it. It was like a smoothie, or so it is how I remember it. I think it comes in small bags for individual portions as well. :) -Susan
Co-found76521 7/22/2015 | 7:11:49 PM
Re: Follow-up Ambronite comes in a single meal bags, might work better for traveling
Mitch Wagner 7/22/2015 | 7:05:46 PM
Re: Ambronite - organic real-food version Ambronite, eh? Thanks.
Co-found76521 7/22/2015 | 3:29:04 PM
Ambronite - organic real-food version Thanks for the interesting article. You mentioned that the recipe won't exactly remind you of your grandma's home cooking. If you're interested to learn about drinkable meal, which is actually composed of all those traditional ingredients even your grandama used, such as oats, nuts, berries, herbs, you might have a look at Ambronite.
Mitch Wagner 7/21/2015 | 1:09:19 PM
Re: After page two . . . . Taking the powder isn't a bad idea. I'll have to try how it tastes at home, making it with tap water and drinking it right away at room temperature. That's not recommended but I'm told it's not bad. 
Susan Fourtané 7/20/2015 | 6:51:05 PM
After page two . . . . MItch, now that I have read page two, have you thought about taking the powder with you when you go on a business trip instead of the readyto-drink stuff? Then you could prepare it as you go. Having it at home for your weekly snacks, or some meals sounds good. Now I think I willl see if find this other stuff I tried at Slush.. You have motivated me for doing that. :D Thanks for this nice report on how to stay healthy on business trips. -Susan
Susan Fourtané 7/20/2015 | 6:19:48 PM
Interesting How interesting, Mitch. I do agree that when you are used to eating healthy when you have to travel elesewhere it's not so easy to keep your habits. Unfortunately. I am experiencing that right now. After having some trouble finding a place where I could get something small and relatively healthy in Brussels last night I was so tired (it was late) that I got a chicken burger and fries. They guy asked me what sauce I wanted on them, to which I had no idea what to say, so I asked him to choose for me. It was a take away, because I hate eating alone in places in the evening. When I ate the thing I didn't think much about it because; a) I ws hungry, and b) I was tired and sleepy. When I woke up early this morning my first thought was about all the greasy stuff that was floating in my system. Yak! Today, I went to a small supermarket and got orange juice, apple & mango juice, two bananas, some pineapple bites (cleanses your blood) and felt much better. :) A couple of years ago, I tried a similar thing to Soylent at Slush, a startup conference. It was delicious. I don't remember the story, but it was something similar. I don't remember the name of the product either. :( This one was a Finnish startup, or that's what I think it was. -Susan
KBode 7/20/2015 | 10:46:46 AM
Re: Follow-up That looks like somebody's DIY recipe for Soylent (which does include milk/Whey). I imagine they keep the actual recipe for Soylent close to the vest. That DIY recipe includes a lot of things that could be replaced with much healthier alternatives (like swapping out Flax seed oil for Canola oil)....
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