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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Mitch Wagner 7/20/2015 | 10:46:39 AM
Re: Follow-up danielcawrey - Shorter version of my MealSquares review: Two thumbs up. 
Mitch Wagner 7/20/2015 | 10:41:11 AM
Re: Follow-up KBode, here's the recipe for Soylent. I don't think there's any dairy in it.

FWIW, I had no problems digesting it, and I'm lactose intolerant. I can eat cheese -- and do eat quite a lot of it -- but I suffer intense discomfort if I drink a lot of milk. 
smkinoshita 7/18/2015 | 10:35:34 PM
Re: Follow-up I'm a huge foodie, and I don't think there's any way I could ever go Soylent unless forced.  It's interesting to hear that it's possible to live off it but that $70/week certainly doesn't sound like the $3/meal promised.
danielcawrey 7/17/2015 | 9:28:43 PM
Re: Follow-up I've always wondered about Soylent, so this was an interesting read. I agree about the issues of nutrition while traveling, but it doesn't sound like Soylent could solve those. I'd be interested in Mealsquares maybe, looking forward to reading the review on that! 
KBode 7/17/2015 | 4:18:44 PM
Re: Follow-up I was thinking something similar. Perhaps that's the plan with Soylent v2.

Do they clearly disclose the ingredients? Any dairy? Curious where most of the protein comes from.
Mitch Wagner 7/17/2015 | 4:10:44 PM
Re: Follow-up Thinking about this server: If Soylent sold its product preprepared in individual servings, like soft drinks or juice, I would be a customer. I'd keep a six-pack in the house. 
KBode 7/17/2015 | 2:34:32 PM
Re: Follow-up Interesting read. 

I've been very curious about Soylent for a while, since i often have smoothies. But I remain mystified by the choice to name the product after a Sci-Fi joke regarding eating people. :)

I've heard that portion complaint from others...
Mitch Wagner 7/17/2015 | 1:43:38 PM
Follow-up My one-week shipment of Soylent has arrived. That was a couple of weeks ago. It's been sitting in our pantry ever since. I begin to fear that I will never drink it, and it'll turn out to have been a waste of money. 

The reason I'm reluctant is the portion size and shelf life. Once you prepare a full container, that's a complete day's worth of food (plus a little more, as described in the article above). It lasts about two days in the fridge. You can prepare smaller portions, but that involves a certain amount of measuring and calculation, and the open packet of powder only lasts a week. 

All of this involves more planning and thought than I want to give to convenience food. 

Oh, well. I won't be thrilled if this turns out to be wasted money, but we can afford $70. 
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