I Ate Soylent for a Day: 'Food' Special

Is "beige" a flavor?

Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading

July 17, 2015

8 Min Read
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.

Figure 1: 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

However, I recently discovered you can buy a one-day supply of Soylent for $18.50 on Amazon. I went for that, and resolved to eat nothing but Soylent for a day. (Actually, it was a day and a little more -- a one-day bag of Soylent contains 2,000 calories, which is about 10% more than I need to maintain weight.)

My Soylent shipment arrived in a shiny one-pound bag. To make the powder into Soylent, you mix it with two quarts of water, then refrigerate for at least two or three hours to give the powder time to fully dissolve and the liquid time to thicken.

The powder bears a close resemblance to flour, or a prop from the Al Pacino movie Scarface. The liquid is beige.

When prepared according to the instructions, Soylent liquid has the consistency of tomato juice. You can vary the amount of water to get the consistency how you like it. Soylent has the very faint smell of wet cardboard, and it tastes slightly like wet cardboard too. It leaves a slight aftertaste, which washes away immediately with a couple of sips of tea.

And yet -- it's pleasant. Early reviews went on and on about how nasty the taste and texture is, but by the end of my nothing-but-Soylent day, I found I actually liked the taste of the stuff.

Some Soylent reviewers report extreme flatulence and gastric distress, sometimes for weeks, until their bodies get used to the dietary change. (Here is a hilarious Amazon review providing more color on the subject.) I did not have that problem at all. To be blunt about it: I just farted the usual amount that day.

I made an effort to sip the Soylent slowly. By nature, I'm not a sipper. I'm a gulper. I'm a fast eater too. The effort to slow down was only partly successful; I finished my meals that day in under five minutes.

I normally eat breakfast, lunch and a daytime snack at my desk. While eating, I catch up on what my colleagues have written on Light Reading, and when I'm done with that I read other articles from around the web.

With Soylent, meal breaks disappear. Soylent is about as close as you can come to eliminating food entirely, and just plugging yourself into the wall like a robot.

I don't like that. I work hard and long hours (if you can call anything done indoors at a desk on a computer "work" -- it's not like I'm laying asphalt on an Alabama road crew). I like my meal and snack breaks.

After a full day eating nothing but Soylent, I felt great. I had lots of energy and wasn't hungry at all.

I also felt empty -- no food in my gut. You never notice the food you carry around inside you until it's gone. My body was confused by this sensation -- it associates an empty belly with being hungry, and yet my belly was empty and I was not hungry. I enjoyed the feeling.

Despite enjoying Soylent, I was deliriously happy to get back to my normal eating habits. My regular breakfast the next day, the same thing I have every day for breakfast, tasted like ambrosia. That's a plus for Soylent. I'm in favor of anything that makes me think about and appreciate my everyday blessings.

Did Soylent pass the travel-food test?
I liked Soylent, but it isn't fit-for-purpose as a food to take on multi-day business trips. The problem: It needs to be refrigerated and consumed quickly. According to the manufacturer, it only lasts for two days in the refrigerator. That's not practical. Travel schedules have a tendency to become chaotic and unpredictable. And I don't know whether, or when, I'll have access to a refrigerator.

But I did like Soylent. As a matter of fact, I liked it a lot. The mild flavor and creamy texture grew on me. That surprised me; I thought I'd hate it.

After my test was done, I bought a week's supply, and plan to use it for the occasional meal around the house. I also see potential for taking it with me when I'm out and about for a day, either for business or leisure.

I had better luck with MealSquares. I'll tell you about that another day.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.

You May Also Like