A life after food: this could be the last thing you ever eat

A Silicon Valley start-up has come up with an alternative to food. Is it the future or a step in the wrong direction? EDGAR investigates.

Peter Iantorno September 21, 2015

Imagine living the rest of your life without ever eating another solid meal, yet never going hungry. Impossible? Not according to Rob Rhinehart, above, the entrepreneur founder of Soylent.

Billed as the ultimate meal replacement, providing “everything you need and nothing you don’t”, the product has been growing in popularity - especially amongst its main clientele of time-conscious Silicon Valley workers - since it was first developed in 2013.

Containing a cocktail of obscure ingredients such as soy protein, something called isomaltulose (made from synthesised beets) and algal oil (derived from algae), the drink is designed to provide the correct calorific content as well as the vitamins and minerals needed to sustain a healthy lifestyle. 

While the original product was sold as a powder that users had to whisk into water to create a solution, it has now evolved, with a 2.0 version released earlier this month that comes already mixed, bottled and with a one-year shelf life.

Soylent 2.jpg Soylent 2.0 now comes in the bottle.

OK that’s great, you may think; a magic potion that has all the necessary sustenance for healthy living, but it still begs the question, what is wrong with eating normal healthy food?

Well, according to the company’s website, there are three main benefits to the consumer. Firstly, it is healthy, secondly it is easier than cooking, and thirdly, it is cheap, with prices working out at around $3 per meal.

But the main benefit of Soylent, it seems, is on a much larger scale. Hinted at by the product's name (a reference to Harry Harrison’s 1966 sci-fi novel Make Room! Make Room! in which world overpopulation leads to everyone having to eat a mixture of soy and lentils - and, in the later film adaptation, Soylent Green, human remains), Soylent maker Rhinehart sees product as a very real solution for sustainable food in the future.

Soylent Green.jpg Soylent Green, the film adaptation of Make Room! Make Room!, predicted a grim future for feeding an overpopulated world.

Rhinehart’s vision for Soylent is as an answer for the world’s food problems. “I see there being a Soylent tap right next to the water tap,” he said in a bullish interview with Vice.

The idea that the whole world will end up sustaining itself on this thick, murky-looking liquid straight from the tap sounds pretty far-fetched at the moment. And it must be said that the early reviews of the taste and side effects don't do much to suggest that Soylent would be anything approaching a pleasant solution.

Amongst those who have tasted it so far, reports of “unpleasant digestion-based aromas” are commonplace, and the taste has been described as a bit like "uncooked porridge", "dishwater" and "Play-Doh", amongst other things.

soylent.jpg The original Soylent came in powder form and had to be mixed with water.

“I’m not trying to make something delicious,” says Rhinehart in retort. “There are already a lot of delicious things. For me it’s all about efficiency – it is about cost and convenience.”

While the prospect of consuming nothing but Soylent for the rest of our days is rather a grim one, Rhinehart has a point when he talks about efficiency. Maybe a more realistic use for a product like this would be in humanitarian crises such as the one we are witnessing in Syria at the moment, as a cheap and easy yet effective way of staving off hunger and providing vitamins and minerals.

In January this year the company raised some $20 million towards its development in a lucrative round of investment, so clearly we aren’t the only ones to spot the potential in such a product. The direction the company will go in remains to be seen, but we have a feeling that we won’t be drinking from the Soylent tap any time soon.