by Eleanor Brown
A nerd software engineer in the United States has created Soylent, the liquid food that people love to hate. And yet so much liquid food is already wildly popular, and it’s about to get a huge weather-related boost.
Oh, I know people screech about the importance of slow food, of eating real food, of fill-in-the-blank-food-‘splaining here. Of how liquid food is neither good nor proper. It’s for the lazy, for the evil ones who hate texture and taste and even themselves – the rhetoric is often over the top and hilarious.
Still, as winter falls away, I am finishing up my seasonal supply of liquid food. I’m talking about soups.
And of course, day in, day out, I have a breakfast smoothie. Kale, blueberries, bananas –whatever you put in, it’s going to help you start the day well. I add protein powder, to help support my middle-aged muscles after my daily hour of exercise.
And I write this column on the cusp of spring, leaning into my bedroom window and basking in the idea of sunlight, soon to come. Once that heat finally arrives, I will add to my diet the occasional milkshake, and cookies blended into ice cream. All are liquid foods.
Since so many of us already imbibe, I am surprised by the widespread hatred expressed for Soylent. It comes in a powder (add water), and in small drink bottles, marketed as Soylent 2.0.
Here’s a bit of the PR bumf from the website (at soylent.com): “Each ingredient plays a specific role in whole-body nutrition. A new soy protein isolate adds improved digestion, smoother texture, and a more robust amino acid profile.” An algal oil is “produced efficiently in bioreactors rather than traditional farms to conserve enormous quantities of natural resourceswhile providing energy and essential fatty acids.”
There’s a “slow-metabolizing disaccharide synthesized from beets [that] offers sustained energy without the spikes of refined sugar.” And finally, “Each bottle of Soylent 2.0 is designed to include one-fifth of all essential micronutrients[as in vitamins and minerals].”
Seriously, what’s not to like?
Soylent is even, dare I say, feminist.
There’s nothing wrong with loving to cook. As my career slows down, I have learned later in life to cook real, authentic food. (Careful readers will catch the sarcasm in the use of the word “authentic”.) But the option of inexpensive, nutritionally balanced shakes for meals is a gift to women – and indeed, to anyone – who isn’t interested in a lifetime spent in the kitchen. It’s a gift for busy parents who want to offer a fun “treat”… et cetera. For about $2.50 a serving.
On his vanity website, Soylent creator Rob Rhinehart also writes about the ethics of food. “Food is the fossil fuel of human energy. It is an enormous market full of waste, regulation, and biased allocation with serious geo-political implications. And we’re deeply dependent on it. In some countries people are dying of obesity, others starvation.” He calls Soylent “perhaps the most ecologically efficient food ever created.”
There’s all sorts of implications here. But the product’s name and Rhinehart’s comments are clearly intended to bring to mind the classic sci-fi thriller Soylent Green. In the film, the world has been steadily destroyed by pollution and climate change. Real food – meat, for example – is a black market good that only the super-rich can afford.
For the rest of us, there’s Soylent Green, a nutritious wafer supposedly made of plankton.
The clue to a murder somehow connects to Soylent Green.
(I’m going to ruin the movie’s ending now, because it came out in 1973. More than 40 years ago. Seriously, don’t even think about complaining about this spoiler.)
By the end of the film, it dawns on Charlton Heston exactly where his food is coming from. The state offers euthanasia as a service, and the protein that keeps humanity alive comes from… those euthanasia factories.
In truth, I ordered a case of Soylent bottles for the fun of it. I want to be able to say that I eat people.
There’s a hint of vanilla in Soylent, and it’s a bit wheat-y overall. I like it.
In the movie, Charlton Heston is of course sickened by his discovery. I’m appalled as well. Not by the discovery, but by Heston’s horror.
Humans aren’t eating the flesh of their loved ones. The bodies are expertly decomposed into the building blocks of life.
Remember astronomer Carl Sagan? He famously engaged our imaginations by pointing out that humans are made of star stuff. The carbon, the nitrogen, the oxygen, the other atoms of this Earth and of our bodies were first created by the stars themselves billions of years ago. “We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.” Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The atoms of our individual bodies also go back to the earth. And so are remade, reconfigured, recreated into everything around us. And back into us. Everything we eat is people.
Pass the Soylent, please.
Eleanor Brown is a freelance writer. She can be reached at ebjourno at gmail.com. Please do not snail mail perishable food items to her. Tins only.