November 16, 2018

“Soylent” is Everything Wrong with Modern Life

Never let it be said that I do not suffer for my art(icles). I have just poisoned myself in the name of research. I have downed a dram of Soylent that I found in my cupboard and realised a little too late that 1) I bought it several years ago and it is now horribly out of date; 2) it was horrible to begin with; 3) it is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with modern life; 4) it is possibly made out of people.

Let me start from the beginning. Soylent is a meal-replacement beverage. Media outlets have described it as tasting like everything from “licking stamps” to “a protein shake with sawdust in it”. Despite these less-than-glowing reviews, Soylent has become a darling of Silicon Valley. The company, founded by wunderkind Rob Rhinehart and launched in 2014, has raised more than $72m in funding and amassed a cult following. Having won the hearts and guts of the US, it is coming for Britain; the drink will launch in the UK on Wednesday.

Perhaps you are still confused. I don’t blame you. Unless you are a tech-bro who thinks eating is inefficient, Soylent is somewhat befuddling. Rhinehart developed the products when he was 24 because he thought food was an outdated concept; chewing took too much time and kitchens were terrifying. In his blog (which has now been deleted), he wrote: “I think it was a bit presumptuous for the architect to assume I wanted a kitchen with my apartment and make me pay for it. My home is a place of peace. I don’t want to live with red hot heating elements and razor sharp knives.” So he invented Soylent. A meal you could swig from a bottle, without using any razor sharp knives. A meal that would allow you to spend less time living, and more time being productive. And, because we live in a world obsessed with efficiency, the venture-capital money rolled in. Despite, you know, the fact that the product’s name is inspired by a 1973 post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller called Soylent Green where humans eat a foodstuff made out of people.

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