And We Forgot The Taste Of Bread: Soylent, Day Seven

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“So what is Soylent for?” Kat asked.
“It’s a food replacement,” we told her.  “Pasty nerds made it because they got tired of eating.”
“But what’s it supposed to do?”
“Well, it gives you all the nutrients you need to live.  So all you have to eat is this sludge.”
“Okay, but – ”  She frowned, trying to rephrase the question.  “What’s the goal?  What are you supposed to do with it?”
“It doesn’t really have one,” we demurred.  “It’s… well, it’s a tool.  What you do with it… well, that’s up to you.”
“But they went to a lot of effort to make this stuff.  Surely they must have meant it to do something.  A goal.”
Gini and I looked at each other, embarrassed.  Because if the makers of Soylent had a clear goal beyond “Let’s see how we can fuck with the human body,” well, we were unaware of it.  But for a week, at least, we were the vanguard of this new method of devouration, and everyone we turned to had a clear expectation of what we were supposed to do.  Now, we faced a clear choice: either abandon the taste of foods forever and become the Gray Goop People, or return to the friendly shores of pizza and cake and tell everyone how dreadful those days were.
But food is complicated.  As humans, our relationship with food is complicated.  And Soylent?  Is not an on/off switch.
I wonder if the makers of margarine got this, back in the early days when margarine was an unappetizing whalefat-white and you had to massage a packet of yellow food dye into it just to make it palatable.  “So is margarine designed to replace butter?  Margarine is going to supplant butter, isn’t it?  We have no need for butter now, right?”
But no.  I’m a heart patient (triple-bypass FTW YAY), and while I use margarine because it’s better for my heart, occasionally I still have butter on the right kind of bread.  Some days, I even crave margarine.
The thing about humans is that we’re repelled by the idea of the artificial in our foods, but yet we come to love them all the same.  I think we all know that a McDonald’s burger is not a hamburger in any way that we traditionally understand it – a gray, thin, mealy patty of meat, devoid of that big beef taste, slapped on a bun that will not rot – and yet most of us have a craving for that McDonald’s burger once in a while, even as we acknowledge this has more in common with chemical plants than cows.  We groan about Red Bull and Twizzlers as being artificial, but they sell and they sell well.  I don’t think anyone has ever savored a Dorito, as they’re explicitly designed to be madness for our tastebuds – an experience that blossoms, satisfies, and fades quickly enough that we automatically reach for the next chip.
I think that comes down to some suborned guilt within us: we know we should be eating healthy.  But somehow, we’re continually surprised when the foods that are scientifically designed to light up all of our taste receptors turn out to be more delicious than broccoli.
And we are ashamed.
(Or snottily proud. I know someone will sniff, “Well, I love broccoli more than Doritos!” – and they’ll do it as a mark of pride, because they should love that natural-food thing more than this shabby artificial concoction.  And by God, having aligned their mouth properly, they want the credit for it.)
The truth is, we have replaced much of our food already, and we still oscillate between the artificial and the natural.  I do want a McDonald’s burger every now and then, but I also love a good thick Texan burger straight off the grill.  I like Pop Tarts, but I also love my birthday cake when it comes out of the oven.
We have this urge to turn all the foods into Sharks and Jets, into Montagues and Capulets, into warring factions – but the truth is that we are omnivores, and that genetic need seeps from every pore.  It goes against our grain to supplant; we ingest and add.
But how can Soylent be that?  It’s intended to replace all the foods, right?
Well, no.  It can replace some of the foods.  And I remember my disappointment with my friend Geoff Hunt, who hopped on the Soylent bandwagon ahead of me, and uses it as a supplement.  He drinks it during the day when he’s got nothing better to eat, and then dines on full meals whenever he wants to experience the full taste.  Which, before I started this, seemed like a crazy idea – come on, Geoff, commit.  You either go full-bore or you don’t.  Why would you drink gray goop some of the time?
And after converting exclusively to Soylent myself, the answer is simple: a lot of the time, I’m eating because I don’t have anything better to do.  A lot of the food I eat is effectively dead calories – come my 11:30 snack, it would be difficult to care less about what I’m eating, because I’m focusing on a programming problem and am just devouring to quell my stomach pains.  If I thought about the foods that I’ve actually focused on, giving active consideration to the delicious taste in my mouth, well, I’d probably be happy if that was as high as 40%.
I mechanically eat a lot.  Most of us do.
So if I’m going to eat something and not pay attention to it, why not put something harmless in my stomach instead of a bag of fried corn chips?
And then, when I have another Michelin restaurant to go to, or another Pupuseria has opened up in Cleveland, I can order and savor, and put the delicious things in my mouth when I need them.
Soylent can be an addition to a diet.
But people are disappointed by this.  “So it’s an Ensure diet,” they say, sighing.  As if they were hoping that Soylent would be the gateway to some grand new world of doing things, and all I’ve done is put a glossy hi-tech coat on the old Slim-Fast routine.
Yet that’s the way our eating habits work.  We adapt and ingest.
Which is why Gini and I ordered another two-week supply of Soylent this weekend.  I don’t think we’re going to go Gray Goop all the time, but we are going to try Soylent as a Sometimes-Food, that glass of muck that staves off the mindless hunger, so we can focus on the food that we choose to eat.  And that will probably be healthier than whoops, Ferrett makes another two turkeyburgers swimming with mayo, and chomps them down absently while he’s trying to figure out why this absolutely-positioned CSS element isn’t where he wants it to be on this web page.
That all depends on Soylent shipping, of course.  They claim 1-2 weeks for prior members.  They also claim 1 month for newbies, and if you’ll recall it took us five months to get our first shipment. So if we’re lucky, we get our Soylent by December.
(They are a remarkably inefficient company, when it comes to shipping.  We may go open-source.  But in their defense, were I a venture capitalist, I’d be veeeery reluctant to say, “Soylent orders are exploding!  Hire two hundred people!  Put all hands on deck for this, as the future will be Soylent!”  I suspect they’re viewing this Soylent rush as being akin to a Tamagotchi craze or a Pet Rock, this freakish wave of attention that will soon subside, and they don’t want to expand so rapidly they fall apart.)
But Gini and I haven’t been eating much.  We’re supposed to consume a full pitcher, each, daily, and we’ve been going through maybe a pitcher and a half.  We still have several bags left.  So though today is technically the end as of one o’clock, we’ll be running out the clock to finish what’s left of this.
Because honestly?  It’s not nearly as hard to drink this full-time as we’d thought.
LATER: So What Happens When You Switch Back?

3 Comments

  1. ShawnJ
    Nov 18, 2014

    But in a way, even that removal of mechanical junk eating is revolutionary. The problem with Ensure is that it doesn’t contain all of the nutrients one would need. Soylent allows people to say, “I can feel confident that my nutritional needs are being fulfilled through this” while letting them enjoy food when they want it, not for body fuel.
    For example, you drink it in the mornings and maybe at lunch (unless you have a social lunch planned) and in the afternoon, but when you get home in the evening you can focus on making enjoyable food rather than food of sustenance. It essentially turns all food into pleasure foods, because there is no need to bulk up on calories or eat something awful for the nutrients when you already have it covered. No longer are you burdened by having to balance pleasure food and sustaining food, because if 75% of what you eat is Soylent, you can be really choosy about what you eat.
    That’s what’s most exciting for me about it. It removes the mindless impulsiveness from food choice and allows you to only eat when it is social or when it is entirely pleasurable. It’s the ultimate convenience food that can leave you feeling good about the choice.
    I’ve been waiting to see what people’s reactions to it have been, but I think now is the time to look into getting some.

  2. Don Simpson
    Nov 18, 2014

    Thank you, Ferrett, for doing this; I’ve been curious about Soylent, and it’s good to have someone who likes food and knows how to write do a proper food review of it.
    Things like the three-hour cycle, throat gunking, and stuff settling out, can likely be fixed in the future, maybe with something like the mixed-desolve-time microencapsulants some medicines and vitamin pills are using. But it looks to be viable for now.
    I would likely try flavoring Soylent with a little cinnamon or rosemary or whatever; hard to say without actually trying some myself, and maybe unwanted in something that’ said substitute for eating. Since I am currently cooking for people, I don’t believe I am ready to try it yet, but I will be thinking about it….

    • JenO
      Nov 21, 2014

      We’re on week two (ish) of trying out the Soylent Diet. We haven’t gone full diet, I’ve been eating breakfast then Soylent the rest of the day. I suspect I’ll keep going with one regular meal a day.
      But in reply to Don, I nearly couldn’t stand the stuff at first, couldn’t get past the gritty feeling. However, I added some PB2 (powdered peanut butter) and it was WAY better. Maybe because you expect that with a peanut butter shake of any sort. Chocolate syrup is good, too, but now we’re adding stuff that isn’t particularly healthy. I like cinnamon, and cinnamon+nutmeg. Nothing I’ve tried that’s savory (like the rosemary) has been any good. It’s too much in the realm of oatmeal I think, it’s tricky to add anything to it without it just seeming weird.
      I just ordered another 28 packs. I am a HORRIBLE stress eater (with two little kids) and this has completely shut that off for me. After noon, nothing but Soylent. (assuming there’s nothing social going on in my evening) Now I only eat if I’m actually hungry, rather than just bored, stressed, or wanting a treat.

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