Did you take your protein pill, do you have your helmet on? Meet the future of food.
I am a nerd, that means I will spend a week figuring out a hack or shortcut that will save me 90 seconds of time. On a programming level, this seems like a waste of energy, unless you share it and save other people’s time as well. That’s the good intentions behind the “biohack” of a new quasi-food called Soylent, which has raised $1.5 million in venture capital.
Created by Rob Rhinehart, a 25-year old tech entrepreneur who wants to redefine the future of food. According to their campaign, Soylent offers complete nutrition without the toxins of processed food, and will solve the ecological dangers caused by agriculture, the “2 million smoke inhalation deaths due to cooking,” world hunger, and obesity.
Rhinehart’s open-source concoction of oat flour, maltodextrin, whey protein isolate, soybean oil, and supplements is named after “Soylent Green,” the cheap food from the movie of the same name, based on Harry Harrison’s overpopulation scare novel Make Room Make Room. And it is based somewhat on Futurama’s “Bachelor Chow,” the kibble for humans that Fry would eat, a gag on how we’ll eat anything cheap and easy. The selling point? “Now, with flavor!”
The taste of Soylent has been described as semi-digested oatmeal. Now, they say you should add your own flavor but there’s only so much you can do. I’m sure if you added enough peanut butter it would taste great, and clot your colon with a blockage the size and shape of Mr. Peanut. In a culture where kale shakes are described as tasty, this may not sound so bad. I’ve made kale shakes, and it tastes like lawn clippings. Just because you feel healthy and awesome drinking it doesn’t make it taste any less nasty. I’ve put everything in workout shakes from beets, coffee, egg whites, olive oil, cottage cheese, and whatnot. I know guys who put entire eggs in them, shell and all, for the calcium. Chicken breasts (cooked) because it was faster to consume it as a liquid than as a slab of grilled meat.
These things sound manly because they remind us of Rocky and DeNiro as Jake LaMotta eating raw eggs, and dude, they were shredded. But there is really no reason to drink a chicken breast, or sup on slop of oat flour, even if it cuts your daily food budget to $5 a day. Now, I do think we are overdue for an overreaction to the foodie movement and the uberdecadence of ubiquitous bacon, sandwich monstrosities, and every meal approaching the insanity of a Roman feast. But gulping a shake of white goo seems a bit much, especially when meal replacement shakes have existed for decades, and rice and beans are pretty damn cheap in bulk and can be cooked ahead of time, and they offer a complete protein. Some frozen vegetables tossed in, and Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning—which tastes good on everything, including ice cream—and you have a meal that doesn’t taste pre-digested.
While protein isolates and and refined flours such aren’t as bad as processed chicken nuggets make from meat slurry, it is just as processed. And by fingerpointing at agriculture, I wonder in the Soylent crew knows how these things are made? Protein isolates come from a variety of sources. Whey comes from milk. Vegan ones come from pea, rice, hemp, and so on. They all require a massive amount of agriculture and processing, and often higher concentrations of arsenic wind up in whey protein because of the water in the process. Flour is not mined. Of course, if we stopped growing everything except the crap used to make Soylent, or 50% of the world did, we could presumably cut back on agriculture.
Which comes to another question, who gets to give up eating fresh fruit and vegetables to eat Soylent Green? I have a feeling it won’t be rich white programmers. We already have sources of cheap processed food that taste good. Good luck getting people to willingly eat oatmeal goo instead of a cheeseburger. Or replace them with what’s in MREs, and see how that goes. I’ve eaten MRE’s, and let me say this: thank goodness for Tabasco and laxatives. Soldiers, I feel for ya. It would be nice to reduce our intake to a protein pill with phytochemicals and antioxidants and nutrients. But we could solve many of the problems put forth by this campaign by becoming vegetarians or eating much less meat. And this is coming from a die-hard carnivore.
What say you? Are you ready to live on protein shakes?