Soylent, a food substitute, has become an unconventional way to refuel for people that dislike the cost and effort of eating food. But Soylent sales are now up by 300 percent according to a Bloomberg article. This “food technology” has found its place among busy and budget-conscious Cal Poly students as well.
Soylent was developed in the Silicon Valley by a group of entrepreneurs who combined powdered ingredients, water and oil to create a nutritious meal that meets the recommended intake of 2,000 calories per day. Beyond overloaded coders, Soylent has become an alternative for students like business administration junior Ken Grodin, who was looking to streamline his food intake.
“I took some time before taking the plunge, but I had always been interested in a product that could replace everything we eat,” Grodin said.
Soylent promises to have “maximum nutrition with minimum effort,” according to its website. This convenience factor is why Soylent appeals to college students, computer science sophomore Atticus Liu said.
“It’s often talked about in the computer science and programming communities,” Liu said. “I think Soylent is especially great for college students just because we’re so busy on a day-to-day basis, and we don’t have the financial means to constantly go out and eat.”
Arlene Grant-Holcomb, director of the didactic program in dietetics at Cal Poly and food science and nutrition lecturer said she understands why Soylent could be viewed as beneficial for college students, but said the trend won’t last.
“My suspicion is that they would probably get tired of it pretty quickly, and turn to the things that are more tasty and comforting,” Grant-Holcomb said.
Grodin said Soylent is difficult to compare to food taste-wise, but the practicality trumps its palatability.
“It took two or three days to get used to the taste, but it’s not a miracle product, it’s just the difference between mixing a powder in water and making a sandwich,” Grodin said.
Liu also said Soylent’s redeeming quality is its practicality.
“Soylent is one of those things that’s just made to get the job done, nothing more, nothing less,” Liu said.
Grant-Holcomb wouldn’t recommend an all-out conversion to Soylent, but said that it could replace a meal or two a day, even if she views it as less than desirable.
“Nutritionally, it can replace a meal, practically, I don’t know,” Grant-Holcomb said. “There is so much more to food than just nutrition, so I think people will always come back to food.”
Besides Soylent’s short-term problems, many are also concerned that the beverage is not a safe nutritional diet for an individual’s long-term eating habits.
“The biggest downside is that there is a lack of studies over the long-term effects of Soylent,” Grodin said.
Grant-Holcomb also sees challenges with a longstanding switch to Soylent.
“There may be nutrients we need that come from foods that haven’t yet been discovered. So, when someone turns to a formulated product for nutrition, there may be something that they are missing out on.”
Soylent gets its name from Harry Harrison’s 1966 science fiction novel “Make Room! Make Room!” which was adapted into the 1973 film, “Soylent Green.” The movie shows a dystopian future overrun by pollution and overpopulation. During the course of the film, society lives off of wafers called Soylent Green.
Though Soylent is not as popular as the futuristic sustenance it’s named after (and lacks the secret ingredient revealed at the end of the film), Soylent’s website states that “it is inspired by the idea that we must have an eye toward sustainable food sources as the world’s population growth increasingly taxes our resources.”
Grant-Holcomb said she understands why emerging foods might point to sustainability as a selling point, but doesn’t think the food industry will undergo radical changes.
“There will be increasing pressure for foods that are more convenient. Who knows what our food supply is going to look like 100 years from now, and where we might need to turn.” Grant-Holcomb said. “But we have such wonderful agricultural technology and an ability to produce food in such large quantities and varieties that I think as those segments improve, we’re just going to see more good whole food more readily available to consumers.”
Grodin was also skeptical of Soylent’s sustainability claims.
“I think it’s interesting and a lot of fun to talk about, but in reality I don’t see Soylent as having a big impact,” Grodin said. “A lot of people talk about sustainability and all these food issues in the world as far as health, but I don’t see Soylent have a big impact on these issues.”
Liu said he has a more optimistic view of the future of Soylent.
“People are still warming up to the idea of not eating food on a daily basis,” Liu said. “But I think in the near future people will let things like a meal replacement in a bottle become reality and not just something for a niche group.”