There’s this guy, he decided one day that he never wanted to eat again, so he didn’t. Seven months on and rather than wasting away or dying Rob Rhinehart is set to make a LOT of money. Remember that name!
Have I got you hooked? Good, he’s an engineer from atlanta which might explain his views on food! He’s very busy and says that he didn’t like food much to start with, explaining that “there’s a difference between eating and dining”. The engineer wanted to find the fastest most efficient method for fueling his body. He did a lot of research before combining a number of powdered nutrients and minerals with water and oil, a concoction that he named “Soylent”.
The product now has over $1 million worth of pre-orders and has far-reaching applications and consequences. This may be the start of a new era in fighting obesity in the developed world and starvation in the developing one. There have been meal-replacements but never a food-replacement on the market. So
While I think this product is a positive development overall, as a dietetics & nutrition student a lot of immediate questions and concerns pop into my head such as:
1. What about chewing?
Rhinehart glosses over this, seemingly unaware of the physiology involved with satiation. This is despite admitting extensive research was done before picking up the tools as they were, giving it a whirl … then a chug. Chewing can be an important factor in feeling full for some people, which is lost on a liquid diet. Rhinehart offers chewing gum and eating meals occasionally as his best guess in combating this for the moment.
Research into the effect of liquids over solids for satiation are inconclusive but is leaning towards solids (here and here). My thoughts are that there will be a sensitisation effect that is so often seen in all parts of physiology whereby the body will become satiated with the liquid-meals after a period of time. I’m not sure what would happen for those still consuming normal meals as well as Soylent meals. That is, I’m not sure that there would be any sensitisation so the consumer may go on to remain hungry after their Soylent meal.
2. The name
When I first told a friend about the product they laughed, and I don’t blame them. Gen Y and Z are the ironic generations after all right? Where everything has to be done, said, eaten, listened to ironically? Well I say not this (in my best high-and-mighty authoritative voice). My first thought was how degrading it will be when the starving masses get this product. Or when the obese/overweight are prescribed in by their doctor or given it during hospital stays. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these people should not get the product, rather that our most vulnerable should be treated like human beings and with the same respect as all people deserve. They shouldn’t be the subject of cruel jokes that normalise their treatment as second-class citizens of the world. While Rhinehart reminds us that the 1966 novel ‘Make Room! Make Room!’ on which the 1973 film was based, does not contain human-derived food products. But I ask which version is ingrained in our heads? (The film) I thought so.
3. A turning point
In some ways the production of this product and the billionaire that creates will signal the end of an era; the era of whole foods. While I don’t mean to say we’ll be on Soylent in the next few years, but I believe Soylent will ingrain itself in certain niches of society: prisons, hospitals, school camps, and the defence force. But most of all I think unfortunately, everyday people living on a low income (like the lady at the checkout, the bus driver, and students) could become soylent-dependent. Just think for a moment on the social ramifications of that. It would be a big addition to the class divide which has been building for quite some time; the very rich and everyone else. We might inadvertently find ourselves in a famous 1973 film. If we’re not careful that is.
It feels a bit like this is the start of society giving up on feeding the world. Have we become too desensitized the world’s problems? The starving? The malnourished? Are some problems are just too big and too far removed from economics for market-based societies? For me if Soylent is given to developing countries for their starved then we are doomed anyway, how will we retain knowledge of farming and remain self-sufficient? We’ve stopped aiming for the best-case scenario and started to accept the bare-minimum, and that’s in every aspect of our lives.
With each population boom farming and agriculture has become more innovative, more efficient, and met the challenge. Most recently this has taken the form of GM crops such as golden rice and Monsanto’s round-up ready Canola. These are complex but controversial products in an ever more competitive industry, have we reached our limits in farming innovation and efficiency? Maybe we should start aiming for self-sufficiently, I’ve heard of people being able to live off relatively small plots of land, which might just be the best option!
Until next time!
Please remember that I’m a dietetics STUDENT, so none of my opinions should be trusted! PLEASE consult an Accredited Practising Dietitian or your GP before applying anything discussed in this blog to your diet or exercise regime
Rob Rhinehart’s blog
Inconclusive evidence for satiation
E. Almiron-Roig, Y. Chen and A. Drewnowski. (2003). Liquid calories and the failure of satiety: how good is the evidence?. Obesity Reviews. 4 (1), p201-212.
Leaning towards solids over liquids
An Pan and Frank B. Hu. (2011). Effects of carbohydrates on satiety: differences between liquid and solid food. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 14 (1), 385-390.