A new product from Silicon Valley promises what, until now, was only a plotline in dystopian science fiction movies. A meal replacement called Soylent has been developed by Rob Rhinehart, a software developer, who was tired of using time and effort to prepare and consume meals.
The name is a nod to Soylent Green, a classic 1973 science fiction movie set in a future where people subsist on a food replacement that turns out to be made from human remains.
''This is something you're supposed to be able to drink for the rest of your life with no bad things happening to you.' - Jesse Lupini
Earlier in 2013, Rhinehart successfully raised millions of dollars through crowdfunding and venture capital to make his product a reality, and he will begin shipping it next year.
Jesse Lupini works at a tech firm in Victoria, B.C., and he's been making his own version of Soylent and doling it out to colleagues. For a month, Lupini has been having at least one homemade Soylent meal a day, but says his liquid lunch pales in comparison to Rhinehart's concoction.
"He's a software engineer," Lupini says. "He knew nothing about nutrition, he wanted to save time. In startup tech culture there is a lot of an attitude of get it done, pedal to the metal. And a lot of these people feel they don't have time for little things in life like eating. Go to any startup and you'll see people working all night, putting in crazy hours and not getting fed well enough."
Lupini's homemade Soylent is a highly calibrated concoction of vitamin and mineral powders, protein, maltodextrin (a type of starch often used as thickener), oats and soy. It's whisked together with water to create a milkshake-like beverage that tastes something like oatmeal porridge.
It's not much different from meal replacement products that are readily available in cans and often used by people undergoing various medical treatments that make it difficult to eat real food.
But Soylent has a fundamental difference, if not practically, at least in philosophy — it is intended by its inventors to be a real replacement for that old fashioned notion of growing, shipping, cooking and eating food.
"The ideology behind Soylent is not temporary, to keep yourself sustained while you don't have access to food. This is something you're supposed to be able to drink for the rest of your life with no bad things happening to you," Lupini explains.
"There are so many micronutrients that are really important for us on a daily basis, it's taken Rhinehart a really long time to come up with his version of it. In the first few months of only drinking this stuff, he had a bunch of joint issues and then had some iron deficiency issues and he kept having to change his own recipe."
People in the medical and scientific community are worried the inventors of Soylent are making too many bold assumptions about nutrient ingestion and absorption. In short, they are concerned that a highly engineered diet made by software developers may not be enough to maintain long-term health.