When you spend 3 hours making a nice homemade meal, don’t hashtag it foodporn, appreciate it. That’s like foodcommitment or foodrelationship or at least foodsex. Same thing with dropping a week’s paycheque at a restaurant, that’s more like foodescort. Real foodporn is all about maximizing some specific utility of food while being as far away from real food as possible. You might ask yourself if you even ate, because it happened so fast and you’re pretty sure that’s not what real food is supposed to be like, but you don’t care anyway cuz sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.
Okay this analogy is getting a bit out of hand. I present to you: the real foodporn.
Soylent. Truly, #foodporn.
What is that you say? That, my friend, is a bag of graduate-student-fuel, good for 3 meals. Otherwise known as Soylent. For those of you that are not familiar with this modern miracle, it is a meal replacement powder that touts itself as nutritionally complete. In fact, it’s more like a “meal” than a “meal replacement”. You can check out their story on the website, but basically, the guy that invented this was tired of wasting time cooking real food everyday, so like every good engineer, he drew a blackbox over what used to be “meals” and tried to come up with its equivalent. I wouldn’t be surprise if he literally drew an input-output diagram at some point and labelled the filter function as “food”. I guess in that case the food would be input and your stomach would be the filter… In any case, he found all the daily-required nutrients and mixed them up, sustained himself for thirty days with nothing but that magical powder and water. After successfully not dying, he proceeded to call it the most unfortunate (or ironic) name you could possibly give it (if you don’t know, Google “soylent green”, spoiler: it’s made of people) and started a Kickstarter campaign to commercialize it. It was so well-received that people gave him $750,000 so they, too, can stop eating real food and just drink goo.
Why am I writing about it? Well, I’d actually heard about this when it came out and I was working at Interaxon around the time, having very similar food conundrums as that dude. But, I remember thinking to myself, golly, that’s another modern miracle that I’d never experiment with. Fast forward two years to March 2015. I’m 8 months into a PhD and decided that fresh groceries in La Jolla, California is so ridiculously expensive that I’d rather eat out everyday for lunch and still break even and save tons of time from cooking. After just a week of eating sodium-packed and fat-dripped campus food (only for lunch!!!), though, I felt bloated, lethargic, and pretty much hated myself and the limited selection of food vendors on campus. I don’t remember how exactly, but this miraculous powder popped back into my life (like all other good things, probably over Facebook), and this time around, I decided that not experimenting is for whimps and pretty much YOLO. Also, two years without a lawsuit or news headline saying “dumbass died because he drank powder for a month” was thumbs up enough for me. So, I went ahead and ordered a box of 7 bags, which is conveniently 7x3= 21 meals for a lowly price of $85. It even came with a bitchin’ jug. If you’re doing the math, that’s a hair over $4 a meal, and if you get the most economical package, i.e. 4 weeks worth of it, it comes to be less than $3 a meal. WHAT?
My first box of soylent, and a free mixing jug :D
It is now July 2015, and I’ve been eating Soylent consistently for weekday lunch (and sometimes breakfast) since the first plunge into this experiment against humanity, except for a month in the middle, where I was back in the motherland (that’s Toronto) for two weeks eating homecooked food that was cooked for me but not by me so I really can’t complain, and two weeks in Berkeley where I thought I’d revisit eating campus food everyday - still feels like shit, no matter how tasty. So anyway, countless number of people have written about their powder-fueled journey, there’s a whole subReddit dedicated to it and it’s ubiquitously the first place people check when their poo comes out to be a different color/texture than expected (more on that later). But I thought I’d just jot down some of my own experiences, for good times’ sake, and maybe 500 years later someone will dig up my blog and wonder why the fuck didn’t I write about eating actual food because who still does that?
In theory, Soylent is the future, it’s as simple as that. A bag clocks about 2000 calories, the average intake requirement for an average sized person, as well as the recommended amount of minerals and vitamins and the whole shebang. Now, I’m not a food and nutrition expert, so definitely don’t take this as the word of God on whether it is entirely safe to eat Soylent. But like I said, a) two years went by with no incidents and b) there is a whole subreddit for it where people talk about their experience. I did, however, check out the nutrition content, and as far as I can tell, it’s all good in the hood. I’m definitely getting more of the obscure minerals from drinking Soylent. Now, I’d feel a bit different if I was eating ONLY Soylent, 3 meals a day, but I’m not. And I am comforted by my hypothesis that whatever Soylent is lacking (or in excess), it’s probably not as bad as a Burger King combo or your favorite under-$10 campus lunch, which was what I was willing to eat on a daily basis. You mix the powder with water, shake it up, chill it for a few hours (optional but highly recommended), and voila.
If it sounds magical, it’s because it really is. Again, the conversation with regards to your physical and mental health is probably different if you’re only eating Soylent, but for one or two meals a day, the only thing you could ask for is possibly some flavor. Obviously, this removes the hassle of packing a lunch everyday, or spending extra money to eat unhealthy food at school. But the thing that really keeps me coming back is how good I feel after consuming it. People were wondering whether you get full: yes, you get full. But you don’t get bloated, and you don’t get the post-lunch itis/lull that you’d normally get. It’s as if someone magically cured you of your hunger. Maybe it’s not so much the magic of Soylent, but an indication that I was eating way too much for lunch. This is definitely a possibility, as I get hungry faster now, but the good thing is that I can just bring a bigger jug of it and drink half for my AM lunch and half for my PM lunch.
The reality is pretty much in line with the theory, with some practical caveats. First of all, it doesn’t taste great. It doesn’t taste BAD, but it’s not good either. It’s like, I don’t know, the most average taste you can imagine, which is surprisingly close to unsalted porridge, or if you’re Asian like me, freshly ground soy milk. If fact, the color is about as average as you can find, too, kind of like a oatmeal smoothie mixed with soy milk. What do you know, that’s also the description for its texture. Now I’m starting to think it’s just ground up oatmeal with soy milk.
I gotta know what a $5 dollar shake tastes like.
It appears that some people rather like the taste, and even become fond of it. For those of us that don’t, there is a wide range of condiments one could add to it. A friend of mine suggested Hershey (or Nesquik) chocolate syrup, as well as peanut butter powder. I tried Nestle vanilla Coffee Mate the other day, that was REALLY good, for about a quarter of the cup, then it tasted like I’m eating vanilla extract. The point is, I don’t think the flavor is going to be the deal breaker for anyone, especially if you have normal food in your life.
While I’m on the topic, I’m just gonna lay it out right here. Guys, I eat regular food still. Everyday. Breakfast and dinner, and all three meals on the weekend. Also, JUST BECAUSE I’m drinking goo on the daily, doesn’t mean I don’t have culinary standards still. I’m just breaking up the meal into its functional components: there is the part where I have to feed myself and keep myself alive, but there is also the part where I like to eat yummy things, and also cheap things. Sometimes one overrides the other, which is when I go out for a nice dirty fastfood burger. It’s like, just because you have a pair of really comfortable sneakers that you’d rather wear everywhere, you still need dress shoes every now and then or you’ll look like a fool. Soylent is my pair of golden dress shoes. Actually, it’s probably the other way around.
Also, it’s worth noting the reaction I get from people when I first tell them
that I’m on a partial Soylent diet (and describe what it is for folks that
don’t know). They largely come in three varieties:
1) “Where do I sign up? This is like the greatest thing ever, where do I sign up?”
2) “Why do you hate yourself? Do you like taking out the fun in everything? Did you have a traumatic childhood or something?”
3) “Haha you’re eating people.”
Okay, here comes the most important bit of information if you’re looking to try Soylent. If you can’t handle graphic descriptions, just skip the next two paragraphs entirely, but I highly recommend reading it if you’re considering taking the plunge: YES, you get gassy, and your shit is going to be really weird.
Let’s talk about the gas first. For those of you that know me, I’m a pretty regular guy, and I’d say I’m pretty polite too. For those of you that know me better, I’m gassy as hell. I don’t know what it is, my hypothesis is that I eat too fast and swallow too much air, because my farts are usually not smelly at all unless I ate some kind of ethnic food or another, but they ARE usually very loud. Okay that’s regular Richard. Soylent Richard is a different beast. I hate to use the same old cliche, but it becomes silent and deadly. The first night after drinking Soylent, I almost killed myself in bed, and I dreamt that I was being gassed to death. This is 100% true story. Also, you will experience stomach grumbling and bloating. Not much, but noticeable. Like, if you were writing an afternoon exam, your neighbor would be slightly concerned (rightfully so because he’s about to be gassed to death).
That’s the bark, now let’s talk about the bite. Think about it like this: your poo is usually solid, that means something solid should have contributed to the structure. Now you replace said solid with a thick liquid with no discernible formation, what would you expect to happen? Well, one of two things, and to everyone’s relief, it’s not diarrhea, there isn’t enough liquid for that to happen, at least not for me. What does happen is that it becomes more difficult to poop, and they come out pretty much like clumps of what went in, that’s as much as I’m willing to describe. If you want more gory details, check out the subreddit, or the Soylent community page. I definitely learned something new perusing the forums, like what a Bristol stool scale is. In any case, it’s not pleasant, but it’s not life-threatening or anything. Again, this was all personal experience, as some people seem to be perfectly fine with it. I think my colons are too straight or something, so two meals don’t really have a chance to meet up and say hello, and what is solid remains solid and what is Soylent remains Soylent.
If the backend problems have alerted you, fear not, as I have stumbled upon the perfect antidote: celery. I bought a bag of celery last week as a healthy snack after binge eating campus food in Berkeley, to my pleasant surprise, it completely fixed everything: the bloat, the gas, and the poop. I honestly wouldn’t even know that I was drinking Soylent for lunch just judging by the lack of partying in my stomach and how sturdy my….okay. In hindsight, that should have been the first thing I tried, since celery is literally water and fibre. So now, instead of goo, I have fibre-weaved goo for lunch. Amazing. So if you’re experiencing gastrointestinal problems while consuming Soylent, you’re not alone, and celery is literally your best friend. I imagine though any fibrous fruits or veggies will do just fine.
Well, if you are too lazy to make lunch everyday, too sane to eat shit lunch everyday, or are too poor to purchase “healthy” lunches everyday, Soylent is for you. For me, I usually make a big batch of food for the week’s dinner so that’s not a problem, and breakfast is a simple oatmeal and egg and toast or something, though it’s really convenient to be able to wake up late and still get a full breakfast on the go: just grab a bottle. Obviously I’m not sponsored by them or anything, or I wouldn’t have told you to gas and poo problems. It’s just a great product that I can stomach and feel somewhat healthy about my life choices…until somebody dies, that is.