The Soylent Subculture: 10 People Tell Us What It's Like Living on Powdered Food

Business Insider

Soylent is a powered food substitute that, for some, changes everything from your daily routine to your health.

In a 2013 blog post titled "How I Stopped Eating Food," founder Rob Rhinehart calls out conventional food — meat, produce, everything in a grocery store — as the "fossil fuel of human energy." Rhinehart enjoyed the occasional meal with friends but mostly found eating to be a wasteful expenditure of time and money.

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Soylent Rob Rhinehart

Josh Edelson / Getty Images

Intent on doing better, he began an experiment consuming only the chemical components your body needs to survive. Carbohydrates instead of bread, amino acids instead of milk, and so on. Not only did his homemade mixture of stuff (he named it "Soylent") keep him alive, he thrived: "My physique has noticeably improved, my skin is clearer, my teeth whiter, my hair thicker and my dandruff gone."

Naturally, people were intent to try this for themselves. Rhinehart and company set up a crowdfunding campaign, selling $100,000 worth of pre-orders in the first hour and ultimately seeing some $3 million in total. A single serving costs roughly $4.

Now that Soylent has been out in the world for a while, we thought we'd check in with Soylent users around the country to get their take on this miracle foodstuff:

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Kelly Heikkila

Kelly Heikkila: I got it right away, but I think what people "get" varies from person to person. I get that it's an easy, healthy way to avoid making poor food choices. That's why I bought it. I don't "get" the other more high-minded thing Rob and other fanboys are saying about how this changes everything, will bring food to the poor, etc.

I think Soylent will resonate with two primary camps: 1. The "hacker" culture, largely male, smart, curious, opinionated, vocal, willing to take risks, probably not fixated on food to begin with. 2. The overweight crowd, wanting to find a way to reprogram themselves to keep them from eating that bacon burger. I hate to say it, but this is me.

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Wesley Cheng

Wesley Cheng

Wesley Cheng: Most of the people I know that are aware of my Soylent use have been supportive and curious. I think some are waiting to see if I spontaneously combust, but I'm feeling fine so far. For me, there are three main aspects of eating: social, nutritional, and taste. I use Soylent for any meal that I don't share with other people or if there is nothing available that I specifically enjoy eating.

I believe it is a brilliant idea and something that could be revolutionary if it catches on. Not only does it make it easier for people to eat healthily, but it's also relatively cost effective. If Soylent can ramp up its production and lower its costs further, it has the potential to greatly impact world hunger and nutritional deficits.

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John Bardinelli

John Bardinelli: Back in early 2013, a few articles about Rob Rhinehart and his crazy food replacement started appearing on the internet. There were headlines like "This Man Thinks He Never Has To Eat Again." That got my attention! The more I read about it the more interested I became.

Physically I've been much more energetic, even though I spontaneously stopped drinking coffee. I didn't have any problem working out three times a week, though after a month I did need to increase my protein intake to prevent post-gym crashes. I lost about 10 pounds in all. My sleeping habits also improved, as has my daily routine. That could be explained by the simple fact that the ritual of food has changed, though. Living on Soylent was all positive for me. I didn't have any trouble transitioning from food to Soylent. No cravings, and no weird digestive issues, either.

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Annie Kang

Annie Kang

Annie Kang: I heard it on the same day from multiple coworkers and ex-coworkers on Facebook. My social feed was filled with links to the Soylent project and friends posting how they just became early backers. We talked about it all day, talking about how convenient it would be, how we all wished that we would become advanced enough to take our food in pill form (sci-fi!).

My two closest female friends are weirded out and they think it's insane. I tell them it's just nutrition in another form. They relate it to some sort of strange diet fad (like those weird lemon and red pepper drinks that people do sometimes). It's alien to them. Interestingly enough, all my male friends in the tech fields are all really curious and accepting of this. A few others are curious, but they want to see if I'll die before they try it.

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John L.

John L.

John L.: Usually the response is a combination of "Why would you want to do this?" and "How can you give up real food?"

For the former, I am pretty good at articulating the reasons that a person would be interested in such a thing, because in today's world they apply to almost everyone. Who doesn't want to save time, money and get healthy?

And for the latter, once the false dichotomy of "100% soylent or nothing" is dispensed with, people start to understand the convenience of a fully nutritional meal that takes seconds to prepare and stays good for a year on the shelf.

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Shannon and Jonathan

Shannon and Jonathan

Shannon and Jonathan: We are located in Silicon Valley, California, executives in our 40s, busy cat parents running a digital marketing & software development company. Soylent fills the role in our lives that we want it to fill. It's fantastic and hits all the most important points — convenience, taste, nutrition, and cost. Basically, everyone who has a busy life knows what it's like to work really intensely on something and suddenly realize, "Oh crap, I haven't eaten anything in way too long."

The one "negative" I guess would be gas, which appears to be a very common thread amongst Soylent drinkers. The prevailing theory is that it's due to either the sudden increase in fiber, or protein. Doesn't seem to affect everyone though so it must have something to do with the person's previous diet too. For us it mostly went away after about a week to 10 days. I still have a little from time to time, but nothing catastrophic.

Since we don't have to spend time preparing food we actually get more free time to talk or interact in any way we want. We still go out to eat any time we feel like it, and thoroughly enjoy those times because they are completely optional. We never find ourselves saying, "I'm starving and don't feel like I can deal with cooking anything, let's just go out to eat." Instead we go out to eat because we just want a particular thing, and want to spend some time together away from the house.Soylent has put food entirely on our terms, and our relationship is definitely benefiting from that. So as you can see, it's not so obvious as "When I drink Soylent our sex life is so much better!" or anything like that. It's a ripple effect that Soylent starts, but that sends waves out into every aspect of our lives.

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Stephen Espy

Stephen Espy

Stephen Espy: I'm a software architect at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee in my early 40's, overweight. I'm active for a technology professional, but that is not a very good standard. I keep thinking I will try a week or a month at 100% Soylent, but I really just end up right at 2/3 of my intake coming from the product.

Before Soylent I only rarely ate breakfast, and lunch was not very likely either. But I certainly made up for it at dinner, and felt bad when not eating, then felt bad after eating. I'm skeptical of it becoming the solution to worldwide hunger, to prison or hospital or military rations. But it has value to me.

The main payouts for me have been arriving at a way to have a continual supply of calories and continuous mild satisfaction without eating meals until the end of the day. It is not unpleasant and after a week it became slightly enjoyable to consume. It is quite convenient, and cheap to boot. Being perfectly happy with only one good, normal meal a day is easily worth the $6-8 a day it takes to make it to dinner. I don't suddenly feel energized, tired, alert, or smart. But I don't have swings up and down because of food. That's a pretty big deal. I've dropped a few pounds, which is a nice bonus. And I will be signing up for a subscription. I think I will be in this for quite some time.

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David Deutsch

David Deutsch

David Deutsch: I am the CTO of a mid-sized telecommunications company and the only remote worker among our employees. I'm 37, long-term overweight due to my 96+ work hour weeks, married, and importantly a long-term sufferer of digestive issues that have prevented me from working in traditional office environments.

I would say that the reason I haven't tried many diets in the past is my need to deeply understand the science behind them. It kept me away from Herbalife, green coffee extract, and other products I would definitely put into the "fad" category. However with Soylent, I saw that the scientific intent at least made sense.

Day 1-3: No gas. Day 4-9: Lots of gas, lots... Day 10-12: A significant reduction in gas, getting back to normal.

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Bradley Richardson

Bradley Richardson

Bradley Richardson: I wasn't too skeptical [of Soylent] because at first they weren't trying to sell me anything. It was a very methodical approach to nutrition and I really liked it. It made sense and I generally do not give in to the fear/unknown/danger arguments over things I don't understand, so all it did was push me to do my own research. [When Soylent did its crowdfunding], I took a look at what they were selling. It was simple and straightforward and something I could easily get behind. They were very open about things every step of the way and promoted the DIY community to do it themselves.

The benefit with having Soylent is that I am able to choose the meals that will consist of food and plan accordingly. There is no more rushing around and having to eat bad/unhealthy food because I am hungry and don't have the time/money to eat as well as I want to for every meal.

Cooking is not a chore that must be completed and cleaned up after every single night. Instead, I find a new recipe to cook for the weekends and take the time to enjoy making and eating it.

I just notice that I feel better, my weight has stabilized, and I enjoy the time after I finish eating. I never liked how bloated eating made me feel. I got icky, became a vegetarian, but still haven't found anything that makes me feel as good after eating. I do miss some foods and tastes sometimes, but when I do eat, I still prefer Soylent after. I definitely plan on keeping it a staple. If I travel I will indulge in local cuisine more but from the standpoint of being healthy, this outshines everything except the home cooked meals I do once or twice a week.



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