I was very interested to read about Soylent – an experiment by an individual in replacing eating with a simple drink consisting of all the necessary macronutrients and micronutrients sourced as individual chemicals.
This is all the fellow lived on for a month and he’s taking this ‘on the road’ so to speak as he is offering this concoction with other people to learn more about it through other people’s experience with it.
I applaud his N=1 research in this, as he is trying to solve what is to him, dual issues: optimal feeding as well as getting back all that time and money spent prepping food. He takes the approach that eating is somewhat outdated and might be done only for ‘sport’ in that it remains an option for social events rather than something he must do every day – sort of like people use to hunt and fish to sustain themselves but now mostly do it for the pleasure of the act itself.
I don’t want to debate hunting with that last paragraph, nor do I want to debate the joy of eating. Me and him would come down on opposite sides on this subject of eating, and I am not a hunter though I am not inclined to prevent others from doing so if they choose to, but that does not make his experiment any less interesting just because I would not, by my inclination, want to participate.
I do have 2 concerns, however. The first is that he is crafting a concoction that contains all known vital nutrients. This, by definition, leaves out any unknown vital nutrients and assumes that science has got that part pretty much all figured out.
I don’t believe that we do. As just one example I believe it was Michael Pollan who said something of the sort that the history of baby formula is the history of a failure to understand what nutrients were needed for a baby to grow properly. If history tells us anything, it tells us that baby formula will morph yet again in the future and the baby formulas of today will be found somehow lacking.
The difference between baby formula and Soylent is that baby formulas are only used for the time before babies move to solid food. If there is something lacking up until then, it might not be critical to survival because when real food arrives in the diet, these unknown vital nutrients appear and the situation corrects itself.
Not so with Soylent. If the assumption is that it is all you need to live on, you are placing your faith in science knowing this absolutely – which I don’t. Some deficiencies can take only weeks to manifest themselves, some months. The ones that take years and decades are harder to tease out. I personally think it safer to eat real food than to subsist solely on what science thinks we need to maintain health.
The next big one is: how does he know that the various powders and liquids are what they say they are, in the right concentrations, and have no contamination? As the gentleman mentions, selenium and magnesium, in too high amounts, can wreak havoc on a person. What if a particular batch is twice the strength of what the label says due to a labeling error or just sloppy controls in manufacture? Or what if there are contaminants – unsuspected and with unknown side effects over the long-term?
There is a ‘chain of trust’ in each step that white powder or liquid takes from the factory where it is produced to his kitchen table/lab. Read up on the adulteration of olive oil and how most people don’t know what the real deal tastes like – then multiply that by this fellow’s entire list of ingredients.
There is also the notion that chemicals rendered from their original substances have been ‘denatured’ in the sense that they no longer resemble what they were crafted from. As one example, I had read that making powdered milk alters the proteins in a way cause them to act differently in the body, so that powered milk is not simply milk with the fat and water removed but something very different indeed. Continuing on milk, I have also heard the homogenization, which takes the yummy cream that usually separates and rises to the top of the bottle and pushes it through a sieve actually rips apart the molecules, again changing the nature of what ‘milk’ is. If this is better for you or worse for you might be open to debate, but what can’t be argued is that a concoction from a chemistry set can’t duplicate unknown benefits yet to be discovered in foods closer to what we were designed to eat.
One thing about ‘living foods’ – ones that are only recently deceased or are even still alive as some plants and vegetables are – is that the recent presence of life means that their substance can’t be contaminated to the point that extinguishes life. It’s a bit of a guarantee that what you are eating isn’t a complete and total poison – life was sustained on whatever the heck it consisted of not too long before you ate it.
So while I’m intrigued by this fellow’s experiment, I would politely decline any invite to participate while wishing him well.
If you are interested in learning more about Rob Rhinehart’s experiment, here’s a much better article than this one on the subject.