FoodMy Shameful Love of Soylent
At first, I was repulsed by the liquid meal replacement. Then I tried it. Then I loved it.
There’s a scene in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me where Austin is telling Felicity Shagwell about the year 1999. Jokingly, he says all the food in the future is in pill form and the planet is ruled by apes, only for her to be horrified. That was me when I first heard about Soylent, Silicon Valley’s meal replacement drink of choice. I was disgusted by the future.
When I first heard of Soylent (on Reddit, of course), users hailed it as an “amazing alternative to food” or a great staple for when you’re too lazy to eat. Soylent isn’t a pill, but an off-white 400-calorie drink with a consistency somewhere between a milkshake and pancake batter. But not unlike the futuristic concept of food in pill form, its only purpose is to make you feel like you just consumed a meal, effectively relieving you of all the enjoyment food can provide. It’s Ensure, but for nerds who prioritize efficiency over pleasure.
My disgust stemmed from many places: the fact that anyone could find themselves “too busy” to eat; that somehow after hundreds of thousands of years, humans decided they needed an alternative to regular food. Humankind didn’t go through the horror of ‘70s food trends only for us to drink pasty, flavorless sludge.
Even though Soylent lovers are the fervent Hamilton fans of food innovation—they’re onto something.
As Soylent gained mainstream popularity, I felt validated for having such a deep hatred. Soon, everyone was making jokes about the company’s eccentric CEO Rob Rhinehart, a man who literally stopped taking shits to save water. Soylent had its place as the butt of jokes about clueless tech-bros. But just as it solidified its place on the internet as one of The Worst Things Ever, I began a sinful relationship with the product.
One day this past summer, my best friend sent me a text message that said, “Someone at work gave me a Soylent and it’s actually pretty good.” I cracked my fingers and began roasting her. “Congratulations,” I said to her, “you’re officially on the wrong side of humanity.” She told me it was so nice to not think about lunch for work, I assured her she was becoming lazy and needed to check herself. She ended up liking it so much she bought a case.
The month of Ramadan was soon approaching, and in Canada that means almost a full day of not eating. Before a day of fasting begins, Muslims usually eat a pre-dawn meal—something I strategically plan for. The first couple of days are always a little difficult, so my friend suggested I take two bottles of Soylent, “just to see.” Hunger can make anyone do crazy things, so I took up her offer and drank it the next morning.
I’m ashamed to admit it worked. I was less hungry than I’d ever been during a summer Ramadan. It was as efficient as all the nerds said, but beyond that, I genuinely fell in love. The thick-yet-smooth texture and its bland cereal milk taste were comforting for some reason. It made me feel like I ate enough food but it didn’t weigh like anything in my stomach. While I was repulsed by the website’s image of a hip Soylent drink, I purchased a case and began looking forward to drinking one every morning before dawn.
Despite becoming a true believer, I felt shame. Mostly because as I quietly immersed myself in the culture surrounding Soylent by obsessively reading Reddit threads, I hated myself for who I’d become. No doubt I was correct about the kind of people who enjoyed Soylent; the diehard fans are still weirdos. A quick look at the Soylent hashtag on Instagram gave me a glimpse into the saddest fridge in the world. I didn’t (and still don’t) want to be associated with the drink and it was difficult to not declare my love for it daily on Twitter. Soon, I began halfheartedly telling people when they’d mention it—testing the waters to see if they would judge me or not. Like a cool-teen with a crush on a band kid I would find myself trying to defend it, “I mean, yeah it’s awful but it seems practical!”
The thing is, even though Soylent lovers are the fervent Hamilton fans of food innovation—they’re onto something. It’s worth buying if you’re someone who sometimes skips meals out of laziness or if Seamless orders frequently make you go over budget. Drinking Soylent at before dawn hit saved me the mental and physical energy of waking up earlier to fry an egg.
But like all crushes go, I have to be honest and live my truth eventually. With Soylent expanding its products to coffee mixed with Soylent (Coffiest) and Food Bars, maybe it is time to let go of my binary ideas of what food should be. Maybe I’ve found a middleground. I don’t have to go full-bro and post on Soylent forums or stop taking shits to save the environment. I have plenty of bad dietary preferences to be ashamed of (I don’t like burritos, fight me), I shouldn’t have to add a genuinely useful food product to that list.