The online magazine Aeon has a long meditation by food writer Nicola Twilley on the virtues and vices of Soylent, the food substitute that has captured the imaginations of people who don’t like food. Described as a “ ‘thick, odourless, beige liquid’ made up of ‘every substance the body needs to survive, plus a few extras shown to be beneficial’”, the attraction is that by consuming Soylent at every meal you can save all the time devoted to planning, shopping, and consuming food, about 90 minutes a day according to the Bureau of Labor statistics.
Of course the desire to spend less time consuming food is a very long historical trend since the days of grinding your own corn meal or harvesting seeds. Reductions in the time spent preparing and consuming food have made the lives of women immeasurably better. Fast food is a modern necessity in a busy, mobile society built on the logic of efficiency. So there is something thoroughly predictable about Soylent.
As someone who finds food preparation and consumption the highlight of any day I’m clearly not the audience for this product.
But aside from matters of preference, Soylent seems a symptom of a deeply pernicious, modernist tendency to entirely remove nature from our lives.
Twilley runs through a number of costs and benefits if we should widely adopt food replacements to satisfy nutritional needs including the effects it might have on the shape of the face and jaw if we no longer had to chew.
But in the end the sheer monotony of consuming the same thing at every meal is the deal breaker:
However, after five days spent living on 100 per cent Soylent, I can report that its most pressing problem is how downright unpleasant it tastes: like oversweet vanilla body wash, but with the texture of silt. It also has a rather unappetising tendency to separate into a scummy top, oily layer, and dense, mud-like bottom. I lost weight, but only because I found it was more tempting to go to bed hungry than to drink more Soylent.
This just sounds depressing; one more way to strip life of meaning.
Perhaps its nothing more than a novelty that few will find appealing but we should not underestimate the attractions of nihilism.