Painful Truth

Painful Truth: Soylent not made for people

It’s people! Soylent Green is made from people! Or not…

Irony is officially dead. I’m calling it. The official date could be any time going back to last year, but let’s say it was August 3, 2015, when Soylent 2.0 was officially announced.

You may have seen Soylent Green, the 1970s movie. Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably heard what’s in the fictional Soylent Green product fed to the masses of an overpopulated future. It’s people! Soylent Green is made from people!

So of course when a bunch of youngish tech-industry entrepreneurs decided to “disrupt” food, they called their product Soylent.

Fortunately, Soylent is not made from people. It’s made from actual soy, and in its latest version, oils from algae, and key vitamins and minerals. It’s a kind of shake, comes in powder or liquid form, and doesn’t spoil at room temperature.

The point of Soylent is to replace food. It’s not for dieting, it’s not a supplement for body builders, it’s not an emergency food intended for famine relief. The idea is to give up on food, or at least on shopping for and cooking anything yourself.

Founder/inventor Rob Rhinehart doesn’t like food. This seems like an unpopular opinion, but it’s been popular enough to get $3 million in crowdfunding, and a round of $20 million of venture capital investment. So clearly there are people who think there’s a market for a food that isn’t a food. Why would Rhinehart do something like this?

“Food is the fossil fuel of human energy,” Rhinhart wrote on his blog. “It is an enormous market full of waste, regulation, and biased allocation with serious geo-political implications. And we’re deeply dependent on it.”

That’s one of those statements you have to stand back a little bit from, just to take it all in. It’s entirely true, of course. We do depend on food, and the politics of food is a giant iceberg of which we see only the tiniest tippy-top.

But it’s also so wildly divergent from the consensus reality that it’s staggering.

“In my own life I resented the time, money and effort the purchase, preparation, consumption, and clean-up of food was consuming,” Rhinehart wrote.

Rhinehart will still go out to dinner at restaurants, on occasion, but Soylent is his primary source of calories. He no longer owns a fridge, or even a kitchen.

Much of the buzz around Soylent has been about this increase in efficiency. You can just slam back a Soylent, bam, you’re done! No tedious cooking! Now you can just devote your time to writing code for 16 hours straight, or stock trading, or lengthy arguments on extropian discussion boards.

There is a kind of ascetic appeal to this kind of purified lifestyle, a radical simplicity. But it also ignores that there might be some social reasons for cooking. Or that some people might like, y’know, something that tastes like something? (Soylent apparently tastes like bland pancake batter.)

More frightening are the long term implications if Soylent gets even cheaper. I can see it being bought in mass quantities by governments for prisoners, soldiers, and especially the poor. Why have expensive kitchens in hospitals and seniors homes when you can just store a few pallets of Soylent? Why allow poor people to choose their own food when we can give them nutrition in a bottle? If welfare bums and pensioners want actual steak once a year, let them start their own crowdfunding campaigns!

Soylent shows one person’s hellish dystopia is another person’s lifehacked utopia. And that the future is already here.


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