The average person spends between an hour and 30 minutes eating and drinking per day. While that may seem insignificant (a mere 6% of a 24 hour day), considering the 8½ hours spent sleeping and an additional 4½ on “leisure and sports”, the 90 minutes it takes to eat makes up a sizeable chunk of the time allotted for work and productivity. With this in mind, does this seem like the most efficient use of time if you’re trying to get the most done each day?
Bit by bit, meal-replacement startups are following this efficiency trend. Ambronite is an example of a company in the space, focusing on providing a nutritional supermeal made out of real food: nuts, oats, fruits, and veggies. They see a need for on-demand nutrition, providing a full, balanced meal that can be prepared and consumed in under five minutes. Other meal replacement companies look at sustainable nutrition in the context of food scarcity, designing products they believe can replace food altogether.
Enter Soylent. Designed by a team of engineers, these meal replacement smoothies free people from the need to think about what to eat, and even enables them to spend less time fueling their bodies. The name, an allusion to the 1973 Sci-Fi thriller Soylent Green (Soylent Green is people!), casts a slightly dystopian light on the company. Taking place in 2022 (which isn’t that far off, by the way), the people of New York find themselves in a world where population growth and food scarcity have caused the food industry to collapse. While the conditions illustrated in the movie are much more dire than what we face today, the stress of population growth and climate change on the global food industry is very real.
Soylent’s mission is to tackle issues of decision fatigue and food scarcity all in one product. Decision fatigue, a psychological principle referring to the deterioration of decision making abilities of someone who spends too much energy thinking about trivial things, is the rationale behind Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama wearing the same outfit every day. By replacing meals with Soylent, one could improve time and decision making efficiency while maintaining a balanced diet with a full nutritional profile.
As I started to learn more about drinkable meal-replacements, I decided to take my research to the next level and attempt to abandon food altogether for a week. I ordered a week’s supply of Soylent powder, which arrived in the mail as seven bags of powder each containing five 400-calorie servings.
My initial reaction to Soylent Powder was that it tastes pretty bad - thick and chalky in texture with a bland flavor that leaves a slightly sweet aftertaste. It tastes like what I would expect day-old pancake batter to taste like. Although Soylent is filling, the realization that I wouldn’t taste anything delicious for the next week left me in a foul mood.
Here's a picture of me and my family at a dinner. Them, eating delicious food. Me, drinking Soylent – solemn facial expression not pictured:
After a week of Soylent, my attitude has changed. I felt hungry fairly often - an indication that as a 20-year-old male, I typically consume more than the 2000 calories per day allotted by Soylent. However, I never felt completely starved or fatigued, and even my growling stomach was kept at bay by an extra glass of water every now and then.
While it is unclear if I was more efficient during the day without having to waste time deciding what to eat (I’m not sure how much decision fatigue I face day-to-day), the other side of Soylent’s mission, a solution to food scarcity, is legitimate. The growing issue surrounding the global food supply is something I’m well aware of. The food industry is ready for a shakedown, and companies like Soylent are leading the charge. As traditional food and nutrition sources are put under more and more stress, the availability of alternatives like Soylent that are both sustainable and nutritionally viable will become incredibly valuable.
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