In Defense of Soylent
Soylent Green is peo— err, mint and delicious. Soylent is great and doesn't deserve all the online hate.
Soylent, the line of meal replacement drinks, serves as a common punchline on social media, particularly Twitter. The reasons are not much of a mystery. On top of its associations with tech bros and gamers, much-reviled demographics among certain segments of online discourse, it evokes the 1973 classic film Soylent Green, a film in which soylent is the cheap foodstuff of the masses. Ultimately, it is revealed in the climax of the film that the “green” variant is recycled human flash.
Given everything above, I understand people’s reticence to or even revulsion at the idea of trying Soylent — I shared it initially myself. I vividly remember a coworker in 2015 bringing in the powder as an alternative to lunch and slurping up the bland soy milk-esque substance instead. At the time, rehydration and flavoring were both the responsibility of the consumer.
However, what started as a simple bulk powder branched out into far more convenient consumer products — many of which have even reached retail shelves in recent years. Instead of having to make a batch of Soylent from scratch, you can now just grab a single meal’s worth already flavored (or still without if you so please.) Over time, more flavors were added and some retired. The red bottles used to be strawberry and lemon, but many people’s disgust (mine included) at the lemon flavor led it to become simply strawberry. The lemon’s notes felt more appropriate for cleaning products than food.
However, once you realize a Soylent “meal” is basically akin to drinking a bottle of flavored soy milk — and it keeps you satiated for a while! — the revulsion to the substance itself begins to subside, at least for me. But many hate on the drinks for other reasons, seemingly in large part because they see it as literally the same as the substance from which it takes its name. Okay, yes, they get it does not actually involve people, but in the film, Soylent exists to give the poor something cheap to consume, even if less appetizing than “real” food.
The brand is attacked for trying to sell poor people “fake” food. Instead, the creators’ target market seems to be geeks — everyone from coders to gamers looking to stay fueled while minimizing downtime. Though the film is somewhat old at this point, geeks are the ones for whom making science fiction references, however dystopian, will work the best. Though not particularly expensive, Soylent is significantly pricer than buying products like beans and lentils in bulk. It is not designed to be competitively priced for the poor.
Though I have heard tales of people who forgo real food entirely to subsist solely off of Soylent, I strongly advise against this. There are potentially micronutrients we have not yet identified that are missed in products constructing proper nutrition from the ground up like Soylent. However, it provides an apt alternative to the quick and junky meals that are often both low in satisfaction and nutrition. Rather than eat that frozen meal or place an order on Doordash or Postmates for a meal that will likely not be memorable anyway, I often guzzle a Soylent — also immemorable, yes, but far less full of empty calories.
Each standard Soylent bottle is 400 calories, fortified a fifth of your daily vitamin and mineral needs. Most say great things about the green (which, in this case, is mint, not people), though my go-to flavors are strawberry (red) and vanilla (blue). For those looking for caffeine with their Soylent, they have several caffeinated flavors as well, including chai! They’ve experimented with various solid variants, currently offering snacky “Squared” bars that are just 100 calories each. You can also still buy bulk powder if you wish to cut costs and plastic waste.
As with the case of many new products that become popular, the goal — at least for those of us who are not Soylent shareholders, of course — should not be to get everyone on board. People push back against a straw man of Soylent being the “future of food” or some solution to food poverty. Instead, Soylent recognizes that convenient, satisfying nutrition is an important offering for many people’s lifestyles and fills that need in an exemplary fashion. Societally, we love to judge that which does not appeal to us — but not everything is for you.
For those looking for a super convenient and relatively healthy way to keep their fridge stocked, Soylent is a great option. There are other similar products on the market in recent years like Huel as well with prices in the same range. Much as it is easy to make the fortified soy shakes out to be sinister or silly, they provide a relatively tasty way to get the nutrition that you need in as convenient a manner as possible. We should welcome them, not mock or fear them.