This is a pretty fascinating article. The rest of the article is at the link. Basically, a startup company is selling a powdered drink mix that contains everything you need for sustenance. Under this paradigm, you are a total "eat to live" person. Your grocery bill goes from $470 a month down to $50 a month. You don't need to buy groceries at all. You don't have to cook. You have no dishes to clean. You supposedly stop worrying about salmonella and food contamination. Barely need a fridge, if at all.
Lizzie Widdicombe: Could Soylent Replace Food? : The New Yorker
Rhinehart, who is twenty-five, studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, and he began to consider food as an engineering problem. “You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” he said. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they’re “mostly water.” He began to think that food was an inefficient way of getting what he needed to survive. “It just seemed like a system that’s too complex and too expensive and too fragile,” he told me.
What if he went straight to the raw chemical components? He took a break from experimenting with software and studied textbooks on nutritional biochemistry and the Web sites of the F.D.A., the U.S.D.A., and the Institute of Medicine. Eventually, Rhinehart compiled a list of thirty-five nutrients required for survival. Then, instead of heading to the grocery store, he ordered them off the Internet—mostly in powder or pill form—and poured everything into a blender, with some water. The result, a slurry of chemicals, looked like gooey lemonade. Then, he told me, “I started living on it.” Rhinehart called his potion Soylent, which, for most people, evokes the 1973 science-fiction film “Soylent Green,” starring Charlton Heston. The movie is set in a dystopian future where, because of overpopulation and pollution, people live on mysterious wafers called Soylent Green. The film ends with the ghastly revelation that Soylent Green is made from human flesh.
Rhinehart’s roommates were skeptical. One told me, “It seemed pretty weird.” They kept shopping at Costco. After a month, Rhinehart published the results of his experiment in a blog post, titled “How I Stopped Eating Food.” The post has a “Eureka!” tone. The chemical potion, Rhinehart reported, was “delicious! I felt like I’d just had the best breakfast of my life.” Drinking Soylent was saving him time and money: his food costs had dropped from four hundred and seventy dollars a month to fifty. And physically, he wrote, “I feel like the six million dollar man. My physique has noticeably improved, my skin is clearer, my teeth whiter, my hair thicker and my dandruff gone.” He concluded, “I haven’t eaten a bite of food in thirty days, and it’s changed my life.” In a few weeks, his blog post was at the top of Hacker News—a water cooler for the tech industry. Reactions were polarized. “RIP Rob,” a comment on Rhinehart’s blog read. But other people asked for his formula, which, in the spirit of the “open source” movement, he posted online.
One of Silicon Valley’s cultural exports in the past ten years has been the concept of “lifehacking”: devising tricks to streamline the obligations of daily life, thereby freeing yourself up for whatever you’d rather be doing. Rhinehart’s “future food” seemed a clever work-around. Lifehackers everywhere began to test it out, and then to make their own versions. Soon commenters on Reddit were sparring about the appropriate dose of calcium-magnesium powder. After three months, Rhinehart said, he realized that his mixture had the makings of a company: “It provided more value to my life than any app.” He and his roommates put aside their software ideas, and got into the synthetic-food business.
To attract funding, Rhinehart and his roommates turned to the Internet: they set up a crowd-funding campaign in which people could receive a week’s supply of manufactured Soylent for sixty-five dollars. They started with a fund-raising goal of a hundred thousand dollars, which they hoped to raise in a month. But when they opened up to donations, Rhinehart says, “we got that in two hours.” Last week, the first thirty thousand units of commercially made Soylent were shipped out to customers across America. In addition to the crowd-funding money, its production was financed by Silicon Valley venture capitalists, including Y Combinator and the blue-chip investment firm Andreessen Horowitz, which contributed a million dollars.
Soylent has been heralded by the press as “the end of food,” which is a somewhat bleak prospect. It conjures up visions of a world devoid of pizza parlors and taco stands—our kitchens stocked with beige powder instead of banana bread, our spaghetti nights and ice-cream socials replaced by evenings sipping sludge. But, Rhinehart says, that’s not exactly his vision. “Most of people’s meals are forgotten,” he told me. He imagines that, in the future, “we’ll see a separation between our meals for utility and function, and our meals for experience and socialization.” Soylent isn’t coming for our Sunday potlucks. It’s coming for our frozen quesadillas.
[part of article snipped]
In the formula that he and his teammates have settled on, the major food groups are all accounted for: the lipids come from canola oil; the carbohydrates from maltodextrin and oat flour; and the protein from rice. To that, they’ve added fish oil (for omega-3s; vegans can substitute flaxseed oil), and doses of various vitamins and minerals: magnesium, calcium, electrolytes. Rhinehart is reluctant to associate Soylent with any flavor, so for now it just contains a small amount of sucralose, to mask the taste of the vitamins. That seems to fit his belief that Soylent should be a utility. “I think the best technology is the one that disappears,” he said. “Water doesn’t have a lot of taste or flavor, and it’s the world’s most popular beverage.” He hoisted the pitcher of yellowish-beige liquid. “Everything your body needs,” he said. “Do you want to try some?”
People tend to find the taste of Soylent to be familiar: the predominant sensation is one of doughiness. The liquid is smooth but grainy in your mouth, and it has a yeasty, comforting blandness about it. I’ve heard tasters compare it to Cream of Wheat, and “my grandpa’s Metamucil.” I slurped a bit, and had the not unpleasant sensation that I was taking sips from a bowl of watered-down pancake batter. Not bad. I slurped a little more—and then, all of a sudden, had to stop. I felt way too full. “How much did I just drink?” Rhinehart studied the glass. “A hundred and fifty or two hundred calories,” he said. “About the equivalent of a granola bar.”