We’ve always dreamed of a meal in a pill: Is the future here with Soylent?

From Star Trek to Willy Wonka, we’ve dreamed of a meal in a pill. Is the future here with Soylent? Part II

brunch Updated: Feb 21, 2015 16:25 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Meal in a pill,Soylent,Soylent Green

It’s taken thousands of years of tweaking, experimenting and perfecting to achieve the culinary knowledge that we have today. Imagine throwing all of that out in one shot. No farming, no growing food, no shopping for raw ingredients, no searching for recipes, no slaving over a hot kitchen cooktop, no sitting down and eating, no cleaning the utensils after. Imagine the efficiency of your life and the time and effort saved.

Meal in a Pill
The dream of a meal in a pill seems to have been around forever. Whether we were amused by it in a Jetsons comic strip or read about it in popular science fiction or saw it in Star Trek episodes – the idea that a delicious full meal, with all the nutrients that the human body needs, could be achieved by popping a pill has always fascinated mankind. Well, the three-course meal pill may still be a few years away but a powder that claims it will replace all food is taking the world by storm. It’s called Soylent and no, its not made of human flesh converted to delicious dust.

The History and Ingredients
In 1973, the movie Soylent Green introduced the world to a single food product that eradicated all farming, growing grain and vegetables, livestock and labour used to produce food. All people had to eat was Soylent Green and it gave them immense energy. Food shortages and hunger were a thing of the past till it was discovered that the main ingredient to make Soylent Green was human remains. As I drank my first glass of Soylent, that’s all I could think of.

The First Impression
I couldn’t taste any humans in my drink. What I could taste, was grainy, almost bland, somewhat pleasant, with a trace of sweetness – like cake-batter sludge slowly going down my throat. I was surprised to feel that I was full halfway through, even though I hadn’t eaten any breakfast. I got a batch of Soylent (it’s very tough to get, as the demand is sky high) from a friend who had latched on early to the ‘end of food’ bandwagon. The aftertaste was slightly chalky but comfortable and the feeling of fullness lasted about five hours after I had chugged the whole sludge meal in.


Start of the End

This beige batter supposedly had almost every micro and macro nutrient that the human body needed. It was a meal that came from a laboratory rather than a kitchen, a food that was more science than culinary. Rather than luxuriate over a five-course meal that took an equal number of hours of planning and cooking, it was a solution for survival. What I had just eaten could be the end of food!

Some Big Questions

I stayed on Soylent for very few days, not because I didn’t like it, but because I had a very small supply. In this time I was asked lot of questions. Did I feel hungry in between? No, not at all, as you can drink this anytime and it does keep you full. Did I not salivate when I passed a pizza shop or took in the aroma of fresh doughnuts? Surprisingly, no. I enjoyed the idea of another meal but never had the desire to break from Soylent. Were there any stellar changes in my body? I was on it for very little time but I did feel more energetic, mentally sharper and a nagging skin allergy on my upper shoulder started to clear up. Did my body adapt to a liquid food diet immediately? No, there is a bit of rumbling inside the stomach and you do tend not to have too many friends willing to stand next to you on Day 2 (serious flatulence) but it’s gone by the next day. Did I lose weight? Yes, about a pound was gone but that’s not the objective of Soylent. This is not a weightloss meal, this is your meal itself! It’s just that we all tend to eat a lot of superfluous food to get our nutrients. This is a straight ‘lab to tummy’ chemical concoction.

Is this the end of food?

It will need a lot of studies and some seriously detailed tests over a long period of time for anyone to ascertain that. The good thing is that the Soylent project is now backed by serious money and some real momentum and those studies are on. It’s also irresponsible to call this the end of food. Eating for most people is an emotional and social experience. The taste, texture, smell; the stunning art and craft of a great meal; the psychological experience of going out with friends or family to a restaurant for a meal – those can’t be replaced. Also, the coming of Soylent or its future iterations doesn’t mean that restaurants and fast-food chains all over the world will shut down. But if the Soylent experiment is a success, then maybe we will look at traditional meal times differently. They will become social experiences, to be enjoyed once in while when you want to go out, when you want to do something special, when you want to celebrate. The other meals that are more drudgery than an experience may all get converted to Express Soylent Specials. My 30-day experiment There is a small delay in getting my 30-day experiment going as getting my large batch of Soylent to India is turning out to be far tougher than I originally thought. But it will be here soon. Watch out for an update on how I fared though a 30-day period with nothing but Soylent in my body. And I may just have enough to take along one or two more people on this awesome adventure. Write to me on Twitter if you want to join me in drawing the curtain on thousands of years of conventional cooking!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, February 22

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First Published: Feb 20, 2015 18:55 IST