Do People Really Want to Substitute Real Food for Soylent?

I was on a fast over the last week, and not eating (at least not eating as I normally do) has gotten me to think more about eating. I’m overly aware of the moments in the day when there should be a full meal. I miss the time spent in the kitchen preparing it. It’s hard fill the hole that comes from not having a regular mealtime. In fact, it’s not necessarily the food I am craving, it’s the process that comes with it.

My mid-morning coffee break where I push away from the computer and just sit and think.

The early evening preparation of dinner. Maybe a glass of wine and kitchen laughter to go with it.

The late afternoon pick-me-up of hazelnuts and figs.

The connection to food isn’t just about the physical aspect – a human being can go without food for quite some time, some experts put the limit of upwards to two months – it’s about the emotional as well. So much of our eating habits are tied together by tradition and process. It’s not just what you put on the table for dinner, it’s how you came up with the idea for what you were going to prepare, when you went and bought the ingredients, who helped you cook, and who, ultimately you are sharing the meal with. In a culture where most of us are well-nourished – if not over-nourished – isn’t this what’s most important about eating?

Recently I learned about this thing called Soylent. It’s basically a liquid food substitute invented by a 25 year-old tech guy named Rob Rhinehart. Rhinehart, who’s obsessed with in food efficiency, developed the drink and reportedly lived off Soylent alone for 30 days. You may think that sounds weird and gross, but the tech nerds in Silicone Valley don’t; Soylent just got a $1.5 million round of funding.

As Rhinehart explains on his blog, “Food is the fossil fuel of human energy. It is an enormous market full of waste, regulation, and biased allocation with serious geo-political implications. And we’re deeply dependent on it. In some countries people are dying of obesity, others starvation. In my own life I resented the time, money, and effort the purchase, preparation, consumption, and clean-up of food was consuming.”

When it comes to the food waste part, I couldn’t agree more, and the fact that a certain percentage of the population is obese while others are dying of starvation is nothing new. But creating a product to essentially eliminate the need for food is simplifying things a little too much. That and the fact that I just can’t get the image of pale computer nerds locked in a dark cave of a room, exclaiming “This Soylent means I never have to get out of this chair again!”

We need sustenance to survive, but we also need the emotional benefits of food: the cultural connection, the tradition, the community. We are the only animal on the planet that cooks, it’s the thing that sets us apart from every other organism on earth. Are we ready to unravel thousands of years of cultural advancement for convenience?

Did we learn nothing from the Slimfast era? God, the French would cringe.

Ultimately, we may not need much to survive – certainly not a daily regime of cheeseburgers and pizza – but we do need something, and it’s more than just pure nutrients. Food, real food, not a supplement like Soylent, helps us connect to the people and environment around us. It’s not necessarily what we eat, it’s how and when and where we eat it. If we eliminate the need for real food, we lose a myriad of things that benefit us in the process.

I say, use real ingredients and enjoy the process of cooking and enjoying food with those you love. Take a break from the “bad” stuff once in awhile, but don’t be afraid to indulge. That’s the best way to stay healthy and alive.

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