I Tried Soylent Powder For A Week. Here’s What Happened.
Soylent Powder is a complete powdered food solution claiming to save time and money. It’s named after the 1973 science fiction movie Soylent Green, in which an overpopulated New York of the future is unknowingly fed humans to survive. It’s supposed to be funny.
The founder, US software engineer Rob Rhinehart, has little interest in eating. From as early as six, he recalls eating lettuce and wondering, bemused, why he, “would eat leaves, as a human?” He does however, have a deep interest in the future of agriculture, food distribution and health security. Combine these factors, and voila—Soylent. It’s faster to make than conventional food, suitable for vegans and has been through several refinements to maximise palatability and nutriment.
So, with claims of “complete nutrition” and “maximum value”, I decided to put it to the test. I drank Soylent as a meal replacement for a whole week. I kept coffee, tea and alcohol in my diet to inhibit a full descent into madness, but the rest? Just Soylent baby.
I was nervous. I love food, adore cooking and was raised an overeater. The idea of supplementing a very social and pleasurable daily experience with prosaic white sludge (no offense, Soylent) seemed ridiculous.
But I was ready for the challenge. So, here we go.
A week’s worth of Soylent costs around AUD$93. The box comes with no instructions on how to prepare or consume the product, and you rely on Release Notes for key information, including recommended portion size.
The powder is the colour and consistency of breadcrumbs, and is practically odourless. Once made—a process of combining water and Soylent powder in a jug and shaking vigorously—Soylent looks like a banana smoothie. It smells like batter.
It tastes sort of like soy milk, which isn’t surprising, given the primary ingredient is soy protein. It’s not completely awful, but it’s certainly not inspiring. The manufacturers recommend that Soylent is served cold, and for the sake of taste and texture, you’d better heed that call.
I woke up feeling fresh and energised. A little more so than usual, actually. I decided to increase portion sizes as I’d been hungry between “main meals” the day prior. As such, I’d only drunk half of the almost two-litre jug. Add to that a couple of coffees and extra water to stay hydrated, and you’ve got a lot of liquid.
Dinner was scheduled with friends, and this ended up being pretty sad to say the least. While I enjoyed the wine I brought, I was taunted by the delicious aromas of vegetarian lasagne. The cold, bland liquid was unsatisfying. It was a foreign and isolating experience.
Rising with a bit of a sore head from the wine, I craved coffee, eggs and buttered toast—my usual hangover buster. Of course, I opted for Soylent instead, and felt better almost immediately. I found both the craving and hangover passed surprisingly quickly.
Not everything passed as efficiently though. When It comes to Soylent’s fibre content, a day’s worth contains 25 grams. That’s the recommended daily amount for women (it’s 30 grams for men) according to Nutrition Australia. It’s soluble fibre, which helps regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol.
To my dismay, I saw no evidence of that fibre until day three. It was pretty smooth sailing on regular seas after that, but the initial absence made me a little testy.
Life on Soylent is certainly getting easier. I’m not dreading the soy flavour in the morning. Heck, I’m even looking forward to it a little. It’s like a smoothie, and means I’m out of the house on the way to work faster than ever.
The time-saving brought about through Soylent’s minimal preparation requirements is a huge tick for the product. During a busy week, it is immensely helpful. I powered through work with only the briefest interruptions.
As for dinner, well, that hasn’t got any easier. It’s true what they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder. How I long for thee, dear dinner.
Drinking Soylent, you feel full, and should be full: all products contain “a complete blend of everything the body needs to thrive”, including protein, carbohydrates, lipids, and micronutrients. But something is perpetually missing. You don’t get to touch or prepare food, nor is there any opportunity to test and blend flavours. There’s no chewing, texture, or time taken to savour a meal. You just gulp it down. It’s boring at best, utterly depressing at worst.
The only benefit in its blandness is, reflecting on Rhinehart’s vision for Soylent to make a healthier society, is that there’s no desire to overeat. It’s simply too uninspiring to indulge in.
Today, all surrounding food smells are torture. Several times I thought about running to one of the kebab stands near my office and plunging my face into a falafel. Or pizza, or donuts, or the lowly, discarded noodle box on the top of that bin. I’ll take anything at this point.
Lugging around an extra bag to accommodate the giant jug of Soylent is also becoming tedious, and keeping it cool around the clock challenging. Without refrigeration, it warms and thickens. It’s almost undrinkable like this.
I’ve also noticed that people are always eating. In cars, on the street, even in places where food is not allowed, like the library or swimming pools (yep, I witnessed a kid chomping Cheetos near the showers). I’d never noticed this before. It was hard to watch.
The final day. I have never been more excited about eating, ever. But the week has taught me some pretty important things about food.
For me, it not just about meeting vitamin and mineral quotas. It’s about restoration, sharing, tasting, colour and enjoyment. Food is something I share and enjoy with my family and friends, providing an opportunity to debrief and debate. I’ve learned about the natural world through food, eager to understand what happens from paddock to plate. Soylent can’t provide any of these things. It isn’t that cheap, really.
It absolutely has merit for supplying food when and where there are shortages, and raises interesting questions about food supply in the future. It also proved to be a great supplement for a single meal, like breakfast on the go.
Soylent’s packaging reads: “While not intended to replace every meal, Soylent can replace any meal.” I should have taken this advice from the start.
Izzy Tolhurst is a copywriter and editor. She writes about music, the arts, employment and international development. She also sings and plays an impressively amateur level of guitar in Melbourne band Go Get Mum. Find her rambling on Twitter @izzytolhurst