Is the "meal replacement" revolution at hand?

By Kira Dault| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
blog Culture Faith and Science

In my reading over the last couple of weeks, I keep coming across articles written about Soylent, a new food product that has been designed by tech entrepreneur Robert Rhinehart. Soylent, so named (as a joke) for the gruesome science fiction food substitute Soylent Green, comes in the form of a powder that gets mixed with water. Many people who have tried it and written about it claim that it tastes a bit like thinned pancake batter.

Rhinehart developed Soylent while living with some buddies in a tech startup incubator. The group of young bachelors was living on frozen Quesadilla and were frustrated at needing to spend money and time eating. So Rhinehart took on a side project of researching nutrition, and came up with a formula that consists largely of oat flour and protein from brown rice with a dash of other vitamins and minerals. It is fast (just add water to the powder, and you have your meal), and at about $3 per meal, it is a cheap alternative, even compared to frozen Quesadilla.

Reviews of the product have been mixed. While some find the concept of this ultimate convenience food remarkably appealing, others approach it with skepticism. I have not personally tasted Soylent, but I'm fairly certain that I fall into the skeptics' camp. I am a lover of food as an experience. Taste, texture, sight, and smell all go into how we experience a meal. And even if I am eating a meal while sitting at my desk, I try to make it something that I will at least enjoy eating.

But beyond that, the so-called "Soylent revolution" turns my thoughts to questions of why it is that we always seem to need more convenient and cheaper food. Furthermore, Soylent, the ultimate convenience food, is still more expensive than the average meal needs to be for the SNAP challenge, meaning that those who are getting by through government assistance would still not be able to afford the "cheap and convenient" food substitute. The people who might benefit most from a product like Soylent--those who are "food insecure," for example--would likely not actually be able to afford it.

Another question that comes to mind is the question of leisure. Under current labor laws, people who work full-time are required to have breaks for meals. For some people, especially those who are on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, that lunch hour is the only leisure time they may have. I confess that I have concerns about the possibility of a technological "advance" that makes meals more utilitarian than they already are, rendering lunch breaks unnecessary. (This does not even take into consideration the communal aspect of meals, which gets me into a whole other area of skepticism.)

The Soylent revolution raises one other question for me. I wonder what the advent of this food replacement means for those of us who put great stock in the power of bread. If bread is no longer that which gives life, but is rather that which causes inconvenience, what becomes of the Eucharist and what becomes of the table to which all are welcome?