Soylent, the unfortunately named food substitute — named after the fictional Soylent Green, which was made out of human flesh — is now available for online sale, and it is just as depressing and redundant a food phenomenon as it sounds. The tech / hacker / programmer / Reddit community has been abuzz about the stuff since word first arrived of this "life hack" last year, and people started making their own versions via DIY guidelines before the product was even available to the public. But, fundamentally, it represents the opposite of Slow Food, an enemy of our current "food revolution," and something anathema to anyone who enjoys or looks forward to the act of eating.

Now we have to take into account the context in which Soylent was invented. A 24-year-old programmer, Robert Rhinehart, sharing a hovel with a couple of other programmers in San Francisco's Tenderloin, decided in December 2012 that he was spending too much money and time on eating. He and his roommates had just spent $100,000 of seed funding on a failed startup (it involved inexpensive cell phone towers), and with only $70,000 of the money left they were scrambling to come up with something else to show for themselves. Rhinehart, who only saw eating as a burden and distraction in his day, began trying to come up with a nutritional shake that could function as a replacement for a full days' meals, rather than just as a supplement. Fastforward a few months, after some online buzz and a crowd-funding campaign, they easily raised over a million dollars.

The result, as NYT writer Farhad Manjoo writes, is "a punishingly boring, joyless product" comprising more than half carbohydrates (oat flour and maltodextrin), some protein from brown rice, fatty acids from canola and fish oils, and various vitamins and minerals. Also, it caused him some gastrointestinal distress when he tried to consume it on its own, as Rhinehart claimed he did for months on end.

On the one hand, for all those nerds who don't much care for food anyway and lead joyless lives of work and exercise and the occasional video game, this $3-per-serving beverage may be a perfect solution to the "problem" of eating. But the lack of pleasure here is obvious, and it calls to question whether modern lives have not been so taken over with work that we've actually run out of time for the things that are most natural and necessary to our daily survival.

In other words, this may be a great short-term solution for the characters of Silicon Valley, madly cranking on a deadline — and one that's a little more nutritionally satisfying than cereal or ramen. But with products like Ensure and Nutri-System and dozens of others already on the market, why is this meal replacement so far superior to those other meal replacements, except that it was created by an engineer? Not to mention the fact that Paleo Diet adherents will argue with you for days about the soundness of the ratio of protein to carbs here.

Rhinehart says:

We don’t expect people to live on this entirely. In fact, we think this elevates food into more of a leisure activity. You can go out with your friends or family, and if your default, staple meal is very healthy and sustainable and balanced, you can enjoy your other meals even more, because you don’t have to worry about how healthy they are.

Oh, so now you should only derive pleasure from eating during the rare moments that you put down your laptop and go out for someone's birthday? Typical M.O. for an engineer. Hopefully when you look back on your life you'll feel satisfied you didn't waste the best years of it holed up in a dark room in front of a glowing screen.

This is seriously depressing. Somebody get Alice Waters on the line. I'd rather listen to her drone on about perfect Little Gem lettuces and sustainable gardening over this any day.

[New Yorker]