Soylent is a meal replacement product that contains all the nutritional contents needed for an average adult. The name Soylent originates from Harry Harrison's 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room!, where soylent is made of soya and lentils and is considered the best thing to eat. Rob Rhinehart, the founder of Soylent, said he chose the name to pique curiousity with its morbid association with the 1973 film Soylent Green, where the eponymous food is made from human remains.
In January 2013, Rhinehart purchased several ingredients, most in their raw chemical form, which he chose based on his own research of human nutrition through biochemistry textbooks and government websites. He believed that these ingredients were all the nutrients humans needed in order to live. He started this project because he viewed conventional eating as time-consuming and treated this issue as an engineering problem. Over the next few months, he continued a diet consisting of mostly Soylent, identifying problems and modifying the formulation to address those issues, such as iron deficiency or lack of fiber. Rhinehart's experiment attracted significant media attention, spawning a community of people who are interested in making their own Soylent. A crowdfunding campaign was also started, raising $1.5 million in preorders alone. In April 2014, Soylent began to be shipped throughout the United States by Rosa Foods.
Factors Influencing the Popularization of Soylent
Convenience and Efficiency
The primary factor for Soylent's success is it's convenience and cost-effectiveness. According to Rhineheart, he was able to prepare and consume all of his meals in just 5 minutes compared to how he used to spend 2 hours each day making food, eating, and washing dishes. In addition, he cut his monthly food bill by $420, spending just $50 per month .
Taste and Satiety
Many people complain about the lack of taste, aroma, aesthetic appeal, and texture in Soylent. One consumer says the drink looks like "watered-down semen," and tastes like "the homemade nontoxic Play-Doh you made, and sometimes ate, as a kid. Slightly sweet and earthy with a strong yeasty aftertaste." Currently, the main Soylent product line has 4 flavor options: vanilla, cacao, strawberry, and original. Since Soylent is liquid in form, it lacks satiety compared to solid foods because the stomach empties liquids more rapidly.
Health and Nutrition
Each bottle of Soylent is 400 calories and provides 20% of daily nutritional requirements according to Dietary Reference Intake guidelines. This includes 20 grams of protein, 21 grams of fats, and 26 different vitamins and minerals However, Soylent lacks probiotics, which are essential for maintaining a healthy gut. Consumers interested in dieting view Soylent as a convenient way to track exactly what they are putting into their bodies. Furthermore, Soylent can be a beneficial meal replacement for consumers who live unhealthy lifestyles and whose diets consist primarily of convenient but nutrient-poor foods such as ramen, chips, and soda.
In 2016, Soylent Food Bars and Soylent Powder were recalled because consumers reported experiencing gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea. This was caused by one of the ingredients, algal flour. In 2017, Soylent Powder was recalled again due to possible dairy contamination.
Genetically Modified Ingredients and Sustainability
Soylent is pro-science and pro-GMO, believing that GMOs are a safe and economic option for sustainable food production by cutting down on food waste, time spent growing food, and resources used. A 70% increase in food production is required to sustain the world's population by 2050. Genetically engineered crops minimize yield losses to pests so that the overall cost and production of crops is optimized. In addition to posting a blog article titled "Proudly Made With GMOs", their mission is "to make unhealthy and unsustainable food voids obsolete," and end food insecurity. A food void is when one has to skip a meal or choose unhealthy and unsustainable food choices, while food insecurity is when one does not have the resources to afford nutritional meals. As of now, Soylent has donated over 1.6 million meals to those in need.
On the other hand, there is controversy surrounding the safety and benefits of GMO's. Despite scientific research proving that genetically modified foods pose no health risks, some people still perceive them as less healthy.
According to reviews from people whose diets consist mostly of Soylent, the alternative food is a great way to cut down on eating unhealthy and expensive foods. From the sample of ten participants with diets consisting of 50% or more of Soylent, it has become an integral part of their life, affecting their workout and eating habits, as well as their personal and work life. The participants list a variety of effects resulting from Soylent, including weight loss or energy level consistency. One characteristic between all participants was that despite some of their diets reaching above 90%, not one listed a diet of 100% Soylent. A common limitation was that Soylent wasn't an alternative for socializing with others over a traditional meal, such as at a restaurant. Meetings and social gatherings frequently occur over meals eaten together, and as a bottle of liquid food, Soylent doesn't fulfill the social aspects a traditional meal may. As a cheap, convenient, and healthy alternative, Soylent directly competes with traditional foods to resolve world hunger through science, even as it affects the social interaction between people.
Food Program USA
The World Food Program USA (WFP USA) raises support in the United States to assist the United Nations World Food Program in fighting global hunger, which assists around 80 million in over 80 countries. In 2016, Soylent partnered with the WFP USA to announce their support in entering the fight against malnutrition. Through this partnership, Soylent announced the "Friend Referral Program". Through this initiative, current Soylent subscribers could refer a friend, and for each new referred subscriber, Soylent would donate four meals at $0.25 a meal to WFP USA. Referred subscribers would receive 50% off their first 12 bottles of Soylent 2.0.
Soylent for Good
Throughout 2016, Soylent donated over 1 million meals to food banks. This was part of an initiative Soylent launched, called "Soylent for Good", which seeks to consolidate efforts to combat food insecurity and hunger. Soylent works with food banks across the United States to distribute donated meals and funding to support those in need of food support. In October 2018, Soylent donated 100,000 bottles of Soylent to food charities such as Island Harvest Food Bank and City Harvest in New York, marking its continual support since 2016 to combat hunger. Since October 2018, Soylent has donated over 1.6 million meals globally through its "Soylent for Good" initiative.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Although Soylent has risen in popularity in the United States, it was banned from selling its products in Canada by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in October, 2017. The CFIA ruled that Soylent did not meet the requirements for meal replacement products, and would not be sold in Canada until the regulations were met. However, Soylent did not plan to recall its products, stating that there were no health risks to its customers. Soylent announced that they were unsure of when or how long it would take to adapt its products to CFIA regulations and obtain the right to sell its products in Canada. However, the company also stated that they were working to resolve the categorization issue.
People with medical conditions consume Soylent for diet and environmental restrictions. During certain treatments, such as chemotherapy, patients are restricted to only liquid-food. This restriction often leads to inserting a feeding tube in their body to supply nutrition. Inserting feeding tube is painful and also uncomfortable in their daily lives. But with Soylent, people can avoid feeding tube since it provides all the necessary nutrients.
30-Day Soylent Challenge
30-day Soylent challenge  is where the participant only consumes Soylent for 30-days. Such challenge was created to test whether Soylent actually provides all the necessary nutrients and energy. Josh Helton successfully completed this challenge, out of curiosity. Josh runs 70 miles almost every week and he wanted to see if Soylent was able to replace actual food for him. Due to the amount of his running, he added a teaspoon of peanut butter in his drinks but other than that, he only consumed Soylent. The first 9 days of the challenge, when his body was getting used to the new diet, he often experienced strange vowel movements and felt listless. But after the tenth day, he started to feel normal and ran the same amount as before. After the challenge, he compared his blood test from before and was surprised to find out it got better. The first blood test showed several categories that were outside the normal range. Neutrophils, SGOT, and SGPT were all above the average while lymphocytes and eosinophils were slightly below. However, the results of final blood test showed that everything was back to normal. Aside from his blood test, he did not lose any weight during the challenge. Even though it took him few days to get used to the taste and the new diet, he really enjoyed the convenience of Soylent.
Soylent's mission is to end food voids, hunger, and food insecurity around the world. They frequently collaborate with non-profit organizations that aim to serve the homeless, help fight food insecurity on college campuses, reduce food waste, respond to natural disasters, and work on public policy to address the larger systematic challenges contributing to food insecurity. Using technology and GMOs to create relatively inexpensive and time-saving nutritional food, Soylent has provided a healthy alternative to traditional meals. Although anti-GMO organizations and a number of people claiming that Soylent products should not be consumed due to its unnatural nature dissent to the idea of Soylent, Soylent has shown support for many food banks and anti-hunger organizations through regular food and monetary donations.
Soylent is an ideal solution for consumers who want to save time and money on food. Despite the convenience and efficiency it provides, social factors inhibit its spread and popularization. Food is an integral part of our daily lives and is tightly woven into traditions, cultures, self-expression, and socializing. Most people are not willing to give up the pleasure of consuming "real" food for convenience because food plays a role beyond just sustenance and survival. Due to the social value of food, Soylent is expected to remain as a niche solution for a limited audience.
The popularity of Soylent resulted in other similar products such as YFood, Saturo, Lently, and Light Fuel. Some of these alternatives are both cheaper and provide more nutrients per serving, with Soylent being one of the lesser cost-efficient meal replacements. However, Rhinehart's original goal is to switch humanity to a diet consisting solely on nutrient packed liquids. There are still many obstacles before Soylent, or any other meal replacement, will dominate the food industry.