Have you ever wondered what the future of food might look like? Will drones deliver a Big Mac to your doorstep? Will grocery stores become obsolete? Those may seem like far-off questions, but they're a little bit closer than they appear. This article is part of a series in which I investigate some of the most recent futuristic explorations into food and eating. First up is Soylent! 

What is Soylent?

Soylent is a product born out of the early 2010s in Silicon Valley. It was originally an experiment to see how its founders could bottle a meal's worth of macro- and micro- nutrients into a bottle. It began as a powder and evolved into a full-line of drinks and bars. Consumers can now purchase Soylent off the company website, from Amazon, or at their nearest grocery store. 

What's actually in Soylent? 

The first ingredient is soy protein isolate. Soy is one of the most popular field crops in the United States and Soylent has a protocol of sustainable growing that all of its producers must agree to (you can read more about that here). Unlike many of its competitors, Soylent is higher in fat (sunflower oil and canola oil) because it increases satiety, provides a better textural experience, and gives the body the fuel it needs. As far as carbohydrates go, Soylent contains Allulose, a glycemic-balanced and naturally occurring carbohydrate, that acts as a sweetener in its products. 

Is Soylent more sustainable than eating food? 

Sustainability is a cornerstone of Soylent's mission. That's why the company claims it opts to use soy protein isolate rather than whey (derivative of cow's milk) or rice. The latter are two of the most notorious greenhouse gas emitters within the food system. 

Soy, a legume, can fix nitrogen and restore nutrients back into the soil- provided that it is grown sustainably, with limited nutrient loading, and done in a way that works with the ecosystem rather than against it. The issue with contemporary soy production in the U.S. is that it's mono-cultured (grown in fields alone), uses tons of water (most of which is not efficiently irrigated to prevent runoff), and is a hot-bed for potential pests. Soylent's farmer commitment is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't do much to solve the systemic issues of un-sustainabilty in field crops. 

Another thing to consider in the evaluation of Soylent's sustainability is its use of plastic. I assure you that the world would be a much healthier and happier place if we got rid of plastic bottles permanently- but I'll leave you to reach your own conclusions on that one. 

How much does Soylent cost?

Soylent prides itself on being accessible to a range of incomes. Their bottled drinks cost between $42 and $50 for a 12-pack while a case of Soylent powder (35 meals) costs $64. 

What does Soylent taste like exactly? 

Texturally speaking, Soylent resembles that of a very thick smoothie. Their bottles come in many flavors including creamy chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, banana, and cafe mocha. 

Will Soylent lead to the demise of food as we know it? 

This question is a little more abstract, but certainly on the minds of many. What would a world look like where we no longer eat our food, but rather just drink everything out of a bottle? 

My biggest hesitation in buying into the Soylent complex is, for me, an apparent discounting of all the benefits that food (real food) can provide nutritionally and socially. Family meals where everyone cracks open a bottle of Soylent instead of making a pasta bake together is different than anything we've ever experienced. And why the hell would anyone ever want to give up the texture of crunchy bread, delicate desserts, or fresh crunchy salad greens- for a bottle of thick, milky, goo? 

Soylent was created by Silicon Valley by-and-for people who think eating is a hassle. I think if you consider eating (and I assume then would consider showering, sleeping, and all necessary components of life equally as strenuous), you really need to re-evaluate your priorities. 

So could Soylent replace meals? Yes. Should it? Never. 

For More Reading...

Can Soylent Replace Food? (Scientific American)

Why Soylent is Junk Food And No Healthy Meal Replacement Drink (Michael Kummer) 

Soylent: What Happened When I Went 30 Days Without Food (The Hustle) 

Is Soylent the solution to food sustainability? (Essex Sociology Consumption and Sustainability Blogs)

Is Soylent the Answer to a Healthy Diet? (LiveStrong)