Powder People

Soylent is a food substitute intended to supply all of a human body’s daily nutritional needs, made from powdered starch, rice protein, olive oil, and raw chemical powders. It was designed by software engineer Rob Rhinehart as a low cost alternative to traditional food that can be prepared and consumed very quickly.

Lacking background in chemistry or nutrition, Rhinehart developed the formula through research and self-experimentation. He named it after a fictional food from the novel ‘Make Room! Make Room!’, on which the 1973 film ‘Soylent Green’ was loosely based.

Soylent is currently undergoing on-going testing and modification. A crowdfunding campaign has provided roughly US$1,500,000 to produce and market a commercial version (the project later received a similar amount from venture capital interests). The funding has paid for additional research and formula modification, which has also delayed its launch date to 2014.

Soylent has been tested by Rhinehart himself and by a handful of volunteers as well as individuals recreating the substance independently at home. Modifications to the ingredient list have occurred in response to results incurred in testing, for example: the first version of the formula omitted iron, which caused Rhineheart to report his heart had begun to race. In other early experiments, intentionally induced overdoses of potassium and magnesium gave Rhinehart cardiac arrhythmia and burning sensations. After the early recipe had stabilized, Rhinehart found himself suffering from joint pain due to a sulfur deficiency. Methylsulfonylmethane was added to address this problem.

Soylent in its present form may still lack some nutrients essential for normal body functioning and/or may fail to provide nutrients in appropriate proportions, potentially causing medical problems if used long-term. The fundamental basis of the assumptions made by Soylent are disputed; with focus on the fact that, because digestion is a complex phenomenon and there is not a simple linear relationship between nutrient ingestion and nutrient absorption, many factors contribute to nutrient absorption in the human body. With respect to the suitability of the product for general consumption, homemade Soylent is made without the kinds of regulatory safeguards and fine-tunings followed when making accepted artificial diets such as medical food.

Rhinehart has said he would like to get Soylent down to a cost of $5 per day. As of April 2013, he was spending $154 per month on Soylent, yielding a diet of 2,629 calories per day while a medical food such as Jevity would cost $456 per month to get 2,000 calories (a family of four in the US can purchase food to cook at home for approximately $584 per month). Another option, Plumpy’nut, a peanut-based artificial diet for children starving in famines, costs less than $10 per week (though Soylent is designed for healthy adults).

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