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7 Days of Soylent – New Harvest’s Isha Datar Tries a Food Alternative

Published July 1, 2014 | Updated June 16, 2021 | Isha Datar

I forget when I first heard about Soylent, but I sent Rob Rhinehart my first piece of fan mail in the beginning of March.

The first thing I wanted to commend him on was – good name. Pre-empting the negativity. As a person who talks about cultured meat on a daily basis it gets tiring hearing the how cultured meat conjures the idea of Soylent Green (which it shouldn’t, since it’s totally unrelated).

The second, more obvious thing I wanted to point out to him was how we were kind of both into sustainable alternatives, my mission to replace animal products, his mission to replace food.

I was really impressed with Soylent because it was almost completely free of animal products, making it quite a sustainable food. The one thing that kept Soylent from being completely vegan was fish oil, to supplment omega fatty acids. (I should mention that one does have the option to buy Soylent without any fish oil added).

When I had recently learned that Rob was working towards producing the fish oil in algae, I really got interested. In the spirit of cultured meat, leather and milk, he was producing the exact same fish oil, just without the fish. He has been working with Solazyme to do this and has mentioned that they have been crucial in their product development pathway.

The idea to actually try Soylent finally came to me after attending a Sustainable Foods Conference in Monterey. The topic of Soylent came up and people literally booed as they demanded “real”, “natural” food. Whatever that means! I thought – it was time to taste this, because people were talking about it without any idea of what it is like, including myself.

After emailing Rob with a request, he kindly offered some wisdom (“I too get frustrated with people who equate “real” with “traditional”. Trying to change the world with tradition is a fool’s errand.”) and a week’s worth of Soylent in the mail at no charge. “Consider it our first donation to New Harvest.”

soylent

Day 0:

I landed in Toronto after a 10-turned-11-day trip to Ireland after missing my scheduled flight. I come home and see the two giant Soylent boxes in my kitchen and proceed to show it off via Facebook and Instagram.

As one of the few people with Soylent in Canada (because they are currently only shipping within the US), it got a lot of very positive attention!

Facebook comments on soylent

Facebook comments on soylent

And one negative comment, basically asking “Why?”

Here’s why:

The “need” for convenience has created fast foods and instant foods, foods that are generally heavily processed, with excess amounts of salt, fat and sugar. Surely I am not alone in picking up something underwhelming from a gigantic fast food chain on the way to work in the morning, or in a rush at lunch time.

Not only do we not waste time picking up convenience foods, we also don’t waste time thinking about how they’re made, where they came from, and who made them. If we did spend time thinking about it, we might have to spend a little more time buying something better on the way to work, or in a rush at lunch time.

This is where I believe Soylent matters. As a nutritionally complete, soon-to-be animal-free food, this is the most conscious, sustainable, healthy, easy convenience food you can get. Please, let me know if I am wrong about this! But can you really compete with THESE NUTRITION FACTS?! I just can’t see 10 almonds and a green juice having nutritional balance like this. Oh and each “meal” aka 1/3 of a daily pouch is $3.

Anyway. Day 0 I went to bed excited to try Soylent the next morning. Since I had just come back from travelling, there was nothing in the fridge but two slices of pizza courtesy of my husband. A good way to start on Soylent, I thought. No distractions.

Day 1 (Monday):

First I should mention that I had no intention of going solely on Soylent. I just don’t see that being realistic for me, and I’d much try Soylent out in the way that works best for me than in some kind of test of the wills.

I’ve never been a diet person or a New Year’s resolution person so I thought I’d just go about this honestly. Drink Soylent when I want it. Don’t when I don’t want it.

I waited until about noon to make the Soylent. I convinced myself that I wasn’t hungry until then. I am not sure if that is true of if I was just scared to have the first sip. Probably both, cause I was still weirdly jetlagged.

I checked out the box and liked that it was made with solar energy.

Two options for mixing are to use a half-meal scoop (one part Soylent+ one part water) or a big jug to mix a day’s worth, that can last in the fridge for two days.

I emptied a whole days worth into the special mixing jug, mixed it up and chilled it.

At 1pm I decided it was time to try it (OK so yeah, instead of eating a convenience food I just didn’t eat; so a bad habit related to jetlag and eating a big meal the night before I think).

I imagined it to be grey and kind of thick and slippery like something glutinous. Instead, it was brownish colored (I liked the color) with an oaty smell. It was granular in a plant-material kind of way. Aside from the slight tinge of Sucralose (I can’t stand artificial sweeteners and I can ALWAYS detect them), there was nothing that tasted particularly “artificial” to me. My best descriptor is that it is “oaty”. Not like oatmeal, cause it doesn’t have that oat fiber sliminess to it, but it smells and looks oatmealish. I love porridge so this was fine with me.

I had two small cups of it (rather than a whole “meal”) and got back to work.

Five minutes later I decided to have one of those two old pizza slices. It felt weird to not chew. I’ve never done the smoothie-for-breakfast thing. Feeling good (not hungry, but not full) for the rest of the day.

I have a Japanese class from 6:30pm to 8:30pm and it’s always a huge affair deciding if I will eat before or after with my husband. And then if he has to stay a little later I end up being late. It’s just bad timing. In this case I could relax and at 6:10, down two small cups before walking to class.

On the walk to class I thought about how much time food preparation takes. Especially since I insist on buying fresh food from the market nearby, which relies on a fair bit of preparation, it’s not rare for me to be hypoglycemic and irritated and in a cold sweat JUST to eat something responsible. Or I eat a bag of chips. And throughout the workday I’ll be browsing food blogs for recipe inspiration for the evening. It was nice to me freed of the daily food prep issue for a day.

After class we met up with friends for drinks and snacks at a bar we love. I had pani puris and fried tofu and it was amazing.

Day 2: (Tuesday)

Soylent for breakfast at 9:30am. The other piece of pizza five minutes later. I note that the pizza leaves detritus in my teeth and I’m annoyed by that. Soylent wouldn’t do that.

I’ve never been an early morning person, and I always hated rushing to work without having some food AND rushing to work forcing myself to have food when I wasn’t hungry. I work from home now so it’s really an issue anymore, but I was happy to not have to do anything but pour a couple glasses of Soylent for breakfast. I haven’t done  Soylent meal yet (one full third of the package) cause I never really ate 3 meals a day anyway.

Around 1pm I started craving Soylent. I never imagined I would be thinking about what it tastes like and wanting it. Had two small cups.

When my husband came home from work we decided to have a beer and watch a World Cup game, then go for Italian food at dinner time. He asked if I was on a diet and I told him I wasn’t. I’ve never been on a diet before. Soylent is not a diet. It’s funny that if it were a diet, people probably wouldn’t be so confused by it.

Again, today I was impressed by how much work I could get done by not being distracted by hunger and the prospect of having to cook.

Day 3 (Wednesday):

I had a small cup of Soylent in the morning, the last of the jug I had prepared on Day 1. I know it’s only supposed to last two days but I mean why wouldn’t it last a third. I’ve never really paid attention to best-before dates anyway.

Lunch at a lunch meeting.

Mailed out packages of Soylent to two enthusiastic friends across the country. So my supply is cut now but hopefully they can start some good conversations in their area of the world.

Cooked a brilliant chana masala paneer (recipe from NH community member!!) with fresh chapatis for dinner, with a bowl of cool cherries for dessert. Jalapeno potato chips with ice cream sandwich for snack later on during a movie.

I make chapatis with half whole wheat and half all purpose flour. The whole wheat flour reminded me of the smell of Soylent.

While making the chapati dough I wondered if the Soylent powder could be made into dough, then rolled and fried like a chapati. Then wondered if it could also be made into a hummus-style dip into which you could dip the Soylent-chapati. Then wondered if you could fry moistened Soylent like falafel, wrap it in the Soylent chapati, then dress it with the Soylent hummus.

Decided not to try making Soylent falafels until I could order Soylent regularly.

Was glad to be eating food that I appreciated. I wasn’t eating like I had missed it or anything though, which I might have imagined would be the case. Again, I’m not trying to do any kind of test-of-the-wills experiment here. Eating sustainably, humanely and responsibly should not have to take a big effort. So far, it hasn’t, and where I am putting in effort, I am being fully rewarded.

As an aside, I can not see myself substituting jalapeno potato chips.

Day 4 (Thursday):

Mixed up a jug of Soylent in the morning. Two glasses at 10. Two glasses at 1:30, with one tiny bowl of chips. I’m eating them cause I love them, not cause I’m hungry. Usually I would have several tiny bowls of chips.

I note that I’ve been drinking the Soylent by downing two small cups rather than by sipping on them over a period of time. This is because 1) it’s best cold and 2) perhaps sipping is something that one does for nutritionally unnecessary beverages like coffee/tea, as a distraction during work? Or during conversation (wine/beer)? I don’t know. I’m not drinking Soylent cause I want a little taste of it in my mouth every few minutes. I’m drinking it for sustenance. So maybe that’s why.

Leftover chana masala for dinner.

Day 5 (Friday):

Just dying for an excuse to go out for breakfast. There isn’t one, with Soylent in the fridge, from yesterday. I don’t want to push the “refrigerate for 2 days” limit too far and I know if I don’t have Soylent during the workday, I definitely won’t have it in the evening.

I have the Soylent and am reluctantly productive.

I don’t know if I’ll be taking Soylent this weekend. I’m thinking about some exquisite things to cook up.

Day 6 (Saturday):

After being kinda mad at Soylent yesterday during the day, I must say Soylent really came through for me last night. I felt like a genius for having Soylent at 5am after a night on the town. The late night meal is the epitome of irresponsible eating and I was so glad to be able to down a couple cups of Soylent before going to bed, knowing I’d feel better in the morning AND I didn’t eat poorly or support some crappy gigantic pizza chain.

This was the only Soylent I had today. My husband and I spent the whole day walking around town, eating out and having a blast.

I ended up not cooking anything cause the house is just too hot. Another +1 for Soylent – don’t have to heat up the kitchen for a meal (though I didn’t have Soylent today)

Day 7 (Sunday):

No Soylent today either. I went to celebrate Pride and noted that I was not looking out for the fried potatoes and donuts. I didn’t care for any of the junky street food, or food for the sake of eating for fun. Pretty big deal as I am a real snacker.

Day 8 (Monday):

I guess I kinda stretched the “2 days in the fridge” but the Soylent smells and tastes fine. Had it for breakfast. In the heat over the past few days the Soylent has been a really nice thing to have. I was eating noodles yesterday and getting really overheated from eating the hot food. Maybe I was just paying attention in a way I haven’t paid attention before.

Ok so…

Even though I still have 3 bags of Soylent left, I think I’ll cut the record here. I have had only 2 bags of Soylent over the past 8 days because I was taking Soylent only during the workdays (excluding meetings).

Did Soylent improve my life? Yes, it uncomplicated eating during the workday, and not only did I save time in food prep/consumption, I also saved time by not daydreaming about food when I was hungry or being lethargic when I was full.

Did I feel healthier? I don’t know… maybe? I wasn’t really seeking to body build or lose weight, just eat more responsibly health- and sustainability-wise. HOWEVER, the mental effect of not wanting to snack is significant and maybe will have a long-term effect.

What about my poo? I had heard that Soylent makes your poo turn white or makes you fart a lot in the beginning. Neither of those things happened to me, probably cause I wasn’t totally changing my diet over. Everything was very regular though!

Will I continue taking Soylent? (I am wondering what verb to use for consuming Soylent. Taking is too medicinal, eating is not accurate, drinking seems not significant enough) YES, as soon as I can actually purchase Soylent regularly from Canada, I will totally have a stash of it on hand at all times. Knowing that I can conveniently have a balanced food-as-fuel instantly will prevent me from buying canned foods, instant foods, and fast foods. Those kinds of foods are usually foods that are unhealthy, irresponsibly made, and made by gigantic multinational companies that I am not too keen to support. So thanks Soylent for making convenience responsible.


About the Authors
Isha Datar is Executive Director at New Harvest