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Soylent 2.0: Dystopian Future Food Comes Premixed


Soylent 2.0 contains algae oil, a new ingredient. Image courtesy Soylent
Soylent 2.0 contains algae oil, a new ingredient. Image courtesy Soylent

The latest version of Soylent is here. And this time, it's premixed.

Soylent 2.0 is the seventh iteration of the meal-replacement concoction billed as "a simple, nutritious, and affordable food that possesses all the essential ingredients a body needs to be healthy." (That latter part is somewhat debatable.) Soylent used to come only as a powder and a separate oil blend. Users mixed up a batch with water and then refrigerated. Soylent 2.0 ships premade in recycled-plastic bottles. No measuring, mixing or refrigerating.

Unlike its horrifying namesake food, the Soylent Green in 1973's sci-fi movie by the same name, this product is not made from human beings. It's not really made from food, either. Soylent contains the essential nutrients found in food but in their most basic, chemical forms. So the vitamin C in Soylent, for instance, comes not from oranges or tomatoes or spinach but from a factory that synthesizes vitamin C, or C6H86

It's all about efficiency. Soylent creator Rob Rhinehart writes in his blog that grocery shopping, cooking, eating whole foods and cleaning up afterward take too much time and money away from other, presumably more worthwhile activities. He also claims they support an unsustainable food-production system that depletes natural resources and generates huge amounts of waste.  

When The Verge's Chris Ziegler asked Rhinehart about the apparent inefficiency of shipping heavy bottles of Soylent rather than bags of powder, Rhinehart explained that since 2.0 needs no refrigeration and keeps for a year, the efficiency balances out.   

Ziegler actually drinks the stuff. He reviewed the original Soylent for The Verge back in 2014, eating nothing but Soylent for 25 days. He liked it enough to stick with it. Ziegler still uses Soylent to replace anywhere from one to three meals a day.

"I like it for the convenience, speed and extremely low cost, since food is generally so expensive in NYC," Ziegler writes in an email. "I don't look forward to drinking it, but I definitely don't mind it. It doesn't taste bad." He doesn't see it replacing food, though.

"Most people will never accept a product as monotonous and boring as this for their staple," Ziegler predicts.

Soylent is a niche product, no doubt. It has a strong following among workaholics in Silicon Valley. Meal-replacement drinks in general get a lot of play there, but Rhinehart puts Soylent in a class of its own.  For one thing, it has less sugar than drinks like Ensure. Soylent has 9 grams per 400-calorie serving (9 percent of the beverage's calories comes from sugar), while Ensure Original Milk Chocolate has 15 grams per 220-calorie serving (27 percent of its calories come from sugar). Rhinehart also writes in his blog that "Soylent 2.0 is perhaps the most ecologically efficient food ever created."

That's because of the algae oil, a new ingredient for Soylent. Half of the fats in 2.0 come from algae. In the previous version (Soylent 1.5), it was primarily sunflower and canola oils. Algae is a highly sustainable source of nutrients: It grows in plentiful salt water, releases no pollutants in production, removes CO2 from the air through photosynthesis, grows year-round and reaches maturity up to 100 times faster than grain crops. 

The addition of algae is significant, but the most noteworthy change in 2.0 is probably still the bottle. As Brian Solomon points out on Forbes.com, it may indicate a move to court a wider demographic. The ideology seems to have softened a bit: Soylent 2.0 is as much a "grab-and-go" drink for when you have to work through lunch as it is a staple intended to replace a food-based diet.

Or maybe it's just more efficient. Measuring and mixing take minutes. Opening a bottle takes seconds.

Still, Ziegler plans to stick with the powder. "It's slightly cheaper," he says, and the bottles take up too much space.   



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