11 Craziest Parts of The New Yorker’s Soylent Article

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This could be you. Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine (Powder); Getty Images (Body); Photo-illustration by Darrow

The first shipments of former software engineer Rob Rhinehart's Soylent, a just-add-water meal-replacement formula that started off in 2013 with a fund-raising goal of $100,000 but brought in more than $2 million, are now reaching customers, and The New Yorker surveys the burgeoning anti-food movement that's emerged in less than a year. ("It’s not healthy, but I enjoy it," Rhinehart told New York recently, on the topic of his occasional burrito binges.) On the eve of Soylent's launch, Rhinehart and his team have moved to Los Angeles, and as you may probably expect, they expect nothing less than to change the world.

1. It's been a year and a half since Rhinehart formulated and made the switch to Soylent, which now accounts for 90 percent of his diet. He's doing fine. (Plus his dandruff is gone.)

2. The R&D; process was tough at times, and Rhinehart even once O.D.'d on magnesium. "I just felt sharp pains throughout my entire body and couldn't really move."

3. There's a mini-colony of Soylent tinkerers at Caltech, "a lot of very busy engineering and physics students" who pretty much do not ingest traditional food. They're called "Skurves," and they subsist on modified versions of Rhinehart's formula, posted online.

4. Soylent is not without its hazards. "[T]he first week can be pretty bad, because you fart pretty bad," says one Skurve. ("I cleared out a jazz theatre once," Rhinehart add, noting that was before he dialed back the sulfur during formulation.)

5. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rhinehart admires Buckminster Fuller, the iconoclastic scientist and polymath, whose work convinced him to start viewing the human body as a "hydroelectric machine."

6. Rhinehart wears a standard uniform of V-neck T-shirts and jeans and puts his smelly clothes in the freezer to kill bacteria, but then typically donates his clothes after a couple of weeks of wear. He may have something against washing machines.

7. At first, his mom — and everyone else, really — didn't like the name Soylent, which comes from a 1973 science-fiction movie in which the protagonist famously learns the namesake miracle food is in fact made from human beings.

8. Despite this, the company is moving away from animal-derived nutrients and sourcing a form of omega-3 produced by algae, not fish, with the eventual goal of having one industrious strain churn out Soylent soup to nuts, as it were.

9. Rhinehart posits "you could just drop in a shipping container" of Soylent-producing algae into an area devastated by hunger, thus fixing one of the world's most intractable issues.

10. Despite the fact that the company has "ten thousand dollars in new orders coming in every day," it's unclear if omitting things like phytochemicals will hurt Soylent-teers. "It's a little bit presumptuous to think that we actually know everything that goes into an optimally healthy diet," says Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, who is no doubt having some fruit this morning.

11. Rhinehart is thinking ahead. "We thought about doing Soylent drone delivery," he says.

The End of Food [The New Yorker]
Related: Powder People: Could It Possibly Be Healthy to Eat Nothing But the Food-Substitute Soylent?