Soylent — a meal replacement product that claims to satisfy all nutritional needs, and that has been described as tasting like “wet cardboard” — has recently, perhaps as no surprise, been making people sick. In response to this, the startup company behind the fad product recalled their food bars, and soon after recalled their meal replacement powder, too.
A preliminary investigation performed by the company has not found an obvious cause behind this sickness. Soylent assures their customers that all tests “came back negative for food pathogens, toxins or outside contamination.” The company now claims that “food intolerance” may be to blame — but is this reasonable?
Food Industry Flaws — Is Soylent Any Different?
Soylent meal replacement products are meant for those who believe they have no time to eat regular food — and for those who perhaps have no desire to do so, either. Rob Rhinehart, creator of the product, admittedly was inspired by his own lack of interest in food. He has said, “eating to me is a leisure activity, like going to the movies, but I don't want to go to the movies three times a day.”
It is obvious that Rhinehart considers Soylent to be outside the mainstream approach to food — both in its production and in its usage. But does this excuse the product from mainstream issues like food poisoning and even consumer death? In light of the recent reports of sick consumers, the answer is a resounding no. Soylent has proven itself no different than other food products out there — food products made by companies who are interested, most of all, in financial gain.
Food Intolerance or Long-Term Effects?
The danger here is that “food intolerance” is such a non-specific, catch-all term that may end up obscuring more than it reveals. Perhaps the real danger of substituting meals with Soylent lies in its long-term effects — which have not been studied or even experienced, as this product is so new. Those who eat Soylent ingest the same minerals, vitamins, and nutrients every day. They miss out on experiencing a wide variety of food — a variety that may aid in disease prevention.
Research has shown that a wide variety of dietary fibers aids in maintaining a healthy gut flora — a gut flora which is then responsible for maintaining overall health. Antoinette Saddler, a doctor specializing in gastroenterology and nutrition support, argues:
“It may be challenging to achieve the right balance of fibers with an exclusively liquid diet. For example, any product consumed as a person’s sole source of nutrition should ideally contain prebiotic fibers due to their positive influence on gut flora.”
What Is the ‘Real’ Science Behind Soylent?
Soylent may contain many vitamins and minerals, and may have received food status (rather than supplement status) from the FDA, but for many nutritionists the product falls short. For all the scientific advances we have made, the human body, and all of its processes, still remains somewhat mysterious. In light of this mystery, it seems dangerous for one company to direct how a person receives their nutrients.
Bonnie Blodgett, a writer for the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minnesota — who lost her sense of smell as a result of using the now-recalled nasal spray Zicam — told the The Huffington Post she is concerned that Soylent is perceived as “the ‘logical,’ ‘science-based’ ultimate solution to the ‘problem’ of eating in an industrialized world in which humans are increasingly allowing themselves to be treated like widgets, not living creatures.”
“The industrial model that is destroying our planet,” Blodgett continues, “denies the essential facts of human life: that we eat not just to survive but to understand and be part of the chain of life.” It seems we should be smarter, or more skeptical, and remember that we enter into dangerous territory if we allow one company to dictate our access to nutrition and food.