It’s not “bad”, necessarily, but as I continued to sip from the bottle it became more and more obvious that this drink is trying hard to compensate for something.
Borrowing its name from a product in the novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, Soylent claims to be the perfect meal replacement to solve issues of food insecurity through Silicon Valley engineering. I recently rewatched the film Soylent Green (1973), and though the official soylent website claims the drink isn’t as bleak as the meal replacements offered in the film, the association is still incredibly dystopian. Soylent Green is a film set in New York City in 2022, where the poor are packed in the streets, and real food only exists for those who can afford it—the rich. While older people can vaguely remember the taste of fruit or meat, younger generations were born under depressing circumstances, and have no idea what real food tastes like. The poor subsist on an allegedly nutritious food made of soybeans and lentils, as the Greenhouse Effect has ruined the Earth and made other food unsustainable. Fueled by a series of murders and suspicious events, Detective Thorn starts investigating what looks to be a dark secret surrounding soylent green.
I’m pausing to say that a spoiler is coming, but I also want to stress that the movie was made in 1973. It’s not like none of you have had ample time to see it. It came out before I was born. Come on.
In the final moments of the movie, Detective Thorn has been shot, and starts crying out that he uncovered the truth about soylent green. It’s made of people. There are human remains in this drink that everyone has been forced to consume. This is a point where anyone reading this should wonder why a company would name their product anything even remotely adjacent to this film. The film is based on the above mentioned novel. The company can’t shirk responsibility completely, and even if they chose to pretend to be unaware of the film (they don’t), why name a product something so off-putting?
There’s a point in the movie where two characters steal alcohol, lettuce and beans from a rich person’s house, and they’re delighted at the meal, toasting to each other and genuinely enjoying the real food they’re eating. The notion of relishing the autonomy of choosing what to eat rather than accepting what’s being served is relatable to anyone who’s ever been poor. There’s an ugly idiom that “beggars can’t be choosers”. I rebuke this saying.
Soylent boasts donating to food banks and claims to be doing their part in the fight against worldwide hunger, but when I searched to find dollar amounts donated, I came up mostly empty. Why? Because while Soylent states they’ve donated to food banks and hunger programs, a lot of what they’re referring to is their product. Soylent has partnered with a few organizations in the LA area, pushing their product in lieu of actual meals to the homeless or hungry. While donations are usually a good thing, and should be encouraged, I find it hard to shake the uneasy feeling I have. Sustainability is a worldwide issue. Human rights are worldwide issues. But can’t we solve these problems without conflating donations with PR attempts? Is this the only way? And should companies be applauded for this? NO. On top of all of my observations above, I laughed until I cried when I read that Soylent calls their product is accessible. TO WHOM? A case of 12 costs almost $40, which is unrealistic to the people the company is claiming to help. I took a look at the #SoylentForGood and #FueledbySoylent hashtags that Soylent mentions on their website for fans to use on Instagram. These hashtags were mainly used by Soylent’s official account or paid influencers.
I understand that some people may drink Soylent out of convenience. Each bottle is labeled as a “complete meal”, and just drinking something during a busy day is easier than the thought of waiting in line to buy food or taking time to cook. I get that. I’ve had quite a few people ask me to review Soylent, and I will do that below. I try to make my reviews as complete as possible, and I cannot in good conscience ignore all of the real thoughts I have on the product, the company, and all of the implications. I am not a healthcare professional, but I also want to state that I don’t believe in meal replacements as a concept when it comes to drinking food instead of eating it on a regular, consistent basis. Everyone’s body has different needs, and a genetically engineered cure-all meal replacement that is nutritious and healthy across the board does not exist.
Now that I’ve gotten this commentary off my chest, I’ll delve into my review of the beverage itself. Sundays are the day I always cook meals or prepare food for the rest of the week. I don’t live an exceptionally busy lifestyle when it comes to leaving the house. I work from home, so it’s easy and convenient for me to eat home cooked food on a regular basis. On Sundays, though, I’m usually busy enough with planning and prepping that I don’t have anything readily available to stave off hunger while I get my food ready. I start cooking early in the morning and usually am not done until dinnertime, so I figured this would be my opportunity to try Soylent and see if it delivers. I chose the Mint Chocolate flavor, which seems to be the newest to the original Soylent formula lineup. They also have caffeinated versions and lower calorie versions of the drink. The flavor is odd. The mint is prominent, as is the chocolate, but there’s a chalky feeling and aftertaste that is hard to ignore. The flavor isn’t comparable to an Andes Mint or other perfect partnership of mint and chocolate. This is something else. It’s not “bad”, necessarily, but as I continued to sip from the bottle it became more and more obvious that this drink is trying hard to compensate for something. Real food. I don’t generally eat a lot of processed foods on a regular basis, and when I do, there’s the overwhelming reality that what I’m consuming was “created”, which feels weird. The only descriptor for this drink that I can think of is if you brushed your teeth, didn’t rinse your mouth out afterward, and then drank a glass of chocolate milk. Overall unappealing, unappetizing, and made me wish I’d opted for just eating food instead. My hunger didn’t completely dissipate, but felt more like a distant feeling in my stomach. Still there, still present, but dulled enough that I could continue focusing on my tasks. The drink also left an odd, powdery feeling in my mouth. Not enough that I would describe it as “gritty”, but enough that I kept running my tongue across my teeth in an attempt to get rid of the sensation. I ended up brushing my teeth again afterward and following up with mouthwash to free myself. The lack of deep hunger lasted for about 4 hours, which I guess is a long time, but I could also get this from eating a salad or a hearty soup. My stomach started hurting two hours later, which could be because I don’t consume soy on a regular basis. I don’t know. There was also a detachment in this process. No chewing or savoring, just drinking down some Soylent and carrying on with my day. It felt bleak.
I wouldn’t recommend this flavor or product to anyone else. I’m leaving points for staving off intense hunger, which is what it was designed to do, but taking points off for subpar flavor, general business practice, and dystopian flair. I’m rating Mint Chocolate Soylent at a 4/10, and now have an even greater appreciation for actual food with flavor that requires chewing.