Anyone who has seen “I Love Lucy” will laughingly recall “Vitameatavegamin,” a play on faulty 1950s super-pills that may have had a little more booze than nutrition. For decades people have tried to conquer the ultimate supplement, but to our comedic fortune, nobody got it quite right. After years of being no more than science fiction, however, this supplement has been realized. Soylent, with a mixture of powdered amino acids, proteins and oil may be better for you than food.
When I heard about Soylent, my immediate reaction was disgust. Reviews online include pictures of consumers giving sour faces after their first sips; one said it tasted “like someone stomped on some sugar-free Nilla wafers and poured water on top.” These reviews make sense. To most, food is so much more than just nutrition: it gives emotional satisfaction, has a cultural impact and in many ways can be an art form. Why, then, would anyone choose a supplement over food?
Many Americans are fortunate enough to have a seemingly endless supply of food. A lot of that food, however, didn’t make it to our grocery stores without some genetic modifications. Much of the food we consume contains high amounts of modified corn and soy product, soaked in pesticides, and many meats are improperly raised. As word is getting out, more and more Americans are turning to the slow food movement: organic, locally grown, pesticide-free, wild caught, free-range and 100 percent non-GMO (genetically modified organism). Back and forth we dance, between healthy and accessible, natural and affordable. In the United States, food security affords citizens the possibility to pursue the battle between slow food and GMO without really having to think about supply and demand. In many countries, however, the GMO monster is not as easily escapable.
Populations are growing across the world, and farmable land, outside of what used to be small villages, can no longer supply their populations with enough food. Prices increase with hunger, poverty ensues, and crime rates grow. In a place where “slow food” always existed, the best solution available to them is Monsanto — the company that coined a genetically modified super seed that can endure almost any growing condition. For some of the time, Monsanto is the savior of the impoverished village: crop yield is high, food is ample, and things begin to look up. Then replanting season comes, and the farmers aren’t allowed to use the seed they saved from the last year’s crop — they need to buy it all again.
GMO seed is expensive and must be repurchased at the beginning of each growing season because of copyright issues. Even though the farmers are selling more crop, they make the same if not less than they did before. The farmer cannot go back to farming non-GMO crop because the modified seed destroys the soil so that normal seed cannot grow there. And so begins a cruel kind of indentured servitude, the farmers contractually obliged to grow Monsanto’s seed for much less income than they are due.
Is growing GMO crops worth it then? Even though it is food, the majority of it is corn or soy. The village diet becomes remarkably unnatural, and sometimes the water supply becomes poisoned with runoff from the high amount of pesticides sprayed on the almost pesticide-resistant GMO crop. Things are almost as bad as they were before.
This is where Soylent comes in. A community in the midst of a food crisis cannot rely solely on slow food, nor can it trust GMO products. While Soylent is fairly pricey at the current rate at $85 for seven bags, it gives the nutrition a hungry person needs without the problem of growing it. At a lower price, Soylent could give a community extra time to find alternative solutions or improve their farming methods, and in years of bad crop yield gives a bit of a safety net. While many improvements need to be made, including price, supply and accessibility, Soylent could mean food security, a necessary ingredient for the advancement of these rapidly growing communities.
What could a thing like Soylent do for countries that are fine without it? For one, it is a quick fix for the nutrition crisis in the United States. Average Americans consume limited amounts of fiber and certain nutrients while overloading on sodium, sugars and fats. Soylent regulates all of that through pre-calculating the ideal amounts of fiber, oils, and all other nutrients humans get through food.
Soylent is, well, pretty gross in its current stage of development. But it offers a new, advantageous perspective on food, one that could even be life-saving, in many ways.