Rob Rhinehart's food replacement Soylent now has a crowdfunding campaign.
Soylent frees you from the time and money spent shopping, cooking and cleaning, puts you in excellent health, and vastly reduces your environmental impact by eliminating much of the waste and harm coming from agriculture, livestock, and food-related trash.
If you're interested in one or more of these benefits, send in some money! There is also a new blog post.
To copy over my earlier G+ comment:
ಠ_ಠ I completely disapprove of this. Soylent is a fun idea, sure, but Rhinehart's asking for $100k to launch a Soylent manufacturing company?! He hasn't even done even the minimal crappy self-experiments he could've done very easily, like randomize weeks on and off Soylent! Nor, AFAIK, has he published any of the results from the early volunteers or anything, really. This is ridiculous.
See also Hacker News
Build a better one yourself? I'm tired of eating.
Factors why I have not and probably will not:
I disagree. A random basket of foods, while likely deficient in something or other, will also likely change what it's deficient in over time, while Soylent by definition will be consistently deficient. Even if regular food vs Soylent were both equally harmful, the harm from the regular food may be less due to the variability of it. Statistics analogy borrowing from Jaynes: total error in an sampling estimate can be broken down as random error vs systematic error/bias - but random errors gradually cancel out as the sample size increases, while systematic errors remain the same. Soylent is all systematic error.
That's true. But then again, once you consider that "normal diets" is really composed of countless of different combinations of foods ranging from "fast food only" to "making a constant effort to be trying out new foods all the time", you could also use this as an argument for Soylent being probably safe. As in, "out of all the countless possible combinations of nutritional intakes that people live on, most don't lead to anybody dying of scurvy, so if we specifically construct one new diet for the express purpose of providing everything that one needs, it doesn't seem like it should kill you if all those diets that weren't constructed with that in mind don't kill you".
Only if you are able to track the deficiency back to its cause. To reuse scurvy, how many realized that their deficiency was of fresh fruits and vegetables? As opposed to bad air or bacterial poisoning or whatever... If you felt the symptoms of rabbit starvation but had never heard of it or been told about it, would you realize what the problem was in your diet before you happened to eat something fatty and noticed your vague hunger was finally satisfied?
I look forward to your self-experiments...
The stuff you want is called Jevity. It's a complete liquid diet that's used for feeding tube patients (Ebert after cancer being one of the most famous). It can be consumed orally, and you can buy it in bulk from Amazon. It's been designed by people who are experts in nutrition and has been used for years by patients as a sole food source.
Of course, Jevity only claims to keep you alive and healthy as your only food source, not to trim your fat, sharpen your brain, etc. But I'm fairly sure that has more to do with ethics, a basic knowledge of the subject, and an understanding of the necessity of double blind studies for medical claims than someone finding out the secrets to perfect health who forgot iron and sulfur in their supplement.
Go to a pharmacy and ask about a complete liquid diet for someone who had jaw surgery? They should have stuff that's pretty much Soylent, but more expensive and designed and tested by experts.
Yup, and the magic search keywords here seem to be "total diet replacement".
A quick & dirty Google search returns a recent paper, which lists Optifast, KicStart, and Optislim as brands "packaged and marketed as very-low-energy diets (VLED), defined as total dietary replacement with FMR [formulated meal replacements]". The "Price per serve" of those brands, incidentally, is given as 1.87 to 2.99 AUD in table 1.
They also seem to be intended for weight loss, so you might want to augment your calories with normal, high-energy foods. Or maybe you can double up on servings, I dunno.
Edit: amusingly, all of these mixtures made by the pros also seem to be deficient in various nutrients. Most of the VLED brands don't meet a "recommended dietary intake" or "adequate intake" baseline for protein, calcium, phosphorus, potassium or magnesium. Maybe you should nosh on some chicken, bananas, and a daily mineral supplement too?
I suspect most people considering Soylent aren't exactly eating like Michael Pollan in the first place. Anecdotally, I know several people who subsist on diets of fast-food takeout washed down by multiple liters of soda. It seems credible that Soylent might at least provide better nutrition than that. The scorn directed at Soylent by many of the Hacker News commenters strikes me as misdirected given the relatively poor quality diet of many Americans.
I have used other commercially available meal replacement shakes in the past - most don't even attempt to deliver complete nutrition beyond covering each of the major macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat). There seems to be room for improvement and innovation in this market.
The guinea pigs for Soylent aren't going to be on a multi-month voyage across the ocean or the antarctic tundra without access to other food. If they do encounter deficiency issues, they can simply reintroduce other foods without suffering catastrophic effects. It takes a special kind of stubborn to really deprive yourself to the point of serious deficiency.
Promissory notes and jam tomorrow. He didn't bother to run the most trivial experiments on himself, he hasn't released information on the existing volunteers he mailed Soylent off to a while ago, and so I'm not optimistic about what clinical trials he'll fund - especially considering that costs are always higher than one expects so he'll have pressing demands on his funds (and why should he fund trials, when he already has so many geeks pressing funds on him already?)
Instrumentally rational, perhaps, but still ridiculous. It may not be too harmful snake oil, it may improve over time, but investment in it is still a bad idea and the evidence for its efficacy is non-existent. People giving him >$200k for this is ridiculous.
Who are these people even more interested in self-experimentatio... (read more)
As of 2015, even the vague pious hope of trials seems to have been long abandoned; apparently Rhinehart & Soylent are quite busy merely shipping and keeping things running...
Winning a popularity contest does not make one rational.
Of course blocking on weeks wouldn't rule out long-term side-effects. (Nothing would, short of a multi-decade RCT to investigate all-cause mortality.)
My point was that he hasn't even done that much. Yet, he is happy to blog about the 1 week he took off Soylent to fly to LA and how crappy he felt wandering around a strange city and how this proves normal food sucks...
No, they won't. Or, if they are interpretable as a trial, it'll be as the worst epidemiological survey ever run - no blinding, no followup, response bias out the wazoo, attrition, expectancy and Hawthorne effects already built in etc etc. You name a bias, this ('hand out goodies and hope someone will report problems') will have it. You ever wonder why we have things like 'evidence-based medicine'? It's because when we hand out goodies and hope people will tell us how well it works, we get people grinding up tiger penises because nothing works better for fixing your virility problems! Everyone says so! And how could they be wrong, right?
To quote myself again from my G+ thread:... (read more)
I'm surprised by the strongly negative reactions to this. Yes, the claims being made about Soylent are ridiculously overstated and undoubtedly will be softened with time. And yes, I suspect that some ill effects on health will result for some who subsist entirely on Soylent, especially in this first public version.
But I also suspect that very few people (and only those prepared to accept the consequences) will attempt to subsist entirely on Soylent for long periods of time. What I think interests most people is a way to recover most of the time they spend eating and thinking about food, while enjoying regular meals when it is convenient to do so (perhaps once daily before leaving the house or during lunch with coworkers, or a few times a week when eating socially with friends).
Diets that are mostly made up of a few ingredients aren't news; they're the way most of the world eats (see, e.g., staple foods). Soylent attempts to reorder the diet to include long periods where eating has low prep cost and relatively high nutritional value, instead of the status quo which has lots of meals with moderate prep cost, moderate nutritional value, and the unfortunate side effect of breaking up n... (read more)
Might I reiterate the suggestion of my whole food version for people who don't wish to trust powders mixed by a stranger with a spotty track record of not-poisoning-himself?
I seriously don't think I can go back to not using this almost daily. Worrying about only 1 meal a day has been a huge stress gone from my life.
Edit: I've been googling round, looking at existing liquid meal replacements and I found this. This seems to basically be a multivitamin/multimineral + some whey and gelatin. it notably does not include things that are required but not generally listed as essential nutrients due to their ubiquity and some trace minerals are missing (sulfur for instance, Soylent ran into this issue as well). This is notably not a dietary replacement as it is only 110 calories. It is nonetheless interesting as an ingredient for attempts at homemade Soylent as it is quite cheap($1/serving). Whether the ingredients are bioavailable is of course a different matter, but Soylent has this issue as well.
The blog post is full of great one-liners, like "Surely our minds can find more enjoyable activities than chewing." The guy comes across as very earnest and attempting to be rational about his invention, which is a welcome departure from your usual fad diet pusher.
That said, the OP is unduly optimistic and uncritical. The odds of a dietary breakthrough of this magnitude being missed by the meal-replacement manufacturers are not high, though it is, of course possible.
As far as I can tell, the big insight behind Soylent is "there are people willing to eat this stuff all the time," rather than "it's possible to build food from the molecules up." The odds of a marketing insight like that being missed seem relatively high.
I want rationalists to be a group of people who are as optimistic as the situation warrants.
As someone who is also very interested in food replacements, this is a bad reason to not criticize Soylent. When someone is taking a sloppy approach, they should get called on it- and Rhinehart has been pretty dang sloppy. He forgot iron! I'm skeptical of the quality of his system if it produced that output. Yes, his system is learning from feedback, and so iron is in, as is sulfur. But I hope he doesn't include the 'optionals' that he's listed in his earlier recipe- among other things, he's using Ginseng and Gingko Biloba, which suggests to me he hasn't seen or thought to check this easy summary of the literature, let alone the literature itself. (His reasons for including them seem out of place, given the goal.)
What surprises me most about this whole thing is that there is such a large demographic of people who take no net pleasure from food. Typical mind fallacy dance
"Move fast and break things" is not a good mantra when dealing with nutrition.
Because if something goes wrong, the things you are breaking will be people's well-being. There were two instances where Rob noticed that he was feeling ill and had to correct a nutritional deficiency on the fly. It's less likely that this will happen during large-scale production, but if it does, the people consuming exclusively Soylent will not have all the knowledge Rob did wrt the formula or the symptoms of nutritional deficiency.
I think Soylent is a good idea, and ordered a week's supply, but I'm going to try it slowly; I think the chance that they screw up the production is large enough to merit caution.
I agree that nutritional deficiencies are a problem to watch out for but disagree that consuming Soylent would vastly increase my risk of nutritional deficiencies relative to my current diet. I don't think you're taking into account how bad many people's current diets are / could be. The question is not whether eating Soylent is dangerous but whether it's substantially more dangerous than whatever people are already eating.
Anecdotally, I know nobody who has suffered a nutritional deficiency as lethal as zero iron, and the diets in my circle of college students are not very good. I think Soylent will be healthier than my current diet, but I also think the chance of serious nutritional deficiencies is higher.
Edit: To be clear, I'm talking about nutritional deficiencies where one's metabolism starts to fail for want of a crucial element, not deficiencies where someone is consuming marginally less of a nutrient than the optimal amount. I think Soylent will be better than my current diet in the latter category.
Even if it's good for him, he hasn't done the testing to find out what proportion of people it's good for.
I ran a comparison of my own nutrients a couple weeks back, composed of "Alive" brand multivitamin (at the time I started buying it, the only multivitamin I could buy in local stores with both iodine and... some other thing I thought important at the time), potassium supplements (added to my supplement list after my argument with several people here on the dangers of potassium - hey guys, you changed my mind!), a calcium supplement, a biotin supplement, a choline/inositol supplement (for the piracetam I also take daily), and a flaxseed supplement... (read more)
Blog post on Soylent by Kurtis Frank
It's clear that there's enough interest in this and enough people think this is a good idea that there will at least be some small market of products like this long term. I think that's not really a debate.
However, what I am incredibly interested in is why this is so polarizing? It seems like people either go "hmm, yeah, okay, yes" or "OMG NO". Why?
I have very strong priors against this idea. The priors are based on the following:
If nothing else, it's progress towards a permanent manned presence in space. Some people are going to eat it all the time, which will give us training information about what is really necessary to survive. It simplifies the grow-food-in-space problem down to generate-these-chemicals-in-space, which is a much easier problem.
The blog referenced is down at this time.