What we talk about when we talk about Soylent
Who doesn’t love being in control of their destiny? Who doesn’t love food from a sealed tube?
Many years ago, I was talking to a friend on the phone while they were visiting Silicon Valley. They woke up after the friend they were staying with left for work, and they didn’t have a key to the apartment, so they couldn’t leave, go buy coffee or food and come back inside.
As we talked on the phone I could hear them shuffling around, opening cabinets and drawers.
“Ugh,” they said finally. “I’m trying to find something to eat, but all they have in all of these cabinets is Soylent.”
I don’t remember what they ended up doing: I think they had an instant oatmeal package in their luggage or something?
Or they might’ve just said fuck it and gone and gotten a banana or a bagel or something, resigned to having to spend the rest of the outside while their friend was at work.
The only thing I remember for sure is they definitely didn’t drink any Soylent.
Last year at the peak of my “not great mental health summer,” in the middle of a move, I found myself at Walgreens with no plan for groceries. I bought five bottles of Soylent, one of the items in the “health food” refrigerator section, next to the mini cheeses. It comes in a bottle, not a tube, but the plastic itself is reminiscent of gogurt, not in packaging but in texture.
A bottle of Soylent has three seals: the plastic that covers the top coating on that you rip on the perforated side, the seal you break when you twist the cap open, and the seal that rips when anyone knows that you drink Soylent on a regular basis.
It was 90° and I had just moved a ton of heavy boxes up three flights of stairs, then carried a bunch of other heavy boxes to the dumpster. I read the label of the tube while I drank it, sitting on the Walgreen’s curb, and the label’s ridiculous little font made me feel secure, in control of my surroundings.
It was not my best moment but it was also not my worst.
I’ve met several developers who admitted they drink Soylent, or, at least, had someone joke about them drinking it without denying it. None of these dudes have been excited to talk to me about why they drink Soylent.
Inevitably, someone else, someone less perversely gleefully about Soylent than I am, will say something like “what’s the point of that? why bother being alive at all, if you can’t eat real food?” “I think I would die without frozen pizza”.
Usually the Soylent drinker stops abruptly at this, mutters something about convenience, and changes the subject.
I’ve told everyone who will listen that if a backpacking company, or any company that sells dehydrated meals, wants to expand their market, I have the perfect campaign: depression food.
Can’t move? Dissociated but still hungry?
Boil water. Put the water in the bag.
Seal the bag. Then unseal it.
Boom, depression food.
Mountainhouse, if you’re reading this, I’m extremely available.
One time a friend and I were at the grocery store, and we stopped in the refrigerated dairy aisle.
“Oh, look!” I said, not sticking to my grocery list, “Remember those little wax sealed babybel cheeses? All the girls at my high school ate those for lunch, it was such a trend.”
My friend said, “That’s what I ate every day for lunch when I was crazy bulimic — when you have a lunch that takes a lot of work to eat, it hides the fact that you’re not actually eating anything. “
It took me until we got to the cleaning supply aisle to realize that what I had said and what she had said were related.
One time one of the developer dudes I was interrogating about the macros in Soylent broke down, said something earnest about what we were all making fun of him for.
“I just… I really like the control.” he said.
“This is a way for me to have power over what my body and mind to do, without being subject to whether or not I can find food in the office cafeteria.”
It was kind of awkward.
He had said outright what we had all assumed about him drinking Soylent, about everyone who drinks Soylent.
He didn’t really need to say it out loud.