New Product Has Potential to End World Hunger

For those of you who remember Charlton Heston’s infamously shouted line, “Soylent Green is People,” in the fictional-food-named-film Soylent Green (the 1973 sci-fi flick that tackles world hunger in an overly crowded society by secretly turning people into sustenance), this news may come as a surprise. There is a new product entering the market that also, according to its creators, has the potential to solve world hunger, and it is garnering support from both investors and the public. It’s called Soylent.

Don’t worry; creators assure the public that Soylent, which costs just over three dollars per meal, “contains no person-derived compounds.” On the contrary, the company’s website describes Soylent as a simple, affordable, and nutritious beverage that contains “everything the healthy body needs.” According to a CNN news report, the drink is a “thick, light beige goop,” and has a bland taste without additional flavorings. The company targets consumers who have weight or cholesterol problems; people who cannot afford to eat well; individuals with allergies, heartburn, acid reflux, or indigestion; and healthy people who want alternative food choices.

According to an October 22, 2013, company statement, Soylent has garnered over $1.5 million in preorders, and $1.5 million from investment companies in seed capital. The company expects to start shipping orders within the U.S. beginning early 2014, and internationally beginning mid-2014.

Nutrition

As with any cheap, shelf-stable product that could potentially replace meals on a temporary or even permanent basis, questions of safety and nutrition are raised. According to Soylent’s blog, the beverage has a carbohydrate/fat/protein ratio of 50/30/20, and is composed of oat flour, maltodextrin, brown rice protein isolate, canola and fish oils, fiber, and 27 vitamins and minerals. A separate formula has been developed for men and women. According to its website, Soylent can be personalized for people with different body types, and is customizable based on consumers’ personal goals.

Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, department chair of UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health stated that “relying on a single formula isn’t good for your nutrition,” CNN reports. While some parts of Soylent are healthy, notes Mayer-Davis in a CNN interview, nutritional needs differ among people, particularly when considering genetic makeup and individual “growth and development.” However, the beverage “would probably be fine as a meal every now and then,” she stated.

The product’s website notes that Soylent beta testers reported having more energy, better cognition, loss of weight, mood improvement, healthier skin, less fatigue, and better sleep. Joe S., a beta tester from Washington, DC, noted, “You feel more energetic and clear-headed than you do with solid foods (as if you’ve stopped putting yourself in a series of mini-food comas that you’ve become so habituated to you don’t notice them).”

Rob Rhinehart, one of Soylent’s creators and its current CEO, noticed after three months of including Soylent in his diet that his weight was holding at 180 pounds and his muscle mass was 46 percent, which was considered “optimal” for his lifestyle. According to his blog, after spending a week consuming solid foods without Soylent in his diet, Rhinehart noticed that “cognition was first to go. Patience shortened, attention dulled, curiosity waned.” He further noted, “The physical effects took another few days. It was harder to wake up, the gym seemed much less inviting, and I gained a few pounds.” However, once he returned Soylent to his diet, he “bounced back, no harm done.” According to Rhinehart, he currently consumes a mixed diet of Soylent and solid foods.

Ending World Hunger

Soylent’s goal to solve world hunger is “several years out,” according to Rhinehart and CNN. “Being able to produce calories very cheaply at scale, in a form that is very shelf-stable and comparatively easy to store and transport, alleviates many issues around food aid and security,” he noted. Although ending hunger has been a goal from the beginning to Rhinehart, the CEO notes Soylent will need to be profitable first. He further stated in his blog, “Soylent is probably not going to solve hunger, obesity, and health in one fell swoop. But I certainly think it could help.”