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Do They Have to Call it Soylent?

While acknowledging the fears that many might have about food substitutes, Jacobin Magazine Editor Bhaskar Sunkara sees an egalitarian upside to products like Soylent.

Soylent itself, however, is a product with a radically egalitarian core. In a different context, it could facilitate human flourishing and freedom.

Major food trends — from urban farming to the organic food and farm-to-table movements — struggle with the problem of scale. A quick look through the Instagram accounts of self-described foodies alone reveals that these are largely movements of the privileged.

But we have more than 7 billion people to feed; 842 million of them don’t have enough to eat. Even among many of those who do, the food they consume often lacks essential nutrients. Malnutrition kills 3.1 million children every year and leaves millions more underdeveloped. Climate change will only make matters worse, with experts warning of a coming era of food insecurity.

Food today is more expensive and environmentally inefficient than it needs to be. Agricultural production saps 70 percent of our fresh water. Livestock generates around 20 percent of greenhouse gases from human sources. Combined, both sides of the food production system dominate 40 percent of the world’s land surface.

The proliferation of meal replacements can change that equation. “You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” Rhinehart told The New Yorker. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Soylent is already fairly cheap, but with economies of scale through more centralized, public-driven production, it could be made for pennies. This would not only free up land and resources to comfortably sustain more human life, but it could provide a way out of backbreaking farm work for the first time since the Neolithic revolution.

Check out Sunkara’s entire essay.

But do they have to call it Soylent?

Despite the unfortunate name, I am intrigued.

Would you welcome the end of food as we know it? Would the risks or negative outweigh the potential benefits?

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Comments

  1. I, for one, look forward to the day when our eating habits are much more simple. I strongly dislike the fact that I have to eat two or three times a day not because I dislike food but simply because I’m tired of having to choose what food to eat. In order to avoid that, I have pretty much solidified two meals (breakfast and lunch) to the extent that I eat the same thing.

    The nice part about that is when I crave something else for one of those meals, having it is a special treat even if it’s “merely” scrambled eggs instead of my normal raisin bran; I know, I’m a rebel!

    I’ve been seriously thinking about trying to get my hands on some Soylent to see if it would work for me. I’m a little concerned about some of the people who’ve reported that having too much Soylent makes one feel crummy when you eat something else. Plus, as a telecommuter and house-husband-without-kids, the social aspect of sharing lunch with co-workers or family isn’t a thing.

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