Preface

In an attempt to become the most productive person ever, I stopped eating for three days. I gave up food, my social life, and sanity in exchange for seven bottles of Soylent and this article.  

What is Soylent?  In 2013, Rob Rhinehart, a 25–year–old software engineer developed  a futuristic liquid meal substitute containing all the calories, vitamins, and minerals essential to human survival. He named it after the sci–fi movie Soylent Green, set in 2022, in which Soylent is a meal substitute made from human remains. Dark. 

After surviving exclusively off of Soylent for 30 days, Rhinehart launched a campaign online to provide it for his friends. Soylent made $3 million within a month—one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns ever.   Fast–forward five years,  now you can bulk–order Soylent off of Amazon. Rhinehart’s cult product has an army of ardent fans and an equal number of haters. 

The Challenge

I had read about Soylent but initially thought it was just a Silicon Valley phenomenon, a niche product for engineers who hated food. It wasn’t till coming to Penn last fall that I met people who actually drank the stuff. My friend group is divided between Soylent drinkers and Soylent doubters—those who believe Soylent violates the sanctity of real food. I was firmly in the second camp. 

When I proposed trying to live off of the stuff, my editor was (suspiciously?) enthusiastic. The goal was to try living off of Soylent exclusively for 3–4 days, or as long as a 12–pack from Amazon would last me. I allowed myself black coffee and herbal tea to give my palette a break from chalky chocolate film. 



Day 1: 

8:30 a.m.: I woke up groggy and full from an ill–advised midnight Allegro run. Definitely needed a detox. I hit Pottruck and thirty minutes into the stair–climber I get an email from auto-confirmation@amazon.com.  The Soylent has arrived. I have no choice but to start the challenge now. 

10:20 a.m.: First impression: not terrible. Just kidding, this sucks. It’s thick and viscous, like bland, slightly oily chocolate milk. I make it through a third of the bottle and refrigerate the rest for later. I allow myself a cup of black coffee, unwilling to forgo caffeine even for the sake of science. 

1:15 p.m.: Back in Harrison, I open my second Soylent. Refrigeration is the way to go. The cold liquid coupled with my hunger pangs make the situation tolerable enough. I only drank two thirds of the first bottle before opening the second. I transfer the remains of the first bottle into the second and head out. 

3:32 p.m.: I’m falling asleep in the reading room of Van Pelt. I get a mint tea, unsure if that's cheating. But hot herbal water should be allowed. I’ve consumed approximately 600 calories so far today—yikes.

6:00 p.m.: Watched my friend eat her dinner in Pret. I’ve never noticed how good Pret smells (?). Unclear if hallucinating or just famished.

7:00 p.m.: I realized I hadn’t done much research before diving off the deep end into Soylent. 

Scrolling through Reddit, I learn to HYDRATE and watch out for the wrath of Soylent farts. The high levels of fat and soluble fiber can be a shock to the digestive system. Do not chug. And as for my digestion, the famed Soylent farts made no appearance, but things weren’t quite *regular*. 

I sought advice from my friend Gab Ben–Jakov (C ’19), a regular Soylent drinker. He downs a couple bottles a week during his three–hour lectures because it’s “convenient, cheaper, and better for you than random snacks”. Last semester he would drink it exclusively for breakfast, but now he has more time to cook and “do real food.”  Davis Haupt (E ’21) drinks Soylent just to make sure he gets enough fuel. Davis says it saves him time but “it would be weird to eat just that.” Little did he he know ... 

Zen Lou (E ’19) has an Amazon Dash Button for Soylent so he always has some on hand. For Zen it’s a quick breakfast or an emergency dinner. He cautioned that consuming multiple per day would be “miserable,” an indicator that his life had become a “sad engineering meme.” All three guys exclusively drink the Cocoa flavor.  Good thing, because that was the one I had ordered.

8:50 p.m.: Wondering whether soy milk counts as cheating because soy and Soylent sound similar. Instead, I resign myself to Soylent number three; at least it’s cold.

I read more Reddit forums of other Soylent drinkers to reassure myself. Most accurate review: it has “consistency of milk after a bowl of cereal, full of that grainy shit” and “aftertaste like a candle.” Yes and yes. 



Day 2: 

Woke up before my 7 a.m. alarm, hungry but alert, and drank a few sips of yesterday’s bottle.

8 a.m.:  Hot yoga class. Somehow, exercise at 90 degrees felt more bearable on an empty stomach, without my usual bowl of yogurt and granola sloshing around. 

10:00 a.m.: As per usual, I’m rushing to shower and change before my 10:30 class. 

Sip the Soylent while charging down Locust. Avoid eye contact with any passersby. We’re fine, everything’s fine. Endure a persistent headache throughout class. I need sugar, caffeine, and a hug. 

12:00 p.m.: To beat my migraine, I chase a Starbucks espresso shot with more Soylent. 

The espresso genuinely tastes like ass—why would anyone be willing drink this without a thick blanket of milk? 

Soylents so far today: One–fifth of a bottle. I realize I need to up my Soylent consumption to meet my caloric needs; yesterday was definitely below acceptable. I also should have ordered a different flavor, because right now, thinking about chocolate makes me want to puke. 

3:30 p.m.: Happily drink a cold Soylent. Wait, do I actually like this shit?? 

No, my tongue tastes like a sickly sweet chocolate candle ... I want a nap. I never nap. 

4:00 p.m.: I succumb and nap, dreaming about hot pesto pasta with parmesan cheese. Wake up feeling groggy, disoriented, mild headache, HANGRY. Instead, drink my third Soylent of the day. 



Day 3: 

7 a.m.: Woke up feeling hungry so drank a few sips of Soylent and went to the gym. Overall tired but feeling pretty light and shredded. Crushed my weights and HIIT workout. I am a health god. Drank one Soylent easily. 

11 a.m.: Drank second Soylent in recitation. Not quite cold, a mediocre experience. 

2 p.m.: Caved and got the Dervish Delight at Magic Carpet food truck. Straight–up devoured a full plate of hummus, falafel, and salad in seven minutes. Thus I effectively ended the challenge. I was supposed to last until 8 p.m. tonight

2:30 p.m.: Ate a tangerine—amazing. Fruit is life.




Day 4

9:30 a.m.: Woke up terribly hungover and drank half a Soylent--cold and nutritious, but not what my body needs in this moment.

10 a.m.: Promptly had a cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter. Life is good again.



Takeaways: 

Don’t Live off this Shit

Crash diets are called crash diets for a reason. Yeah, I lost three pounds, but as soon I returned to my normal diet, it all came back. My friend left a box of FroGro chocolate chip cookies on my bed Friday afternoon. I made the mistake of nibbling on one. I quickly devoured three more. 

Holy F*ck I missed sugar. 

Reading the nutrition facts on the back was mildly scary. The top four ingredients are water, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, and high oleic sunflower oil. 

Each bottle contains 400 calories, 21 grams of fat (32% of recommended daily consumption), 37 grams of carbohydrates (12%), 20 grams of protein, and only 9 grams of sugar. 

I’m Obsessed with Food

Ok, I knew this already, but Soylent just reinforced my obsession. Normally, I’ll be eating breakfast and already weighing dinner options. Living off Soylent took away the joy of thinking about food, eating food, and planning my life around meals. However, I did learn to eat more mindfully. Instead of just snacking whenever, I only ate when I actually felt hungry.

...and so is Everyone Else

It’s pretty much impossible to have a social life on Soylent. Eating meals with people was awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved. I would try and make eye contact, maintaining a conversation, all the while fantasizing about the creamy tomato soup they were eating.  

Soylent is Pretty Convenient

I have four bottles left in my fridge and, shockingly, I intend to consume them. I hate washing dishes and it works as a quick breakfast option when I’m scrambling to make my 9 a.m. in DRL. I even ordered another 12–pack, but this time it is the Cafe Collection (Vanilla, Chai, and Coffee).  Catch me Monday morning drinking a Vanilla Soylent on the way to class. 


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