It was a question I knew the answer to straight away – and one that started a fierce pub debate.
Would you rather go for the rest of your life without eating, or with no further (in Bill Clinton’s parlance) sexual relations?
I couldn’t imagine a life without food.
Eating is one of the purest pleasures I’ve ever experienced. Unlike many other of life’s enjoyments, I’ve only grown to love it more – and nothing has got in the way of me indulging the tastebuds’ sensory delights.
Dancing, flirting, backpacking – all have had their place in my personal pleasure charts.
But whereas other enjoyments become harder to seek out, or more exhausting to pursue, the sensation of crunching through a well-roasted potato never pales.
So I was horrified to read about a new product which aims to entirely replace food.
A powder – and vegetable oil-based drink, Soylent has been created specifically to enable people to avoid the faff and hassle of food preparation.
The inventor of Soylant boasts that he can unlock the equivalent of one working day per week by removing this daily burden.
Software engineer Rob Rhinehart felt constrained by the requirements of feeding himself and was conscious that he often made unhealthy dietary choices.
So in 2013 he set about inventing a food replacement product which would contain all the necessary nutrition for a healthy life.
Now Rhinehart has perfected his product and set out the challenge: ‘What if you never had to worry about food again?’
Since converting to Soylent, Rhinehart boasts his skin has improved, weight stabilised and he has bags of energy. The lifestyle also offers cost-saving benefits, with a month’s supply of the powder costing less than £50. On the face of it, there’s something to be said for going Soylent.
But honestly – I find the whole idea gruesome. The name doesn’t help.
Rule number one at entrepreneurs’ school is surely to avoid picking out a product name that carries cannibalistic connotations.
Soylent Green was an uncannily prescient 1973 film which envisaged New York in 2020 as an overcrowded and under-resourced megalopolis in a world ravaged by climate change and over-consumption of resources.
With very little natural food left, the population is addicted to meal replacement product Soylent Green – a wafer that purports to be made of marine plankton. But Soylent Green has never been near the ocean. Instead, it consists of human remains.
It’s not just about the name, though.
To cook and prepare food is a fundamentally human activity. It brings us together, enables a sense of community to flourish, engenders good times. What’s more, learning to cook and eat was fundamental to our evolution as a species – our jaw structure changed as we learnt to chew cooked meat, which in turn enabled our brains to grow, and fostered our ability to communicate. To turn away from cooking and eating is to turn away from being human.
It’s true, our eating habits have ravaged the planet – 50 per cent of the world’s grain now goes to raising livestock and feeding fish. And the inequality inherent in our worldwide distribution of nutritional resources is shocking. But Soylent isn’t being marketed as a way to resolve food inequality or prevent over-consumption. It’s marketed as a way of saving time. Time for what? More work? More consumption of social media? I’d question whether the prioritized activity is in any way more valuable than cooking and eating dinner with your family and friends.