It was my second day on Soylent and my stomach felt like a coil of knotty old rope, slowly tightening. I wasn't hungry, but something was off. I was tired, light-headed, low-energy, but my heart was racing. My eyes glazed over as I stared out the window of our rental SUV as we drove over the fog-shrouded Bay Bridge to Oakland. Some of this was nerves, sure. I had 28 days left of my month-long all-Soylent diet—I was attempting to live on the food replacement longer than anyone besides its inventor—and I felt woozy already.
We were en route to Soylent HQ, where the 25-year-old Rob Rhinehart and his crew were whipping up the internet famous hacker meal—the macro-nutritious shake they think will soon replace the bulk of our meals. It's just one of many visions currently vying for the future food crown. The world's population is still burgeoning, after all, 600 to 800 million people are going hungry every year, and the specter of food riots is perpetually percolating—the demand for cheap, nutritious food is greater than ever.
So Googlers are investing in vitro meat, biotech firms are genetically modifying crops that promise increasingly robust yields, and Silicon Valley is nurturing a bevy of future-forward alt-food companies. Then there's Rob, who came along and claimed that nobody had to eat food ever again.
Rob's idea for a sci-fi-inspired nutrient shake sprouted from living the life of a hyperactive, science-obsessed bachelor. As a recent software engineering graduate and aspiring entrepreneur, he was too broke to eat out and too time-strapped to cook. But instead of stocking his pantry with plastic-wrapped ramen like everyone else, he tried to retool the act of eating itself, to make it cheaper and more efficient. He studied government food standards and nutrition textbooks—Berg's Biochemistry was like his bible—and divined a set of basic ingredients that provided the calories and nutrients the human body needed to run.
Then, in what would soon prove irresistible fodder for Silicon Valley founder mythology, Rob lived on the yellow-grey stuff for 30 days, subjecting himself to lab tests and blogging the results. The concluding post, "How I Stopped Eating Food", became an online sensation.