By now, you're probably familiar with Soylent, a nutritional powder created to replace the need for solid, varied foods. Created by 26-year-old Rob Rhinehart, the just-add-water white stuff allegedly contains every vitamin, mineral, amino acid, and other compound necessary for the human body. And hell, who wants to eat tacos and pizza when you can be slurping down a few Nalgenes full of chalky paste every day?
Apparently, a lot of people are ready for a Soylent-fueled life. Earlier this year, the company raised a staggering $20 million in capital to put toward filling its steady stream of orders from food-haters. The main customer base: hyperfocused Silicon Valley developers who appreciate the savings in time and money afforded to them by putting a basic human need like eating on the back burner.
But what's the true price of giving up on flavor in favor of nutritional completeness?
Despite being concocted from an amalgamation of chemical this-and-thats, Soylent has long stood by its claim that the stuff is completely harmless. But now, a watchdog group is saying otherwise—that it doesn't abide by California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Last Thursday, the nonprofit As You Sow filed a notice of intent to go after the company "for failure to provide sufficient warning to consumers of lead and cadmium levels in the Soylent 1.5 product."
In a statement, As You Sow claims that independent laboratory studies show that just a single serving of Soylent 1.5 can contain amounts of lead 12 to 25 times higher than California's permitted Safe Harbor level for reproductive health, as well as concentrations of cadmium that are four times greater than the recommended exposure. The results came from two separate samples of the powder.
Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow, says that the problem is accumulation. "These heavy metals accumulate in the body over time and, since Soylent is marketed as a meal replacement, users may be chronically exposed to lead and cadmium concentrations that exceed California's safe harbor level (for reproductive harm)," he explained in the statement, adding, "This is of very high concern to the health of these tech workers."
But hell, you think you're going to take down the preeminent proponents of ridding yourself of culinary pleasure without a fight? Think again.
In a blog post today, Soylent defends its products, stating: "Soylent does not have unusual or unsafe levels of lead, cadmium, or any metal. As You Sow's legal claim is that we do not display the required Proposition 65 notice, which is incorrect. Soylent's levels of heavy metals are entirely safe and sustainable, even for people using Soylent as a complete food substitute." The company also points out that As You Sow is currently filing lawsuits against six major chocolate companies including Hershey's, Godiva, and Ghirardelli. Maybe, they wish to point out, As You Sow doesn't play nice.
But Soylent 1.5 is, in the company's words, "designed for use as a staple meal by all adults." With many of its fans—some might say "users"—consuming the stuff all day every day, it could be worth a second look when it comes to safety. Lead and cadmium overexposure can cause neurological damage, kidney and liver problems, and bone weakness.
And hell, if you're drinking something—anything—for three meals a day, you'd best know what's in it.