Thoughts of an Eaten Sun

through the mind of kyle tolle

Pioneering Soylent

I’ve never been what you’d call a “foodie”. When I was younger, I felt eating took up time that could be dedicated to something else. In college, this was time away from studying, or reading for fun, or maybe playing Halo. I always wanted to find an alternative to eating. Something fast, yet nutritionally complete. It continues to amaze me with how little our culture knows about food, nutrition, and health. I told myself if there was ever an alternative to eating regular food I would give it a try.

Sometime in 2013, I heard about Soylent. If you don’t know, it’s an open-source mixture of ingredients meant to be a complete replacement for typical means. It’s to be mixed with water and then drunk. This sounded right up my alley. Mixing a powder into water and then drinking my nutrition sounded fast and efficient.

I first came across Soylent when it was doing its initial round of crowdfunding. It was incredibly successful, and brought in over $3.5 million. That is a sign they’re onto something. I considered being one of the initial backers, but then decided to see how things went before purchasing it. For them to actually get a product to market and see what others thought about it. So I held off.

My interest was piqued when it finally started shipping in May of this year. I ended up ordering a 21-meal supply, with the intention of eating it for lunch for 21 meals. I ordered it back on May 27.

The popularity well outpaced their production capabilities, so there was a long back order for the processing and delivery. As a result, my order didn’t actually arrive until October 18. That was a long time to wait; 4 months and 21 days, in fact! But welcome to the world of crowd-funding. I think every thing I’ve crowdfunded has incurred these long delays.

Anyway, once it did arrive I mixed a small batch to see what it was like. I drank it easily. It was neutral in taste and a little gritty in texture. The neutral/bland taste is a good thing. If very sweet, I wouldn’t want to eat it every day or every meal. It’s lack of strong flavor ought to mean it appeals to more people. And it leaves open the possibility of flavoring it to your own taste with extra ingredients.

Each pouch of Soylent makes the equivalent of 3 meals. So, since I’d eat it for 3 meals, I could make it for lunch Monday and then have lunch for Tuesday and Wednesday. This meant I could also consume it within the 48-hour window they claim it stays good for once prepared

I ate Soylent for the next week and a half or so. But then I got sick on October 30th. First, I felt bloating, which progressed to severe body chills and aches, and, finally, to vomiting and diarrhea. At first, I was worried the Soylent had caused it. It was Wednesday and I was eating the last meal of the batch I’d made on Monday. But this was within the 48-hour window. So the Soylent spoiling didn’t seem to make sense. I vomited 5 or so times at about 9pm and then roughly 5 more times at 11:30pm that Wednesday night, but my gastrointestinal issues lasted many days longer. What with the other symptoms, and it lasting long enough to cause me to miss work on Thursday, a more likely answer is that I contracted a norovirus.

A week or so later, I decided to try Soylent again. I was nervous, asI wasn’t 100% certain whether it was a norovirus or Soylent. I also had a small mental association between Soylent and puking. But I gave it a shot, and didn’t have any issues. My fears were put to bed. A few days later, I decided to double my next order of Soylent to 14 bags. Their customer service helped with this quite easily.

Fast forward another week or so, and I eat Soylent on Wednesday, November 12. How’d I prepare it this time? Well, at lunch time on that Monday I made the mixture and put it in the freezer to cool down quickly. I forgot about it until it had frozen through. I moved it to the refrigerator and let it thaw. It was finally thawed enough to drink by Wednesday morning. I had some for breakfast.

A few hours later, I began to feel bloated, and then, shortly after, had the sensation I was about to loose my cookies. So I ended up vomiting again, and felt awful. I violently vomited between 15 and 20 times within half an hour. A touch of gastrointestinal issues later on as well. Overall, the symptoms passed within a few hours. Being sick this time was a lot swifter and more violent than the previous time. Later that night, I was able to drink water and eat a normal meal.

Only thing that would make sense is Soylent causing it. Some kind of food poisoning? It was hard to tell at first. The first few times I vomited I thought maybe the Soylent spoiled early and all I’d have to do was prepare it a single meal at a time and consume it immediately. But after the twentieth time of getting sick and subsequent dry heaving, I decided I couldn’t do it. The mental association between Soylent and getting sick had solidified.

I’d had enough of Soylent. I can’t stand the idea of getting sick every few weeks from anything I’m eating. And there’s also the uncertainty about what caused it. Could it have spoiled? The Soylent never smelled or tasted off that I could tell. Could my stomach still be messed up from the norovirus? Well, nothing else I’d eaten since getting sick October 30th caused a bad reaction. Am I allergic to something in the Soylent? I wouldn’t even know where to begin to find that out. Did the freezing and thawing in the fridge cause the Soylent to expire early? 48 hours is already a very short amount of time for it to spoil, let alone 24-36 hours if it depended on the style of prep.

Now that the outcome of eating Soylent includes some chance of violently puking my stomach up, and the uncertainty of why it happens, I decided to cancel my next order. This was also the same day my credit card had been charged for the next order, but I hoped I could reach them before the order shipped. Soylent does have fantastic customer service, I must say. The following day they cancelled my subscription and shipment, and refunded me for the charge.

I’m pretty disappointed in how my experience turned out. I don’t know whether to blame Soylent or to blame the way I prepared or stored it. In the end, it doesn’t need to be blamed on anyone. I just had a negative experience and have decided to prevent that experience from happening again. A coworker of mine hasn’t had any negative experiences with it, and it sounds like many others would say the same, so I could be in a small minority who have negative side effects. It just seems strange I could eat it for a while and be just fine, yet eat it another time and get so very, very sick.

Maybe the mental association will pass in the future and I could give it a try again. I’m sure they’ll continue to tweak the ingredients, which might help it keep longer. I just hope it’s not something I’m allergic to, because I’d have to have that same outcome again. Fortunately, it didn’t last more than a few hours. But it was still an awful feeling.

I’m finished pioneering Soylent for now, but I’m encouraged that some day I might have an option for fast, nutritious, inexpensive meals. It’s exciting to know there’s some work being done in the field at least!