Nature vs. Culture

The article, “The End of Food”, by Lizzie Widdicomb examines a tech entrepreneur, Rob Rhinehart, and his product Soylent. After Rhinehart and some fellow entrepreneurs ran out of money while working on a technology startup, Rhinehart realized how expensive nutrient rich food could be. He tried eating cheap and unhealthy food for every meal but found that it made him feel terrible. He also tried eating cheap but healthy food for every meal, but found that he was left hungry. That is how he came up with the idea of Soylent, a food creation that incorporates all of the nutrients necessary to survive into one product. In order to create Soylent, he looked at the raw chemical components of food such as carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, proteins, and lipids and studied the nutrients required for survival. After combining all of these “ingredients”, he began to live on Soylent. According to Rhinehart, his food costs dropped drastically and he noticed many health benefits.

While Rhinehart notes the distinction between meals for utility and function versus meals for experience and socialization, he definitely focuses on making eating more efficient. He values the nutritional value of food more than the cultural value. According to Rhinehart, the real value of food lies in the nutrients it offers us. He relates Soylent to water. Although water doesn’t have much taste, it is the most popular liquid because it is necessary to survive. He believes that Soylent can become the solid version of water since it also doesn’t have much taste, yet as far as he knows, it has all of the nutrients necessary to survive. While other forms of meal replacement liquids have been around for a long time, Rhinehart believes his product is different because it is aimed at efficiency rather than specified health benefits. For example, products like Muscle Milk do not aim to replace food altogether, instead they aim to help people bulk up. Rhinehart also sees the environmental benefits of Soylent. Livestock on farms cause a lot of greenhouse-gas emissions, which lead to climate change. If Rhinehart succeeds in creating an algae that produces Soylent and popularizing it, factories and farms wouldn’t be necessary.

While I could definitely see using Soylent at times when I need to save money and be efficient with my time, such as exam weeks, I could never see replacing a majority of my meals with this product. Personally, I value the experience of eating a meal more than I value the dietary worth. However, I think it is possible to have both an enjoyable and nutritional meal without Soylent. Eating a good meal can be expensive and take up a lot of time, but as Widdicomb says, “meals provide punctuation to our lives: we’re constantly recovering from them, anticipating them, riding the emotional ups and downs of a good or bad sandwich”. If Soylent were to become our main source of nutrition, the human experience would be very different. Imagine a world where all the restaurants we love close down because they can’t afford to stay in business, or a world where we no longer gather with family and friends to share the experience of an amazing meal. Just because humans could sustain on Soylent, doesn’t mean we should sustain on Soylent.

Citation:

Widdicombe, Lizzie. “The End of Food.” The New Yorker. N.p., 12 May 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

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2 thoughts on “Nature vs. Culture

  1. I found your blog post very interesting. I didn’t read the article, so it was cool to learn about this new product. Since health has become so important in the past decade or so, many people look for foods that will provide them with all of the necessary vitamins and minerals while still keep you satiated. As a college student, I see both pros and cons of a product like this. For example, as many of us don’t have time for a job (and the food on campus isn’t always the best), eating a product like this could help save money while still giving us everything we needed to stay healthy. On the other hand, eating here has become much more of a social event than it was in high school. Meal times have become one of the main times that I see my friends, and enjoying a really delicious dinner together is a great bonding experience. Like you said, it’s very enjoyable to sit down with the people you care about and share a meal with them, so although I definitely can see the benefits of a product like this, it definitely wouldn’t be something that should replace all meals.

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  2. I definitely agree with most of the claims you made. I really liked how you brought in the social lens of food and how just eating Soylent would take away from that. I also like how you explicated each of Rhinehart’s claims about Soylent and what makes it different, however, I think it would be nice for you to focus on Rhinehart’s individual claims rather than talking about the piece as a whole. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this!

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