It’s a good thing that friendship doesn’t always require similarity, because I know a few fine people who regard eating as a chore. To some folk, food is fuel and their world is a place where no good meal goes unpunished by some sacrifice or another. I understand this only because I have the same attitude about walking to the grocery store rather than driving: it might be a hobby for you, but it sounds like a hassle to me.
What's Good At Trader Joe's? (www.whatsgoodattraderjoes.com) is a blog providing full-scale candid reviews of products from the California-based grocery chain. An entry last spring featured an especially curious novelty: "You ever look at Fluffy or Rex, happily chomping away at whatever's in their bowl for the 3,000th time, and wonder how a creature can so happily eat the same thing over and over again?" Trader Joe's Dog Food … For People was an April Fool's joke by the blog's writers, but it didn't strike me as an entirely implausible concept. Trader Joe's makes more than 20 varieties of trail mix, and what is trail mix if not the human equivalent of kibble? These sorts of meals already exist.
In the lead we have Soylent, perhaps the most controversial and polarising beverage since Prohibition. It was created by a young software engineer with a dream for a better world and one in which he could spend less time, energy and money feeding himself. Rob Rhinehart and his team developed the open-source formula for a meal replacement shake that would deliver more consistently complete nutrition than most people are likely to be getting from their diets in the first place. “No one seemed to worry about me when I lived on burritos and ramen and actually was deficient of many known essential nutrients. The body is pretty robust. If you can survive on what most Americans or Somalians eat, you can surely survive on Soylent.” I’d love to see Soylent in the hands of people who view food as an imperative rather than an inconvenience, but that could be a long commute.
Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times wrote about his test run with Soylent, which he described as "gritty, thinned-down pancake batter, inoffensive and dull" and ultimately "joyless". But Ars Technica's Lee Hutchinson, Soylent's most prolific documentarian, wrote that "not every meal needs to be a festive, life-affirming display of cultural pageantry where we march from kitchen to table bearing the carefully plated masterpieces of locally sourced delicacies while hidden speakers blare the Circle of Life song from The Lion King".
Soylent’s slogan is “What if you never had to worry about food again?” The thing is, I enjoy “worrying” about food. I’m the girl who draws diagrams to try to devise the perfect egg salad sandwich, with little arrows pointing to the layers of bagna cauda butter and garlic mayo, my notes a neurotic display of the delicious anguish of uncertainty: “Capers, parsley, chives or tarragon? All of the above?” Eating and thinking are not mutually exclusive, and Rob Rhinehart and I are both evidence of that, even if we take our meals – solid and liquid – in different camps.