Last week, VICE brought us a rather perturbing story of one man's self-designed diet that, he says, allows him to give up food (in the conventional sense) forever.
Rob Rhinehartl, a 24-year-old software engineer from Atlanta, told the publication he developed the diet because he'd become fed up with the inefficiency of eating regular meals. His diet now largely consists of a beige-colored slop he calls Soylent, which is filled with supposedly essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Don't worry, though; it's not made of people. He explains:
Not having to worry about food is fantastic. No groceries or dishes, no deciding what to eat, no endless conversations weighing the relative merits of gluten-free, keto, paleo, or vegan. Power and water bills are lower. I save hours a day and hundreds of dollars a month. I feel liberated from a crushing amount of repetitive drudgery. Soylent might also be good for people having trouble managing their weight. I find it very easy to lose and gain precise amounts of weight by varying the proportions in my drink.
We were skeptical, to say the least. Let's forget for a moment the obvious question -- why would someone voluntarily give up the pleasures associated with eating? -- and consider if this way of life is, as Rhinehartl claims, healthy.
"It's interesting, isn't it?" said registered dietician and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Bethany Thayer when we posed the question to her. "What he's done is he's basically recreated a medical nutrition formula ... very similar to what hospitals do for patients that are unable to eat for whatever reason."
So, is it healthy? "It's not unhealthy," Thayer said cautiously, although she doesn't suggest people whip themselves up a batch of Soylent on the regular just yet. "He's really playing around with very small quantities of things," she considered. Measuring out slightly too much or too little of a substance, say iron, for example, could have catastrophic consequences. In his VICE interview, Rhinehartl even admits to getting his measurements off and accidentally sickening himself in the past.
Moreover, there's much we still don't know about how the human diet works. It's possible that there are nutrients we don't even realize we require, but consume unknowingly in the course of regular eating, Thayer said. Considering this, Rhinehartl might be unwittingly leaving an essential nutrient out of Soylent.
"Every day we're finding more and more," Thayer said. "There's all kinds of various antioxidants that are in these plant foods, and they make have some benefits."