It's Not People

A Week Without Food: The Soylent Diaries, Day One

One foodie's struggle to subsist on Soylent for seven days

By Nicholas L. Hall October 27, 2014

I went vegan for Lent. As part of that process, I ordered a batch of Soylent, the meal-replacement powder designed by a Silicon Valley software engineer who had finally had enough of the burden that is eating food, and recently hailed by The New Yorker as "the end of food." I figured, if I can’t eat meat or dairy, I’m pretty much not eating real food anyway, so I might as well go whole hog. So to speak.

Apparently, lots of other people had the same idea, and Soylent had some problems keeping up with demand. My batch of nutritionally complete non-food didn’t arrive in time for Lent.

That was unfortunate, because my wife and kids were not super enthusiastic about either eating plan. Though I’d offered them assurances that I would happily short-order cook them as many cheeseburgers as they wanted while I despondently ate four pounds of kale or drank a buttload (it’s a legitimate unit of measurement; look it up) of murky, tannish, fluid, they feared that my dietary experiment would find them eating yet another “study of brassicas” while I tried in vain to make eating only plants seem like a good idea. I figured if I could combine the two, at least there would be some efficiency gains. It was not to be.

Instead, I chose to go all-Soylent on my week of night shifts, during which I eat few meals with my family to begin with. So, for a one-week period form Monday at midnight to Monday at midnight, I survived on Soylent alone. Days are counted from waking to sleeping (with the exception of Day 1), so you’ll have to excuse the odd chronology. This is, after all, my story.

Day 1

12:01 a.m.

I'm really kind of wishing I'd had a pre-midnight snack. Currently rationalizing how today is still yesterday. I mean, I haven't gone to sleep yet. There's a Whataburger three blocks from my house, and they've been selling taquitos for an hour now.

12:04 a.m.

My wife just asked me if I wanted a bite of her yogurt. Thank god she doesn't have any taquitos. Looking forward to my first glass of Soylent in the morning. I’m not even being sarcastic. (Author’s Note: At this point, I stayed up all night, part of my usual routine getting ready for night shift. No Soylent was consumed. I got pretty hungry.) 

8:09 a.m.

Just washed my hands with Bath & Body Works brown sugar-carrot hand soap. It’s making me surprisingly hungry. Rough start to the morning, but my first Soylent is coming up. 

8:15 a.m.

OK. This is a daunting amount of powder. It looks like pancake mix, off-white with a fine, sifted look. Smells like vanilla protein powder and a bit like peanuts. Seriously. So much of this stuff. Nearly a pound. Foaming troublingly as I add water. The packaging provides little guidance on amounts for a full day's batch. "Fill with water,” advises the bag. I'm stopping a few inches from the top to facilitate shaking. When mixed, it takes on a color and opacity similar to rinsing out a kid's paints in a cup of water. Thin. Beige. Entirely unappealing. You have to do a few gyroscopic maneuvers to get the bits at the bottom incorporated, and there’s a weird carbonation thing going on as everything settles. 

8:15:30 a.m.

Fully blended, it's taken on the appearance of peanut butter thinned out with a lot of water, and there’s a weird dusty smell I hadn't noticed before. 

8:20 a.m.

Yup. I sat here staring it down for five minutes. My brain says no but my stomach says yes. I haven't fully explained the situation to my stomach yet.

8:21 a.m.

Okay. So it's not as bad as you might expect, which is pretty much what I expected. Things rarely are as bad as you’d expect. Except kidney stones. It tastes like Splenda and vanilla, with a hint of fryer grease, like someone soaked a crappy egg roll in it overnight. Or is it a slightly cabbage-y taste? Either way, it makes me think egg roll. The grittiness is the hardest part. It's a very fine grittiness, like powdered sand that slowly dissolves in your mouth, after coating every surface and leaving a sort of puckered, tannic sensation. Yes, I have somehow managed to apply wine tasting methodology to Soylent. 

8:23 a.m.

Well, my stomach seems to have been tricked into thinking I've given it food. Stupid stomach. Now ruminating over the instructions, and how non-specific they are about how to batch this stuff, and how absolutely specific they are about the necessity of washing your glass after you've enjoyed your Soylent. I'm not sure if this makes a statement about the supposed state of mind of the intended audience, or if it’s a warning of potential consequences. Note to self: wash glass. Also, do not drink Soylent after midnight, just to be safe (add end note "gratuitous Gremlins reference").

8:31 a.m.

Yeah. Still working my way through it. Somehow it gets blander as you go. Now the dustiness reminds me of when I used to eat handfuls of dry rolled oats as a kid (that’s normal, right?), only way more intense. I can see it settled at the bottom, and I am not looking forward to that last bit.

8:33 a.m.

I offered my wife a taste. It took some doing. "Chocolate-scented play dough. That's what it smells like."

8:35 a.m.

Cajoling is successful. She spilled a bit on the bed, and seems very concerned about this fact, as if the Soylent might eat through the sheets, mattress, frame and floor, leaving a steaming crater in its wake. Maybe that's what happened in Siberia... "It tastes like evil Cocoa Puffs," she says. It kind of does. It's morphing. Let’s pray to God it doesn’t become airborne.

8:39 a.m.

I'm to the dregs. An appropriate word choice, I think. The glass is now etched with the stuff, showing the sedimentary layers of my resignation. We’ll call it “legs.” Yes, more wine terms. It makes me feel more like a human while I eat like a science experiment. The last of it is taking some convincing. I could add more water, but that feels like cheating.

8:41 a.m.

It's done. Looking at the glass, I notice little flecks of green. Algae, I'm assuming. Almost encouraging. Like a reassuring friend telling me, "Hey, it's KIND OF food ..."

8:43 a.m.

Off to wash this glass before the film hardens. Or sprouts legs.

8:45 a.m.

Off to bed for the day (night shift) to see what fevered dreams may come. On the upside, I don't feel hungry. On the downside, I don't feel satisfied.

Side note: there's not really an aftertaste per se, but that weird, vague, all-over sweet sensation-more-so-than-taste that I often find stays with me after eating/drinking artificial sweeteners. Makes my whole mouth feel saccharine.

2:50 p.m.

I woke up not quite hungry, but not quite feeling like I'd eaten. Kind of a blank, almost refreshed feeling. Sometimes when I eat right before going to sleep, which is often while on shift, I wake up with my whole body feeling like regret. Not so. Thanks, Soylent?

3:10 p.m.

Just picked my kid up from school. She offered me a potato chip from the remains of her lunch, and my heart broke a little bit. So did the spell of not feeling hungry. I need another glass of Soylent before I start gnawing on the steering wheel in search of sustenance.

3:20 p.m.

Only a slight separation from its stay in the fridge. I'd hoped maybe it would hydrate further, reducing the grittiness slightly, but no dice. It did, however, dull the egg roll taste a bit. A bit.

3:25 p.m.

Juliette (my 8-year-old): "Oh, I've been wanting to try that. Hold on; let me swallow my nail."

"It's good! It tastes like kit-kats and chocolate milk. And sand."

Yes. She said both that it was both

A) good



As I went to change the baby's diaper, I caught her trying to sneak another sip. Soylent: the beverage of choice for 8-year-old girls who subsist on fried eggs and fingernails. And possibly sand.

3:35 p.m.

I suddenly realized that I'm going to be late to get my older daughter if I don't hurry, so I take advantage of the fact that I'm drinking my lunch. Guzzling Soylent is not recommended. That gritty, puckered feeling has a decidedly cumulative effect. Sand indeed. 

4 p.m.

I bent over to pick up the baby and felt the gurgly effects of having just consumed a large glass of murky, Barely-Newtonian fluid. Note to self: wait at least 30 minutes after Soylent before doing, well, anything. 

4:50 p.m.

Tired. Not hungry. Hollow. 

5:25 p.m.

Just arrived at work for night shift. Coworker asked about my pitcher of Soylent. I explained. There was a moment's pause, followed by laughter, followed by, "No, seriously," followed by confirmation, followed by more laughter.

7:15 pm


7:16 p.m.

Wait. Uh. Hold on a second. 

7:20 p.m.

Yeah. Just gassy. 

8:26 p.m.

My coworkers are eating. I don't know what and I don't want to know. I just hear eating sounds. I am a Pavlovian wreck. 

8:44 p.m.

Trying to wait it out. I made a logistical error when I drank a glass this morning. Usually, my first meal of the day is when I wake up in the afternoon. I only brought one day's worth to work, and don't want to continue the cycle by being so starving when I leave the office that I have to make another batch.

8:46 p.m.

I'm not even that hungry. It just feels weird not having eaten anything all day. Just a half glass, then. Still doesn't taste good ...

9:17 p.m.

One of my coworkers is eating popcorn. I don't even like popcorn, but it feels like a betrayal. They know.  

10:33 p.m.

Studiously avoiding the episode of Man vs. Food now airing in the office.

11:42 p.m.

Just as I've noticed I've not really felt hungry today, so too have I not really felt full. Post-Soylent consumption is more like a feeling that my caloric needs have been met, and I no longer require additional energy input. It's a very odd, analytical sensation. Resistance is futile? 

12:18 a.m.

Did I mention the gas? Yeeeeeaaaaah. 

1:50 a.m.

Final glass of my first day. Feels thicker than the first. Cabbage and fryer grease taste has abated slightly, or I'm just getting used to it. I don’t know what it would mean for my palate to attenuate to this. Is it a bridge to far? YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN.

5:35 a.m.

Last night, a coworker was asking me if there would be any, um, gastrointestinal ramifications of my liquid diet. I just discovered the answer. It might not be what you're expecting.

6:45 a.m.

Making the girls' lunches for school. Ham and cheese is kicking in the first legit hunger pang. Maybe I can just sneak the crusts I'm trimming off?

7 a.m.

Shaking up today's batch. The girls are looking on with a look of confusion and pity. Then again, they're also asking for a taste. Weirdos. 

Check back tomorrow for Day Two of the end of food.

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