15 Minutes Into the Future

How Is Soylent Not Just Slim Fast?

Or Herbalife? Or Ensure? Or a kale smoothie?
BRB, barfing.

BRB, barfing.

The latest chapter in Silicon Valley’s long-running love affair with efficiency: Soylent, the tasteless meal replacement designed to supply a programmer with all his essential vitamins and nutrients without making him pick from the in-house cafeteria’s gourmet offerings. And now, TechCrunch reports, the company has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Lerer Ventures.

So what’ve these investors actually sunk their money into? Soylent won’t disclose the recipe, the recipe is a mix of nutrients, proteins and other stuff “deemed medically necessary by the Institute of Medicine for a person to live,” TechCrunch says. The idea is to deliver those into the human body with as little fuss as possible. You see, Soylent is a reaction to junk food, but it veers in the opposite direction from the fetishization of the foodie movement:

“Rhinehart’s vision is to create an inexpensive, fully nutritious and ubiquitous food source that any regular person can find anywhere — even in grocery and convenience stores around the world. It would be something that would compete against the cheap snack, junk and fast foods that are everywhere around us.”

We must say, though, the concept of liquid meal replacement sounds a little familiar. Probably because during high school, this reporter went through a period where she was, like, totally going to get serious about her weight and replace breakfast with cans of Slim Fast. That lasted, oh, approximately three days, because Slim Fast is chalky, chocolate-flavored liquid sadness.

It’s just another instance of Silicon Valley’s futuristic warblings sounding more advanced on a whiteboard than in practice. Flouncing off to their own private Idaho? Sure! Not like that was the hottest thing in 19th century thinking or anything. “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could totally replace our meals with a streamlined nutrient delivery system?” “Awesome! Disrupt junk food!” End result: A cheaper version of Ensure, which has been around since 1973, but with cheekily dystopian branding.

TechCrunch says the company has “50 or so beta testers that have been mostly living off Soylent for the last several months.” They haven’t had major health issues, supposedly, but “no one understands the long-term implications of switching their diet mostly or exclusively to Soylent.”

Based on my (admittedly limited) experience, I’d say the most likely side effects are ravenous desire for a cheeseburger and a general existential malaise.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com