The end of food

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The end of food

Tech entrepreneurs come up with a product to replace our food?

In December 2012, three young men lived in a claustrophobic apartment in Tenderloin, San Francisco, working for a tech start-up. They got $17, 000 from the incubator Y Combinator, but their project – the plan to make cheap phone towers – failed. Until their last $7,000, they decided to keep trying new software ideas until they ran out of money. But how to keep the money going? Rents are sunk costs. Because of their crazy work, they have no social life. When they check their budget, a big question remains: food.

When he studied electrical engineering at Georgia tech, Mr. Reinhart began using food as an engineering problem. “You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” he says. “You need carbs, not bread.” Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they are “mostly water”. He began to think that food was an inefficient way to survive. He said to me, “it looks like a system that is too complex, too expensive, too fragile.

What if he went straight into the original chemical? He took a break from the software experiment to study nutritional biochemistry textbooks, the FDA, the U.S. department of agriculture, and the institute of medical research. In the end, Rhinehart compiled a list of 35 nutrients needed for survival. Then, instead of going to the grocery store, he ordered it from the Internet – mainly in the form of powder or pills, and then poured everything into a blender to add some water. As a result, a chemical slurry that looks like a sticky lemonade. Then, he told me, “I’m starting to live.” Rhinehart calls his potions Soylent, and for most people, it evokes the 1973 sci-fi film “Soylent Green” starring Charlton Heston. The film is in the future of dystopia, in which people live on a mysterious circle called Soylent Green, due to overpopulation and pollution. The movie ended with a terrible revelation that Soylent Green was made from human flesh.

Rinehart’s roommate is skeptical. Someone told me, “it looks strange.” They’ve been at Costco shopping. A month later, Rhinehart published his results in a blog post titled “how do I stop eating?” This post has a “eureka” tone. Rhinehart reports that the chemical is “delicious! I feel like I just had the best breakfast. “Soylent is saving him time and money, and his food price has dropped from $470 a month to $50. He wrote on his body: “I think this $6 million man. My body is visibly improving, my skin is becoming clearer, my teeth are getting whiter, my hair is getting thicker and my scalp is peeling off. “He concluded:” I haven’t had a bite of food in 30 days, which has changed my life. For weeks, his blog post was at the top of Hacker News, a cooler for the tech industry. The reaction is polarized. “RIP robbery”, read comments on Rhinehart’s blog. But others demanded his formula, which was the spirit of the “open source” movement, which he posted online.

One of silicon valley’s cultural exports over the past decade has been the concept of a “hammer of life” : designed to simplify the daily obligations of life, and to get rid of anything you don’t want to do. Rinehart’s “future food” seems to be an ingenious solution. Life hackers around the world began testing and then making their own versions. Soon, Reddit commentators debated the appropriate dose of calcium-magnesium powder. Three months later, Rhinehart says he realized that his compound had a company ethos: “it provides more value for my life than any other app.” He and his roommates shelved their software ideas and went into the synthetic food business.

To attract funding, Rhinehart and his roommates turned to the Internet: they launched crowdfunding campaigns, where people could get a week’s worth of Soylent for $65. They start with a $100,000 fundraising goal and they hope to raise that goal within a month. But when they started donating money, rinehart said, “we got it within two hours.” Last week, the first 300,000 units of the commercial Soylent were shipped to customers across the United States. In addition to crowdfunding, its production is funded by silicon valley venture capitalists, including Y Combinator and Andreessen Horowitz, a $1 million blue-chip investment firm.

It was a somewhat sombre prospect, as he was called by the press, “the end of food”. It evoked the vision of a world without a tacoma pizza shop and restaurant – our kitchen with beige powder, rather than the banana bread, our pasta dinner and ice cream instead of social activities is sipping sludge at night. But rinehart says it’s not exactly his vision. “Most people’s food is forgotten,” he told me. He imagines the future, “we will see our meals as functions and functions, and our meals as a separation of experience and socialization.” Soylent is for our Sunday potlucks. This is for our frozen quesadillas.

Last month, shortly before the first Soylent shipment, I visited Rhinehart and his team in a big house in the Studio City community in Los Angeles. (they moved from San Francisco six months ago looking for cheaper rent.) Rhinehart met me at the door, in jeans, a black v-neck T-shirt and black tennis shoes. He looks healthy, which is encouraging – for the past year and a half he has been almost entirely living on Soylent, drinking for “90 percent” of his diet.

Rinehart looks like a young preacher: he has sharp features, a soft voice, an upright, rigid gait. Although he’s a millennial, he’s a little bit younger – which makes sense, because Soylent relies on the many behavioral trends of the generation that invented Instagram to share lunch. Popular culture and gossip topic does not see more, he does not seem to any form of consumption culture purest: it took me a long time in the afternoon sitting in the journal club meeting, where he and some friends ask each other such as “what do you think of micro fluid may have applications outside the diagnosis?” But he has a dry sense of humor. On his blog, he wrote the imaginative invention of a comic sketch. (genetically modified cat: “the future is meow.” )

Before driving to Soylent’s headquarters, I had stopped at an expensive California juice bar, and I was holding a $9 cold-pressed juice in a glass milk bottle. Reinhart examined the drink as if it were a flint arrowhead. “It’s old,” he said. “it’s basically sugar. “Look at the design. This means plain, natural, comfortable… In fact, it’s bad for you. “

The idea that we can nourish ourselves in a more purely and more effective way than food has always been part of our collective fantasy life. The ancient greeks wrote about delicious food – delicious food that immortalized people. People in the dawn of the space age dream of “taking the medicine” : in the “annals of Mars” in thunder Bradbury, a character keeps food pills for weeks in a matchbox. On the “Jetsons”, food pills produce a delicious taste, but can cause indigestion. In fact, he inspired Soylent from the science fiction “Soylent Green” – “Make Room! Let a room! “(1966) the combination of soybeans and lentils has become a predatory solution to overpopulation. Food dreams can easily turn into nightmares:

Today, technology has caused people to our edible right now the new wave of anxiety, as well as the food hall in the enterprise, genetically modified vegetables, industrial agriculture and the weed killer comprehensive reports before nostalgia. Soylent was born in San Francisco, across the bay from Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse, a seasonal shrine that defines the bourgeois diet in this country. Since our days as a Bronze Age farmer, California farms have come to dinner tables to provide untimely ingredients for diners. (I briefly considered buying a mi salad with my juice.)

But the spirit of the farm to the table has largely bypassed the working class, while the working class has left behind low-cost food industries-obesity, diabetes and satirizing the consequences of malnutrition. A recent United Nations report warns that climate change is threatening global food supplies and that its effects will worsen and not be limited to the poor. (Chipotle, a restaurant chain, recently announced that it may have to phase out guacamole because of climate change.) Oxfam Hong Kong food policy Tim, head of climate change and al Gore (Tim Gore) pointed out: “most people will experience the main way of the climate change is based on the influence of food: the food they eat, they pay the price, and they have the availability of food and choice. “Food is a major part of the problem: livestock is responsible for almost all of the greenhouse gas emissions of 15% of all greenhouse gases.

Rhinehart is not a fan of the farm. He calls it “a very inefficient plant”. He argues that agriculture should become more industrialized, not less. “This is a labor force that has benefited me,” he said. “Agriculture is one of the most dangerous and dirty jobs there, traditionally done by people at the bottom. There are so many walking and physical labor, counting and measuring. Of course it should be automatic. “

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