Internet Gutter: Soylent -

The Internet is a strange and terrifying place. It’s enabled us to connect with one another, advance the causes of science and culture, and unite the world with a glowing net of data. It’s also enabled people with very… particular interests to find each other online. In this (semi)weekly series, we’ll be dipping into the Internet Gutter – the strange subcultures and weird worlds lurking in the dark pockets of the World Wide Web.

Internet Gutter: Soylent -


Richard Fleischer’s 1973 sci-fi flick Soylent Green depicts a world locked in resource shortage where citizens are given chips of a processed food ration of the same name. It’s pitched as an all-purpose food substitute that has everything you need to survive, but in the movie’s famous climax Soylent Green is revealed to not be made from algae but rather human corpses.

So why would you name your all-purpose food product after it? That’s just one of the many mysteries of Soylent, the meal replacement that has taken Silicon Valley by storm in the last year or so. On the surface, it resembles “diet shakes” like Nutrisystem or Ensure, popular among the old and lazy. But Soylent is designed so you never have to consume anything else. Needless to say, the body doesn’t really like that.

Soylent fandom is deeply cultlike, hilariously naive, and involves a lot of farting. A perfect subject for a dive in the Internet Gutter.

Internet Gutter: Soylent -

Chow Down

Before we get too deep into this slimy pit of nutrition, we want to be clear about something. We’re not hating on anybody for attempting to disrupt the food industry or change the world for the better. That’s how progress is made, after all. But Soylent isn’t solving hunger in Africa or the obesity epidemic here. Instead, it’s mostly just making Bay Area tech wonks vomit a lot.

The prime spot for Soylent discussion is the r/soylent Subreddit, where fans and newbies congregate to share their experiences. Those experiences are, on the whole, not great.

First off, there’s the fact that the adult human body isn’t really suited to a liquid diet. Lots of users report a serious adjustment period as their digestive tracts learn to live without the fiber that typically keeps them clean. The end result is lots of farting, diarrhea, puking, and intestinal distress.

Internet Gutter: Soylent -

Then there’s the mold. Food production companies have insanely strict protocols to prevent spoilage. Soylent… probably should have those, right? Whatever they’re doing, bottle after bottle was getting to people’s homes in late 2015 with visible mold around the caps. And where there’s visible mold, there’s also invisible mold. The company issued a massive recall and simply stopped production for the rest of the year.

Internet Gutter: Soylent -

That was definitively the right thing to do. However, some Redditors disagreed, arguing that anybody upset about black mold in their futuristic nutrition drink probably wasn’t ready to cast off the shackles of food slavery.

Internet Gutter: Soylent -

Bar the Door

In addition to the liquid formulation of Soylent, the company recently rolled out a chewable meal replacement bar. One would think that this product would be a little more reliable – people have been making PowerBars and the like for decades. We have to do something with those apple cores and Chinese newspapers. But the lesson of Soylent is that even the simplest ideas can make you violently ill. After the Food Bars hit consumers in October, the Internet exploded with tales of diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes both at once.

One would think that a company that shipped out thousands of moldy bottles would maybe take a good long look at itself at this point, but instead Rosa Labs claimed that everybody getting sick was allergic to an ingredient in the bar. Algal flour, a high-protein additive, was pegged as the culprit and removed from the product against the complaints of the supplier.

Whatever the case, Food Bars provide an exciting new way for people tearing up their guts with Soylent to do it on the go.

Internet Gutter: Soylent -

The Father of Soylent

Let’s take a second to look into the guy who made this whole mess possible. Rob Rhinehart is a classic “disruptive” tech guy who was working as a coder when he came up with the initial formulation for Soylent in 2013. A crowdfunding campaign put $3 million in his pocket to mass produce it, and venture capital added a few more.

As Soylent became a retail product, Rhinehart turned into its public face. That… might not have been the best choice.

In a totally bizarre manifesto published in 2015 entitled “How I Gave Up Alternating Current,” Rhinehart laid out his new lifestyle of monastic asceticism coupled with App Economy life choices. Just a few of the weirdest parts: he no longer does laundry, instead ordering shirts, pants, and underwear custom-made in China in bulk and donating the soiled clothes to charity. He also only consumes Soylent for nutrition, so he got rid of his fridge, oven, and all of his utensils.

Rhinehart also attempted to live in a shipping container parked in the Los Angeles hills as a way to be more “sustainable,” only to abandon it after local gangs vandalized it. He then ignored the city’s orders to remove the eyesore and left the area littered with trash. How sustainable!

Internet Gutter: Soylent -

Learning to Love the Farts

Now we get to the really juicy part. After all this reading about diarrhea and gas and mold and insanity, you’d think that the Soylent subreddit would be full of dissatisfied customers. Wrong-o, buddy. They love this stuff, no matter what kind of insane carnage it wreaks on their bodies.

Thread after thread on r/soylent discusses the nightmarish farts that Soylent drinkers are afflicted with. These people are confronted daily with the damage that this miracle “food” is doing to their guts and yet they soldier on, obsessed with the idea of transcending their food needs to move one step closer to serving as a power source in the Matrix. Soylent shows us the absolute nadir of the Internet, people ignoring their own bodies to vainly chase something new and different. But maybe we’re just haters, right? Let’s let r/soylent have the last word.

Internet Gutter: Soylent -

Internet Gutter: Soylent –


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