Bad Ideas

I Lived Off Homemade Soylent for a Week During a Global Crisis

Drinking sludge to get through the tough days

Steve Rousseau
Published in
8 min readApr 3, 2020
Illustration: Mushbuh

Welcome to Bad Ideas, a column in which we examine the practical limits of technology by considering the things you could do and then investigating exactly why you shouldn’t. Because you can still learn from mistakes you’ll never make.

IInearly 2013, software engineer Rob Rhinehart wrote a blog post about how he had stopped eating food. Instead, he was consuming a meal replacement powder of his own design. He called it soylent.

Within a few months, Rhinehart launched a very successful crowdfunding campaign and, over the course of four years, took on over $75 million in venture capitalist (VC) funding to turn lowercase “s” soylent into uppercase “S” Soylent, marketing it to the masses. The drink was made of a mix of oat flour, maltodextrin, brown rice protein, canola oil, fish oil, soluble fiber, and 27 vitamins and minerals, and it was hyped as the tech industry’s attempt to disrupt food. After it failed to change the world — mostly because of the limited appeal of bland, nutrient-rich oat water and partially because it made people sick — Soylent pivoted to conventional food. The future of eating became a thing of the past.

But maybe, amid a pandemic that now has 3 in 4 of all Americans in lockdown, it might be worth revisiting Soylent. Restaurants are closed. Delivery services are overburdened. Regular grocery shopping is now a nerve-wracking hourslong process in which we all try to balance getting the food we need while trying to limit the potential harm to others.

“The DIY scene was started by the idea of Soylent and kind of spurred by the lack of availability of Soylent.”

While some out here are leaning hard into home cooking, it might actually be a good time to perfect self-sustenance. Instead of turning to official Soylent, though, I decided to take a more DIY approach and see whether I could survive five days on nothing but a meal replacement I made myself. After all, in these times, it might be better to rely on what you have in your own cupboard rather than venturing outside for branded bottles of…