Patchopolis is a laboratory for testing new concepts of urban living and to envision societal transformation as it responds to local and global changing conditions. A couple months ago the New Yorker published an article about Soylent, a liquid meal replacement providing essential nutrients without users spending time producing meals, and minimizing food bills (Widdicombe, May 12, 2014). The article is a fascinating review of the creator, the development of Soylent, and the company’s mission; however, it eventually falls into the typical trap of questioning public acceptance of replacing the typical diet. As discussed in a previous post (The Dangers of Premeditated Solutions Limiting the Search for Perfection) this type of thinking limits the potential for transformation. Home food production, through urban farming, 3D printing, and meal replacement drinks, should not be approached as an either-or with traditional food and cooking options. Instead, consider how this reflects a global marketplace, changes the concept of a kitchen, and contributes to the transformations of society.
The Soylent website is a fascinating example of the global marketplace. While providing the background and make-up of Soylent and trying to influence the visitor to order, it also includes a link to the DIY Soylent Community. At the time of the New Yorker article’s publishing the Soylent product was not yet ready for public release (though it was accepting pre-orders); however’ it was already committed to being open source – inviting users to order their own materials and produce and share their own recipes. Proprietary fears that typical food companies have with sharing the recipe and production method were already out the window and Soylent was supporting the community they intended to serve in tinkering with their own versions and flavors of meal replacement drinks. This is a substantial shift in the thinking, marketing, and evolution of products.
Over the last few months I have tried a DIY version of Soylent. I have no intent on reporting benefits on my own health. Honestly, I’m no picture of health in the first place, so there would be no fair comparison. I also have spent almost every other week traveling this summer, so I have been on-again-off-again going for days on a DIY Soylent diet followed by a week traveling, having irregular meals, mostly in restaurants. I instead tested a version of Soylent to see how easy it was, how it tasted, and its fit as part of a modern diet. This has resulted in my kitchen further evolving, combining its already small size and indoor farm with a new collection of nutrient powders to be mixed and chilled for the next day’s meals.
Still learning and revising production modules and methods in my farm, due to being gone for weeks at a time this summer with no one around to water, fertilize and care for system, there has been a lot of die-off. For DIY Solent mixing, the kitchen now includes a scale and thirteen canisters of nutrient powders which blend together and chill to make a chocolate flavored mix. Also I’ve began experimenting with ways to add flavor and the effect on my Soylent mix, experimenting with fresh banana (Yum!) or coffee in place of water. In the near future the intent is to add a 3D printer and experiment with innovative foods. I personally don’t envision any one of these systems as the end all solution, but assume that I will continue to mix and match, using them to create what each individually contributes. Let’s not assume that only one system is an option and limit our diet, but engage the freedom new technology provides to improve health and happiness.
Society is changing on many fronts. Technology continues to advance at a nearly unbelievable pace. Remember what life was like five-to-ten years ago? I used to travel successfully without a smart phone to navigate and stay in constant social contact! Multiple groups are now preparing missions to establish societies on the Moon and Mars (How We’ll Cook Breakfast on Mars, Jessica Leber , August 8, 2014). Global threats including war, disease, and climate change threaten the concept of ‘home’ and are displacing whole communities. As these elements combine it is not hard to conceive that in the near future we will be living in very different social, economical, and environmental environment. Evolutions in food, and other systems, will contribute to allow for adaption.