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Soylent is a food substitute made by American software engineer Rob Rhinehart that can be served in the form of a liquid drink and is known to provide all known human nutritional needs, including maltodextrin, rice protein, oat flour, canola oil, fish oil and variety of raw chemical powders. Due to its foundation in science-fiction and open-source approach to development, Soylent has been intensely discussed online by its advocates and opponents since the launch of the crowdfunding campaign in May 2013.
During the 2012 Christmas holiday, Rhinehart was inspired to leave his job as a software engineer to work on creating a food substitute after witnessing an elderly, injured friend struggle to feed himself. With no formal education in nutrition, Rhinehart consulted online courses, books and other reference materials to determine what nutrients are essential in a balanced human diet. On February 13th, 2013, Rhinehart published an article on his personal blog titled “How I Stopped Eating Food,” which described how he concocted a liquid shake comprised of various substances to meet a human’s daily nutritional requirements. Naming the drink “Soylent,” Rhinehart experimented by eating nothing but the food substitute for an entire month, making various alterations to the drink based on new discoveries.
The name “Soylent” is inspired by the 1973 dystopian science fiction film Soylent Green, in which the majority of the human population survives on processed food rations that are revealed to be made out of human corpses.
On February 17th, Rhinehart launched the website Soylent.me, which featured links to his blog posts about the food substitute and a signup form for a Soylent news email list.
On February 21st, 2013, Rhinehart’s blog post was submitted by Redditor duncangeere to the /r/WTF subreddit, where it gained upwards of 630 upvotes and 110 comments prior to being archived. On March 13th, Vice published an interview with Rhinehart, in which he discussed how he created the food substitute and lauded its health and economic benefits. On March 25th, the DNews YouTube channel uploaded an interview with Rhinehart with host Anthony Carboni (shown below).
In May, Rhinehart launched a campaign for Soylent on the crowdfunding site Crowdtilt, earning over $3 million of the $100,000 goal upon completion. On October 21st, the tech news blog Tech Crunch reported that Rhinehart has closed $1.5 million in see funding to launch Soylent as a food substitute company. On November 12th, Vice’s Motherboard blog published a follow-up video in which staff writer Brian Merchant attempts to live off Soylent for 30 days (shown below). Within six months, the video gathered more than 895,000 views and 5,000 comments.
On November 15th, Rhinehart participated in an “ask me anything” post in the /r/IAmA subreddit, where he discussed how the product was named and his plans to deliver Soylent to people in the third world. In May 2014, the first 30,000 units of Soylent were shipped to customers in the United States. That month, the Soylent.me site was redesigned to include pages for purchasing the product and information regarding the food substitute.