SOYLENT AS A BLACK SWAN FOR FOOD
By Karl Arnold Belser
6 June 2014



One of the future uncertainties that I have skirted around in this blog is that of per capita food scarcity. The population of the earth has continued to grow and there has not been a significant increase in food production after the late 1960s when the Green Revolution ended. I have suggested that this mega trend might mean that the world population would have to shrink.

I recently read about the development of Soylent (an inexpensive powder mixed with water, fish oil, and canola oil) that contains all of the nutrients a human being needs for survival. This type of food might be a game changer like the Green Revolution was.

The inventor, Rob Rhinehart, developed the food to minimize his cost in time and money when he was working 12 hour days at a start-up company in San Francisco. He named the powder Soylent after the 1973 movie Soylent Green, which describes a dystopia that one hopes will not happen in our future. Rhinehart has formed Rosa Labs to make the Soylent product. Soylent started shipments in May 2014.

I think that Soylent and other products of similar intent might ultimately be the way of the future because of the following characteristics:

1. The food is optimally nutritious, cheap and simple to prepare.

2.  The nutritional content of the food can be optimized for best overall health at a minimum of cost.  My post on Obesity and Public Policy describes how today's low cost foods are damaging the overall health of many people in  the United States.


3.  the Soylent-like food might be customized to compensate for people with sensitivity to certain types of foods, such as gluten .

4.  Medical costs might be reduced if a majority of the population has a complete, nutritious, moderate calorie diet. For example reduction of obesity might reduce the incidence of diabetes, heart disease, and skeletal conditions, among others.

5. The food does not require a kitchen or other capital investment, which minimizes living space and cost. This diet might make it reasonable that people live in very small spaces with a good quality of living.

6.  The food does not require a lot of packaging,(trash) and the toilet byproducts are minimal. This suggests that water usage for toilets might be less.

7.  Soylent could minimize the use of meat, which is very inefficient to grow. It also might make possible the development of crops that make good nutrition powder  and that require less water and fertilizer. These efficiency gains may be comparable to the efficiency gains of the Green Revolution. They may also allow human beings to adapt to a hotter planet.

8.  inexpensive foods like Soylent might be used to feed people in countries which have acute food scarcity. Today peanut butter is being used as an inexpensive food for hunger abatement. Since world population growth is dramatically slowing and may peak in the near future, it may become possible to feed everyone on earth, given that potable water is available.

Given the major nature of this breakthrough idea, I was quite surprised to see the following cartoon that casts  doubt on Soylent. This is one of the products of Agnotology, the casting of doubt or ignroance to undermine a new idea.

Soylent Cartoon

On the Positive side there are people that are willing to give Soylent a fair review like in the article Could This Powder Replace Food Forever?

I know from the cooking classes I have taken that food must be delicious, that is delightful to the senses,  if people are going to accept it. It has to look good, smell good, feel good in the mouth (like crunchy salad or juicy peaches), and taste good.

Soylent, in my opinion fails in the delicious attribute. This suggests that hybrid foods will be developed that are delicious, nutritious and economic. S
ince Soylent has only been on the market for one month, I believe that there is a huge economic opportunity for Soylent-like food development.

I suspect that the world is entering into an era of steady state economics as I have repeatedly said in this blog. I think that human beings might adapt to this situation, while still having a good quality of living, by taking advantage of the efficiencies of densely populated cities like Hong Kong and by capitalizing on the efficiencies of new types of food like Soylent.

   
Last updated June 7, 2014
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