market mushrooms

Discovery Tuesday

6 May 2014

The latest food trend is…no food at all? Plus the right way to peel a banana, and some sweet and silly links to make you smile.

Soylent beige

It’s so Silicon Valley: a young engineer tires of eating instant ramen, corn dogs, frozen quesadillas and vitamin C pills with his limited funds. Does he figure out how to eat real food on a budget? Of course not.

Instead he engineers a drink made with 35 nutrients ordered off the internet, blends it with water and some oil and declares it a complete replacement for food. Founder Rob Rhinehart been living off this concoction almost exclusively for the past year and a half and is now gearing up to sell to others willing to pay for the privilege of a life without food.

I’m both intrigued and repulsed by this story, which is featured in this week’s New Yorker and a recent Atlantic Magazine. Is there really a market for what amounts to infant formula for adults – an unappealing product made even less appealing by the name? (Soylent after the 1970s movie “Soylent Green,” in which people live off green wafers found to be made from human flesh. It’s meant to be ironic.)

Maybe a Soylent diet sounds like a good idea to a 22-year-old male who can’t be bothered to get up from his computer to search for solid sustenance. I’m fascinated that Rhinehart – through some trial and error documented on his blog – has managed to live virtually full time on this grainy, doughy liquid that the New Yorker writer likened to pancake batter. And he claims to feel well.

Granted, supermarkets and fast food restaurants are full of fake food these days, flavors and textures chemically engineered for taste, texture and addictive potential. In some ways, Soylent is deconstructed food taken to the extreme. But in other ways, Soylent is one man’s stand against the vast numbers of nutritionally bereft products that are sold as food.

With recent disclosures about gag-inducing food additives – flame retardants in Powerade, yoga mat chemicals in Subway sandwich bread – I give credit to Rhinehart for his transparent, open-source approach to Soylent formulation. Many DIY variations exist online, tweaked for age, body types and dietary preferences, for those who want to engineer their own optimal mix at home.

But it seems much easier just to eat real food. You don’t need a degree in nutritional science to eat sensibly. I spent half my college years living on bagels, orange juice and bananas, which were very satisfying and not any more than Soylent’s cost of $3 a meal.

I can imagine a complete-nutrition drink might be of benefit to portions of the population for whom real food is unavailable or undigestible. But it’s hard to imagine that people who have the option of eating real food would want to live on unchanging doses of sludge, no matter how much they dislike grocery shopping or how confused they are about how to balance their diet.

Think of selling Soylent in Italy, or France. How to explain why you would want to forgo the taste, memory, community and joy of food in favor of the convenience of blended powder and water? For what? So you can keep working without pause?

But that’s why Americans love the free market – everyone gets a chance to try out their ideas. I’ll be curious to see how this one develops.

The right way to peel a banana

I’ve always peeled my bananas from the stemmy end, just like everyone else I know. But I just found out my mom peels hers from the blunt end, using a little pressure from a fingernail to get the peeling started, and she thought everyone did it that way.

So of course I looked it up, and it turns out monkeys – unquestionably banana experts – open bananas the same way my mom does. The mom-monkey method is less apt to squish the banana (how many times have you crushed the tip of the banana with the bending stem?), and it leaves a nice handle with which to hold the banana as you eat it.

Not that it really matters. But it’s a fun tidbit anyway.

Eric Carle’s Easter miracle

I loved this sweet story from the Syracuse Post-Standard about Eric Carle, author/illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, reuniting with a mystery friend from his early childhood in Syracuse. Carle and his parents returned to Germany when he was six, and World War II tore his family apart, leaving Carle forever nostalgic for his brief, cherished years before the war.

Chinese grandpa’s Lamborghini

I want to give a resourcefulness award to this awesome farmer grandpa in China, who spent six months building a working mini-Lamborghini for his grandson. This story reminded me of my own clever dad, who took enormous joy and pride in jury-rigging a fix to any household problem. Though his solutions never looked as cool as this Lamborghini.

Making time

I appreciated this Sunset Magazine piece by Anne Lamott on making time. In our scrambling busyness we often don’t make time for mental health breaks, or quiet time with loved ones. Lamott’s essay is a good reminder, and her writing is always worth reading.

A triumph in video editing

I’m astounded by the hours of NBC news footage some mad genius at Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show had to splice together to make anchor Brian Williams appear as if he is rapping the SugarHill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” It’s 90 seconds of wonderment and hilarity – the kids and I keep hitting play again.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy 6 May 2014 at 7:11 pm

I had to smile when you described your mom’s way of peeling bananas because that’s exactly what I and my sister have always done…and people always think we’re weird. I think that our mom, who was Japanese, must’ve done this…which is why we do. Now I’m wondering if it’s an Asian custom. I also thought it was much more practical because you can hold the stem like a handle. 🙂


cg 12 May 2014 at 9:55 am

hi kathy – that is fascinating, must be an asian thing! and i agree with jamie, i think it does cut down on the stringy parts too. 40 years of peeling the wrong way – i’ll see if i can break the habit. =)


jamie 8 May 2014 at 8:12 am

1) That video is amazing. I can’t imagine how long that must have taken. A far cry from our editing skills?? ;-P 2) Although I still peel my bananas the way you do, I’ve heard that peeling them the other way gets rid of the string parts too…I will make it a point to test your mom’s method today! 3) That soylent sounds beyond disgusting but I’m definitely bookmarking that article to read tonight. The idea of living off of green sludge makes me shudder.


cg 12 May 2014 at 9:57 am

1) lol, we definitely failed editing 2) yes – fewer strings – brilliant! 3) the sludge is beige – worse than green, i think?! =P


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