Food hacking and my experiences with Joylent

One of the cornerstones of my productive life is flow. According to Wikipedia, flow is “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus”. Something that frequently interrupts my flow is the urge to eat. However, especially for lunch, I rarely focus on enjoyment when eating. I only eat because I am aware that the nutrients will benefit my body and mind. Meanwhile, my mind usually is absent, thinking about the stuff I did before I interrupted my flow.

Thus, for a while, I have been interested in Soylent, a geeky meal replacement beverage from the Silicon Valley which enables people like me to skip the interruptions and effort related to food intake. Soylent does not ship to Europe. But last December, I learned that there are multiple European Soylent clones. Since the U.S. company has published the list of Soylent ingredients, everyone can come up with their own derivate. There also is an official community of people who create and share their own recipes based on Soylent.

Eventually I decided to try Joylent, an Amsterdam-based producer of a meal replacement powder akin to Soylent (thanks Anna-Lena for the recommendation). I ordered 15 meals worth 2 Euro each, delivered in 5 differently flavoured bags including 3 meals each. For the past weeks (with the exception of a vacation-related break over the holidays), I have been replacing most of my weekday lunches with Joylent. Here are my impressions so far:

Joylent

  • It works. I really feel filled after I had one serving of Joylent. I did not notice any side effects or undesired consequences, which obviously does not mean that there are none.
  • The fact that I do not need to think about what to eat for lunch and that I do not have to spend time getting/preparing lunch makes me as happy as I hoped it would.
  • However, a couple of times I felt that even though I lacked the enthusiasm for a regular lunch meal, my brain showed signs of disappointment over not getting to experience “real food” – even if for lunch, I never eat anything sophisticated. Joylent made me realize that even the most simple meals were actually giving me some sorts of mental pleasure, which I occasionally miss when drinking my Joylent shake. Still, in my opinion, that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.
  • Joylent saves money. At least in developed countries, it is hard to beat a 2 Euro meal which includes all the nutrients the body needs.
  • Consuming Joylent, or Soylent, or any other food replacement product, requires a certain kind of trust into the producers and their commitment to quality and ethical standards. Except maybe if you are a professional nutrition specialist, you cannot judge whether what you are eating there really is good for you. On its website, Joylent writes that the product is safe but that it “may be wise to consult a doctor before using it”. It basically means: Consume at your own risk. But if you think about it – that goes for most of the food products that people consume. Nevertheless, certifications from reputable health and nutrition organizations would make me more comfortable to consume Joylent.
  • Because of the experimental state of products like this, I won’t eat more than one serving a day. I anyway do not consider Joylent & co as products to replace all my meals with. Eating food is too much of a pleasure to give up on. However, thanks to this type of food replacement, I am able to separate the reasons for why I eat from each other: If I only want to give my body the nutrients it craves for or fill my stomach, I have Joylent. If I am in the mood for culinary delight, feel the desire to comfort myself or if a planned meal intake is part of a social activity, I choose real food.

In general I am excited about how “food hacking”, a label which Soylent, Joylent and similar products fall into, can help to tackle some of the global challenges that surround food. Obviously, my issue with an interrupted flow is nothing but a first world problem. But just picture to use the Soylent/Joylent approach to feed the hundreds of millions of people who are starving. There certainly are lots of caveats which I fail to consider at this point, but I think it is quite safe to conclude that food replacement powder does not have to remain just a lifestyle product for productivity geeks and life optimizers in the developed world.

Now, please excuse me. I have to make up my mind what to pick from today’s lunch menu, because today, there are leftovers from yesterday’s pasta dinner. You probably can guess what choice I’ll make.

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