Philosophical Soylent Haters

David Sax has a recent article in the New Yorker where he decries everything wrong with the new food, Soylent and other tech-derived foods.  He comes to his conclusions despite admitting he's never tried Soylent.  Rather, it seems he's philosophically opposed to the idea.  Sax writes:   

The problem with all this food-2.0 stuff isn’t that it sometimes tastes horrible but that it misses the mark on how our eating is evolving. The tech world approaches food from the perspective of engineering: a defined problem to be solved, with the right equations, formulas, compounds, and brainpower. Soylent was developed by its creator, Rob Rhinehart, to compress all the nutrition the human body needs to live into one single, easily digestible formula, like the twenty-first-century version of manna. But that is fundamentally the opposite of the way we increasingly want to eat in America and in much of the developed world.

But, what is it that people "really want" when they eat?  My research consistently shows it's, healthy, affordable, safe, tasty food; whether it is natural or "fair" or from a particular origin matters far less.  I believe Sax is also mistaking what people say they want which what they actually choose.  As I previously discussed via USDA statistics, the amount of farmland in organic, for example, represents a very small share of all agricultural acreage.  

I don't deny that there is increasing demand for organic, "clean", etc., but I think Sax is mistaking what people want for the method of how it's provided.  The theme of my book Unnaturally Delicious is that if we really want to tackle many of our most pressing problems in agriculture it will require exactly the sort of stuff (like math, science, engineering) that Sax says he wants to keep away from food.  

Sax concludes:

Most humans are happy to eat real food, and crave it in its most natural form. A strawberry picked at the height of summer. Fish pulled from a river and grilled over wood coals. Sourdough bread made from a twenty-year-old starter, and kneaded by hand. Wine grown on knobby vines, and aged in a dark cellar. Why would you disrupt that?

I can think of a lot of reasons why you'd want to "disrupt that."  Because, for examples, his vision is too expensive, unavailable but for the most wealthy, too time consuming, and would use too many of our natural resources if everyone ate this way.  No one I know is trying to keep these "natural" alternatives from consumers, and it is a testament to our vibrant food economy that the market provides these "natural" foods for consumers who are willing to pay for them.  But, that doesn't mean we can't have Solyent too.   

Let me state things differently.  Modern food and agricultural technologies are providing us more affordable food than at any time in our history, reducing hunger all over the world, while at the same time reducing the amount of land we need to bring into production.  We're adopting new technological approaches to keep food safe, quite literally saving lives, and using science to understand how to make a more nutritious, affordable food supply even for people in some of the most impoverished places on the planet.  Scientists are using math, chemistry, engineering and the like to reduce the number of animal we need to produce meat and milk, thereby reducing our carbon impacts. Why would you want to stop all of that?