I recently stumbled across a post that described the journey of a young engineer who decided that he would attempt to change the way humans live and survive. His method for doing this was to attempt to restructure the way we feed ourselves, and this involved NOT EATING! Rob Rhineharts rationale for this bold assertion was that (in his eyes) food doesn’t work. At least not very well, and his reasoning for this was not, say ‘because ingestible energy is different to metaboliseable energy’ for example, but rather because he feels it’s expensive to buy and takes time to prepare. He does acknowledge the science behind nutrition, granted, but he seems to feel that because he's read something in a book that he fully understands its mechanisms and holistic effects on humans. So instead he lives on liquid nutrition, something he calls 'Soylent', a concoction he formulated, something he feels is more complete and balanced than food itself.
It’s a lazy mans world
We live in a comparatively lazy culture compared to that of a few decades ago. Humans are like a stream in their nature i.e. they will find the easiest route as possible in order to reach their destination, so if humans can get their nutrition without having to perform the ‘terribly labour intensive’ and ‘arduous task’ of food purchasing, prep and cooking (sarcastic undertone intended), then why should they? Disability or age related barriers aside, there is NO reason why humans shouldn’t get their nutrition from food instead of fluid, and absolutely NO reason why liquid nutrition should replace food altogether!
'Best of intentions' can be risky
Rhinehart explains the moment when he decided he would step into the nutrition world. It came at a time when he was visiting an old friend back home in Georgia who was in his 70’s and deteriorating rapidly. Understandably Rhinehart wanted to help him…he remembers thinking the following:
“This is absurd, why am I working on wireless networks? People don’t need better wireless networks. People need better food.”
This is honourable, and something I understand because it’s one of the many reasons I became so passionate about health, nutrition and performance optimisation. In order to quench this passion I embarked on two university degrees slowly becoming an expert in my field. Rhinehart didn’t do this, he chose to focus on the intricacies of wireless networks etc, only to then go ahead and advise on nutrition!? My time in the NHS as a clinical Dietitian exposed me to some poor practice and scary acts of ‘common sense’ whereby family members of patients would attempt to feed their aged, frail and malnourished partner (for example). This is completely understandable, and I thoroughly empathise with this situation, but little did they know and with all their best intentions, the food they were giving the patient was slowly becoming lodged in their throat, slowly inducing pneumonia. Mercifully the patient recovered, but the problem could have been avoided if non-experts didn’t attempt to take the law into their own hands…and this is exactly what Rhinehart is doing (in his innocence).
The public are listening
It’s not Rhineharts fault that the public latch onto information such as this and adopt it indiscriminately. I’m not attacking him nor am I attacking his principles. His points may well be valid and may well work for him, indeed people can survive from liquid nutrition and yes it is their right to do so should they see fit. My concern is the cavalier approach that people seem to have towards nutrition and wellbeing, and the impact it has on fad dieting…which in his case might lead to no dieting, and in other cases may lead to no nutrition at all!
‘A Dietitian wouldn't advise on material selection when it comes to building a bridge!’
What place does an engineer have dealing with nutrition…well, in my humble opinion NONE whatsoever! The sad thing is that the press have latched onto this because it is different and contests formality, something that attracts the publics interest. The problem I have is with the justification for this extreme approach to nutrition. Rob Rhinehart based it around engineering and common sense, and failed to fully consider nutrition, particularly nutrient metabolism. Engineers are generally a problem solving breed, striving to take something and make it better, Rhinehart is quick to admit that he has a compulsion to solve any problem that he comes across, but to go out and assert that people don’t need to eat, well that’s a message I for one refute wholeheartedly!
The Telegraph, (2013). The man who lives without food. Retrieved 10th January, 2014, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/active/10032594/The-man-who-lives-without-food.html