Soylent PhD research


#1

Hey all, I’m writing my PhD on soylent as a “participatory food design” (National Uni Singapore); going to talk about what I’ve found in the powder dust so far at CHI conf this coming May. I will roam around Bay Area as well as LA in April-June, trying to meet soylent peers keen to talk about The Powder(s) (ok they call it “fieldwork”). If some of you locals would be willing to share with me what you have, it would be great! The thing is, I don’t have much to offer in exchange (except for the eternal fame of…eh…being mentioned in my thesis or research papers?). Anyway, if that makes any sense to you, please let me know here or at: marketa@u.nus.edu
thanks!
Markéta


#2

I live something like 2200 miles away from LA, so I’m not a good candidate for a meet up, but I think a lot of people, especially relative to forum activity these days, would find this interesting. I’d suggest you jazz this topic up a little bit to draw more of a response, it should be pretty easy since you’re essentially preaching to the choir. Especially lose the negative title, you’re going to have a doctorate, you’re clearly smarter than me, have a little confidence!

How about editing your original post to something like:

PhD Thesis - Soylent and the Rise of Diet Hackers

Hello soylenteers, I’m Markéta, working on my PhD in XXXXXX at the National University of Singapore and writing my thesis on participatory food design with a focus on soylent and the DIY community. I’ll be presenting a draft of my findings at the CHI Conference in San Jose this coming May and am in the Bay Area from now through about June looking to speak with my soylent peers.

My thesis focuses on the motivations and user innovations in the soylent community, particularly innovations within diet control through DIY tinkering, user innovation leading to personalized diets, and crowdsourcing of nutritional knowledge and diet optimization risks.

My draft thesis will continue to be available to the community free of charge at the link above and I look forward to sharing a final version down the line. If anyone in the Bay Area or Los Angeles would be willing to meet up to discuss their experiences with me I would appreciate it SO much and would love to meet with you!

Please ask me any questions or contact me to meet up either here or at marketa@u.nus.edu

Thank you!
Markéta


#3

haha, thanks for that! I just don’t like to use the ethos of “hey look, I’m doing phd and that means I’m smart (because it really does not), so let me explain what you are actually doing cause I did my research on that:)” but hey, you’re right there. the thin line between humble and negative…


#4

Oh don’t worry, I didn’t say you were smart, just smarter than me. Welcome to one of the least exclusive clubs on the planet :wink:


Related to your actual study:

Have you had any findings or noticed any trends that have surprised you?

This quote made me think of Peter Thiel and his decision to publicly take HGH based on his understanding of the science in an attempt to live a longer and healthier life.

The respondents seemed to be aware of potentially hazardous nature of their diet; however, they still see the crowdsourced soylent meals as a better option than the common food items. This model of risk crowdsourcing requires strong personal dedication, and the participants most often agreed that they are willing to accept responsibility for their diet-related decisions and actions.


#5

“Welcome to one of the least exclusive clubs on the planet :wink:

and here you have an answer to your first comment.)

anyway, the most interesting finding is the assumed correlation between “nutrition literacy” and “experimental dietary behavior” that I’d like to dis/prove now. i.e. people who are literate nutrition-wise are not following pre-defined healthy eating standards (WHO “balanced diet”), but rather use their literacy as some form of empowering tool to experiment with their diet on their own (distrust in existing policy, standards, products…). What I’m interested in, is the ambiguity of optimization vs. risk of this self-experimentation that is common in DIY hacker & maker cultures…on one hand the data produced by you here in the forum(s) are important; on the other hand, there are the policy issues of how much should such citizens’ experimental efforts be regulated/supported by food and health authorities. hey, can we skype? margita_d


#6

As a substantive consideration regarding your research, I would encourage you to spend some time (by reading through the discourse, for example) learning the actual motivation of Soylent drinkers and go from there. Among the many commonly cited reasons people here have given for consuming Soylent, some sort of defiance of “healthy eating standards” doesn’t really stand out. Convenient access to nutrition is kind of the nutshell explanation, but I don’t think distrust of “other” nutritional media (i.e., food) factors in for most of us.

I don’t want to presume to speak for others here, but for ease of wording, I will write this as though I do. (A quick perusal of the forum will show that there is not consensus on many things here.) That said, in fact I think folks here by and large accept most nutrition standards as valid, and they see Soylent as a perfectly acceptable vehicle for delivering it. What we oppose are arguments to the effect that nutrition must be “packaged” in a certain way and that Soylent is thus inherently suspect because it is not like familiar foods. In other words, we’re not looking for an alternative model of nutrition as much as an alternative model for getting the SAME nutrition. Our reasons, moreover, are typically banal: being busy, lazy, uninterested in food preparation (but not necessarily lazy), etc. Except for the people who make those “interesting” videos, I’m not sure how many rebels there are here, although I don’t want to think too much about that one.

I think you are onto something interesting in your research overall, but I’m not sure you need to guess about our motivations. There are plenty of discussion threads that are pretty explicit about them. Better to develop deductive inferences about them from the readily available evidence, and then fit them into your broader sociological theories. This is a crowd better attuned to evidence- and logic-based reasoning than most, so you should find plenty of solid info to work with here.


#7

Hi Paul,
thanks for this - I actually do exactly that; spent last year doing content analysis of discourse, sub-reddit and DIY site…(using the Elasticsearch data mining tool). That is is how I search for soylent interviewees. As I now ended up having more free time in LA + Bay Area, I just tried to do this open call way.

So far, I have found quite a variety of motivation; the most statistically significant being “convenience” + “self-perceived health improvement”. My initial code set included bunch of other motivations like “activism” or “enviro concerns” which proved to be very rare ocassions. The discontent with existing food standards (products + information) is on the high end among motivations, though - so far I’ve interviewed around 60 people (mostly Europe though, which might cause bias), and usually got some negative opinion on fast-changing dietary trends in popular media; local food policies etc. Still, personal “cravings” for better health and more free time are the most “popular” motivations (which suggest that there is some problem with present food standards, no?). Anyway, I do try to stay as objective as possible and not romanticise soylent crowd as socially engaged, “anti-“ types of people, of course…


#8

Hi, I hope I didn’t come off as too dismissive of your research. I think it’s interesting. I suppose the ambiguity in the word “standards” might be the cause of some confusion; I’m not sure if what you are calling “discontent with existing food standards” is how I would describe the same phenomenon. But you seem to be much more systematically engaged in what folks here have been saying about their motivations than I am. I’m glad you’re starting out with users’ stated preferences as your baseline, and I have no doubt that you are being objective in how you look at the data. There have been polls floating around here that might provide some insight, too.


#9

I don’t see much risk in doing Soylent. I mean, i still had a full stock of food when i got my first box, so worst case i would of just thrown it out and went back to eating my previous food or went to one of the many restaurants around. I sincerely doubted it would be poisonous or anything. So the only real risk was some cash if i threw it out. But even that seems highly unlikely that i couldn’t eventually eat it.

As for my initial motivation, I usually eat anything once (though i did pass on an opportunity to eat goat testicles) and just general support for science and environmental stuff. If i ended up throwing it out, i would of just considered it a small donation towards research and more sustainable future. I did skip supporting 1.0 due to financial limitations at the time, and then forgot about it. When I rediscovered it at 1.5, i could afford to risk the cash. I also figured they worked out any major kinks. (i.e. gas, ship time).

Though once i did, the health benefits became my primary motivation for continuing. It only took a few days to notice how much better i was feeling. As healthy as i ever did, possibly more so. It’s really hard to quantify the benefits of feeling good every day. But i’d probably say i get 45 minutes of extra productivity a day. More energy to deal with stress and to do my hobbies after work. (Also better hangover recovery). Of course if this becomes the norm, so would more work. So extra hobby time is temporary, but still appreciated.

Convenience is also a big factor, but it’s mostly replaced cereal and peanut butter jelly sandwiches. Which are fairly convenient anyways. Plus i still cook dinner and enjoy exploring different flavors. Overall it still saves a few minutes a day, but not compared to being more healthy. However if it took any significant time to make soylent, (like 30 minutes) then i probably consume nearly as much, as it would cut into the benefits.

As for it’s short comings, monotony. The flavor is surprisingly complex if extremely subtle and overall on the plus side. However it’s not just the same thing every day, but the same thing every meal. I know lot’s of people enjoy the security of eating the same thing every day, but to me it get’s extremely boring. This is an unfortunate downside with GMO food and mass manufactured food in general. One box of corn flakes made in the same factory with genetically identical corn taste exactly like the second box of corn flakes. Sure there’s a few other brands, but an entire isle of a grocery store is nothing compared to the taste variety i can get out of 1 blueberry bush.


#10

For your research, are you asking for testimonies?


#11

in what sense? I seek just for basic demographics (name/nickname; gender; country of residence; age group - all optional to answer…), and go straight to soylent-related qs


#12

Hey thanks for this!

As for the risks, I mean more long-term risks of consuming something novel, not yet tested through long-term health studies or clinical trials - in other words the usual risks of DIYing, i.e. relying on amateur-expertise, similarly as with hacking/making/prototyping of tech or DIYbio stuff etc. What I’m specifically looking at is the impact of group discourse on individual decision-making and rationalization of choices - Alan Desantis did a nice ethnography in that sense, looking at collective rationalization in the group of cigar smokers…(although I’d not go on to compare soylent and cigar smoking, of course, just similar model situation).

re: convenience, so far I’ve understood it more as a convenience of not needing to choose your lunch in job/school cantine; to shop for dinner etc. (that’s also the main convenience to me personally - not good in making decisions).

re: the quantification of “feeling healthy” - some people here do share blood tests results; spreadsheets with mood/sleep patterns etc. but agree that it’s tricky in terms of quan accuracy…

re: monotony - have you tried to tinker with the taste profile of your soylent? I like to do mine savory, adding wholefoods vegetables (spinach, beets…), or herbs, chlorella, green barley; spices like chilli are great - also for the absorbtion of certain nutrients etc…

re: better hangover recovery - interesting! I can’t even see soylent when hangovered. Have you tried to drink on soylent btw? I know people here also try fruit-flavored soylent + booze mixes…too filling to me.


#13

[quote=“materie, post:12, topic:25296”]re: convenience, so far I’ve understood it more as a convenience of not needing to choose your lunch in job/school cantine; to shop for dinner etc. (that’s also the main convenience to me personally - not good in making decisions).[/quote]Can’t say that applies to me, though my wife certainly spends quite a bit of time choosing. She spends about as much time deciding on a recipe then cooking. She doesn’t drink soylent though.

Most of the time i save is the physical time i spend going grocery shopping. About half of that is driving time. Deliveries FTW. Though i havn’t tried any other food delivery services.

[quote]re: the quantification of “feeling healthy” - some people here do share blood tests results; spreadsheets with mood/sleep patterns etc. but agree that it’s tricky in terms of quan accuracy…[/quote]That’s a measure of health, but not a measure of how being healthy impacts your life. There’s a pretty obvious positive correlation, healthier = better. But how much? If your blood test say X, how much more productive are you compared to when your blood test said Y?

For me, i’d say 45 minutes a day. Though that’s obviously a subjective sample size of 1.

[quote]re: monotony - have you tried to tinker with the taste profile of your soylent? I like to do mine savory, adding wholefoods vegetables (spinach, beets…), or herbs, chlorella, green barley; spices like chilli are great - also for the absorbtion of certain nutrients etc…[/quote]No. Mostly because i eat soylent when i’m in a hurry. If i had time to cook, i cook something completely different.

[quote]re: better hangover recovery - interesting! I can’t even see soylent when hangovered. Have you tried to drink on soylent btw? I know people here also try fruit-flavored soylent + booze mixes…too filling to me.[/quote]I’ve directly mixed soylent with alcohol, yes. I also drink liqueur (vodka, rum, bourbon, brandy, etc…) straight, and soylent’s flavor is nice enough to get out of the way. I don’t like beer.

Going together doesn’t slow down absorption as much as normal food does, but still slower then an empty stomach. And drinking soylent the morning after doesn’t have as much of an effect as drinking it before, or with.


#14

I have lived off 1.4 with no other foods for 3 months and felt great.


#15

Good job, @materie. As a Doctor of Soylent, you will help Soylent improve faster.


#16

I lived off of absolutely nothing but Soylent and water for more than six months and all I got was a stinking GED.