Would it be cheaper for charities to use Soylent to feed others?


#1

What do you guys think about Soylent being used to feed the poor instead of other foods?

It sure cost less to transport and move and can be easily made unlike other foods that require preparation and are bigger and much heavier.


#2

Not at the current price, to be sure!


#3

As far as using them to displace soup kitchens it is unlikely that will happen any time soon. Soup kitchens provide meals for between $1 and $1.50, as a baseline The Soup Kitchen Inc. can provide meals for $1.16 each (in 2011 at 600 meals per day). Soup kitchens typically receive food that is deeply discounted due to cosmetic defects (like dented cans or misprinted labels) or near the expiration date and therefore unsuitable to sell in grocery stores.

Rob has stated that his goal would be for Soylent to cost approximately the same as a meal of rice and beans, or about $1.50 per meal rather than $3 per meal, at which point it becomes a viable option not only for charities but also for those who are food stamp dependent.

Regardless of price point Soylent does have some advantages over other forms of charitable food, such as shelf life, nutritional value, and ease of shipping (yeah, they’re heavy boxes, right up until you compare them with a box of 14,000 calories of canned green beans, which would be about 90 lbs) all of which add to the utility of the product.

The last thing to realize is that if Soylent gets big enough to affect the low income/charitable food markets it won’t displace soup kitchens 100%. [Trying to keep this sentence at Econ 100] As the supply of food in that market increases the prices of other foods aimed at the same market will decrease as well, which is good for the consumers in that market whether or not they directly consume Soylent.

My guess, based on working with other organizations (I have no relationship with Rose Labs other than as a customer) and moving beyond Econ 100 to concepts like sticky-down pricing I think the price of Soylent won’t ever fall much lower than $3 per meal, but what may be achievable is keeping that price point consistent (through economies of scale, improved production techniques, or diverse sourcing) despite inflation in the costs of other low end products which will, over time, bring Soylent into that market.

Anyway, TL;DR version - hopefully Soylent can one day help alleviate hunger and malnutrition, but it is unlikely to have a significant impact at the current price.

Rock and roll, gambit.


#4

Charities tend to have lots of volunteers.

If they wanted to, they could whip up a DIY recipe assembly line and buy in volume, at a fraction of the official version cost.

For some reason writing this brings to mind a scene from Oliver Twist.

“Please sir, can I have some more soylent?”


#5

I’ve thought many times how funny it would be if we used Soylent for charities / food stamps as suggested here. The poor would eat better then 95% of the rich. I can imagine 3rd world countries in Africa having healthier children than USA. Will it happen that way? I doubt it, but it is fun bending your neurons in new directions.

It also reminds me of Edison supposedly saying “We Will Make Electricity So Cheap That Only the Rich Will Burn Candles”. Maybe Soylent will make nutrition so cheap that only the rich will be eating Top Ramin and hot dogs. :slight_smile:


#6

I would love to hear what Rob or anyone else on the Soylent team has to say about this. They understand the production costs better than anyone else. Subsidized Soylent has great potential.


#7

I think it is important to note the current price does not necessarily reflect the current cost to make. Unless I am mistaken, Soylent is not sold just at its production cost. The margin is probably small, but only someone with inside knowledge of those costs would know if it would currently make sense for food pantries to use Soylent. If the production cost is small enough, they could sell at cost to food pantries and make a huge impact on millions of lives. I would love to hear what Rob or anyone on the Soylent team has to say about this, the potential is too great to go unheard.


#8

Hi, I just wrote a blog post that addresses this issue. I hope it adds something useful to this discussion, and that this is an appropriate place to promote it.

My main points are:

  1. I think Soylent is safe, and better than the Standard American Diet, but probably not optimally nutritious.
  2. I think healthy food (rice and beans etc) is already cheap, and that processing it into Soylent adds an additional unnecessary manufacturing step that makes the foods more expensive.

I conclude that:
The most likely scenario for Soylent to contribute to alleviating world hunger would not be if the poor people themselves eat it, but if it can manage to displace meat and luxury vegetables in the diets of the rich, thereby improving land use efficiency by causing a shift of land from livestock and livestock feed production to production of nutrient dense, high yield plants for humans to eat.

I think this is a really interesting discussion to have.