We’ve Sold the Definition of Food
What happens when the food we consume cannot sustain us?
The hypercapitalistic horror film “Soylent Green” introduced us to the idea of an all-encompassing supplement in place of food. The offering was somehow still diversified enough to make people feel like they had choices. This included one made of people’s bodies in the overpopulated future. Taking a cue from the source material for this film, a startup actually produced a somewhat flavorless supplement promising to provide the same complete nutrition.
Just why it seemed like a good idea was beyond many review websites, but what Soylent managed to do is convince an audience of people that they hated spending time cooking nutritious food, or sharing a meal with their loved ones, and that they could instead commodify that time by replacing it with monochrome paste. They successfully persuaded many folks to replace something that has been the basis of large parts of every culture: meals. Did Soylent successfully replace enjoyable food culture in an era of “foodies” and Instagram food pics? Sort of.
Many people could not get past the lack of fiber and the terrible time in the bathroom that ensued after committing to the plan. However, it was still fairly popular at its time of inception, with plenty wanting to try it out for the novelty if nothing else.
We pay to eat gold and other substances that offer no nutritious value or flavor just for the experience. In the case of Soylent, we were willing to pay to replace the experience of eating with… well, nothing. This search for novelty is something we rely on too much in the food industry.
Kraft-Heinz was the subject of much investment news earlier this year when it announced record losses. The company still has not recovered. Based on the number of analyses and far too lengthy hot takes published, one would think the brand had crashed the American market and begun a second Great Depression. Hidden in the hullabaloo is a far more chilling story about the American relationship to food as a for-profit industry: We’ve accepted the fable of Heinz as a classic U.S. brand and allowed corporations and profitability to redefine what is considered food.