Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973) is about a world where people, as a consequence of their own indulgences, are forced to live primitive lives. Rob Rhinehart, inventor of Soylent, the meal replacement, desires for the world to regain control over its consumerist tendencies as a way of resisting the possibility of a Soylent Green world. What is effective about the existence of Soylent is that it refocuses the problem on people. As Robin Murray wrote, “The crime is against humanity, not nature” (p. 94). As a result, it allows us to reexamine our habits and culture in general to identify what truly is necessary and what is a distraction. Lizzie Widdicombe articulates this feeling when she tried Soylent for three days. “Soylent makes you realize how many daily indulgences we allow ourselves in the name of sustenance” (2014, May 12). By realizing this, it becomes a short-term concern that is controllable for each individual. In other words, it becomes viewed as a problem that can be fixed by small changes made by every individual. This is what both Rhinehart and Soylent Green have in common which is they render the issue of over-consumption a human error. They highlight our culture, one that takes for granted the privileges it consumes, as something that should and can be changed.
Both Rhinehart and the film beg the question of primitiveness and where it belongs within a society that has developed for itself rules that throughout history have increasingly solidified. We exist in a culture where if a luxury like electricity must be manually generated like Sol does in the film, then other forms of artificial light will be searched for even if they are dangerous to the eyes and the environment. Acknowledging the passivity that people have slowly acquired through time, certain measures must be met in order to become active occupiers of the planet.
Rhinehart proposes that Soylent motivates drinkers to become more active because they are no longer distracted by what can be considered the world’s way of interrupting progress. These interruptions are consumer habits that intend on stunting human development because it promises a future of consumerism. Our way of living should be reexamined so we can eliminate all that has gained power at the periphery of industrialization. Destructive habits can be exposed and rid of.
We can argue that these habits have somehow taken us back to a time where human sustenance is the center of attention. However, in the context of modern civilization, human sustenance has become a product. TV dinners and take-out are part of a culture where we have accepted being primitive. In other words, a better and healthier way is not being searched for. Soylent is an extreme measure that aids in people’s awareness of such a culture. Food becomes something to enjoy and not taken for granted.
A reason it is considered primitive is because the art of food is disregarded. The appreciation of food is disappearing as people’s unhealthy indulgences continue. Realistically, we have reached a point in time where our days should not be devoted completely to the necessities of life; where those necessities can be viewed as art. However, the opposite has happened where consumerist culture has attracted attention to now-trivial concerns that work as distractions from a productive way of living.
Soylent is a drink that helps us appreciate food again. We become like Sol and Thorn when they finally have a meal with real vegetables. Food to them is not merely a snack that can satisfy our oral fixation while watching TV nor is it just an excuse to take a break from work. Food is a luxury because it can be easily abused. Soylent drinkers know this as we see from Widdicombe’s writing.
Rhinehart opened the fridge and announced, ‘The college-student fridge of the future.’ It contained Miller Lite, condiments, and a pitcher of Soylent. I noticed a bag of baby carrots: food! Rhinehart, who refers to food that is not Soylent as ‘recreational food,’ explained that one of his roommates had bought them as a fun snack. (2014, May 12)
The carrot is a vegetable, among many, that is considered mundane by regular consumers of our day, and it is fully appreciated by Rhinehart’s Soylent drinker roommate. It becomes a treat forcing away the consumer habits he had developed and normalized over the years.
We should also consider the appreciation of food being gone producing a domino effect on all activities that are considered outside the necessities for sustenance.
A downside to Soylent is that culture, mentioned in several readings, is lost. From this, we must identify the necessity of culture in a world that must be saved. Should we, as Ursula Heise states, let go of our ‘sense of place’ and embrace the idea of a ‘sense of planet’ (p. 5)? Completely forgetting culture would be another form of primitiveness. After all, one of the many horrible side effects of consumerism is mainstreaming. This creates a narrow outlook on a group of people that should have a variety of qualities among them. Then there is value in culture because it provides variety, which provides alternatives. Blurring is the answer. An example would be the company Masdar, which aids its own country in developing solar energy but also donates solar panels to countries in Africa that struggle with electricity. It has also manufactured the largest offshore wind farm in England and has many other international projects. It is evident that to help the world, it must begin with improving its own conditions.
Extremism is only necessary for those who would have the most difficulty with it. Soylent should be introduced to those who would be hardest persuade to try. This can be applied to a number of consumerist habits though. In the end, extremism should only be temporary. The true goal is control. With control comes an understanding of necessity and active living.
In conclusion, Soylent and Soylent Green offer a narrative that focuses on a more short-term concern that can capture audiences’ attention. By examining them, we question the primitive nature of our culture, the art of food, and culture in general that produces for us the forces that go against primitiveness and help in the development of art.