When Soylent announced another one of their pop-up shindigs in LA—in the Arts District, a block from “Urban Radish”—I was initially suspicious. The company recently moved their headquarters to Broadway, just a few short blocks from my apartment, but they chose a quite elitist little space across from Pizzanista. (Incidentally, my apartment is right on the edge of Skid Row and Bourgie-ville, yet I never see the Soylent proselytizers spreading their gospel up in here even though there are plenty of empty storefronts. If there was ever a malnourished section of Downtown, it’s my hood!) But they did a great job of promoting it so I would be a fool not to drag my ass down there—even if it’s 94 degrees out.
This pop-up focused on the meal replacement (of which I am a happy customer) brand’s Coffiest drink. Coffiest is a tasty blend of cold brew and Soylent 2.0. The taste is akin to the bottled Starbuck’s Frappucino drinks, but much less sweet. The concept of mixing 2.0 and coffee isn’t new, but Soylent has cleverly perfected the idea of killing two birds with one stone. This shit just goes.
The three-day event, “Coffiest Cafe,” was well-planned and inviting from the get-go: coolers of Coffiest; a standup arcade game; baffling sculptures; a very engaging testing area, where you could try new flavors, rate them, and give your feedback; a man in a space suit; plenty of “DJ sets” (please); and on Day Three a roundtable discussion featuring the word “disrupting”—a lot. I made it for day three.
The event space is like walking into an exposed-brick fever dream. The staff working the event were very personable and chatty. You know how when you walk through Costco and you’re a little sheepish about asking for samples, but the ladies in the hairnets can sense it so they pull you in and make you feel like a big spender? That was the vibe. I spent a lot of time chatting with an ex-MuscleMax employee (this only came up because we were trading stories about “outsiders'” reactions to Soylent—you know, the funny looks). When the topic of my subscription came up, he got his coworkers attention and told her, “Hey, he’s a subscriber!” I said, “It’s no big deal. I just do the powder and the drink.” Then I realized that I was actually gloating.
That’s why this kind of event is so important. The people who subscribe to Soylent (me included) all seem to share a common trait, a sort of hunger for acceptance. When you’re the only one you know that drinks the stuff—shaking and slurping like a maniacal bodybuilder—and you find yourself in a position of “explaining” the idea behind meal replacement, you start to feel like an outcast. Just another fool who thinks he can hack the system. It’s like if I was way into board games, but nobody I knew was into board games, and then I stumbled into an exposed-brick paradise where Settlers of Catan mingled with King Of Tokyo. With DJs.
I really wanted to be a part of the talk they were having. The flavorist/artist Sean Raspet, Paloma Powers agency’s Andrea Hill and Samantha Culp (mea Culp-a, meow!) Abigail Fuller (director of “Chef’s Table” on Netflix), and moderated by Kibum Kim (form Sotheby’s Insitute of Art). First off, Kibum Kim killed it. He’s really good at steering the conversation and not trying to sound more intelligent than the speakers. Not that he isn’t intelligent, but you know how some of these things just seem like an opportunity for the interviewer to show off? Kibum Kim actually created a very comfortable, buzzy atmosphere. Buzzy? Maybe that was the Coffiest. Seriously, that shit will get you crunk! (Much like Kibum Kim, use moderation.)
Hydrocarbon formulator Sean Raspet mentioned right away that he was “very interested in the materiality of things.” I wondered if he had a big TV or something, but then he clarified: on a molecular level. Ohhhh! He went on to expand on his process of breaking flavors down to their molecules. His newest creation, “Nectar,” (which I tested and decided that it has a pleasant “Trix” cereal flavor, with lingering notes of “Lucky Charms” that have been sitting in milk for a few minutes) is meant to mimic the pheromones of a honeybee. It only required two molecules.
Flavorists and flavorism… I mean, I love creating passable copies of things I love (I call it “The Imitation Game”). In n’ Out sauce, Pizzanista mac n’cheese pizza. I have a Twinkie-making kit that doesn’t really do the job. But molecular flavorism?!? Who is Raspet to play god? Mind you, this is the same man who devised “Gasoline Soda,” a whack to the senses that is in no way toxic. His latest is a project to incorporate algae. He also has devised a flavor called “Pentagon”—because of its five-carbon ring. Haha. Maybe pick something that doesn’t conjure images of bureaucratic waste and dark backroom dealings instead, Sean. Like “Quintuplets.”
The Paloma Powers speakers were very knowledgeable. I really liked their energy, although I’m sure they’re used to bigger crowds. I’ve never heard the word “disruption” used so much in one hour. I know that “disrupting” is a very in thing right now. It’s almost as big a deal as using the word “iconic” to describe something classic. The problem with “disrupter” is that “innovator” works just as well, and it doesn’t have the stink of failed startups attached to it. Disrupters are rebels; disrupters work on instinct. We don’t need another hero. We just need a cheap, sustainable solution to an environmental crisis. Do you think you can get off of your motorcycle long enough to work on that, Brando?
That brings me to the highlight of the evening, Abigail Fuller. She was the comic relief for the talk. She spoke up after Raspet finished a particularly uninspiring metaphor about cutting a painting in half (because with liquids, it still has value; half a painting ain’t worth the paper it’s painted on), ending it with, “…Gasoline, Coca Cola, I want to work within that paradigm. The artwork is that liquid, it doesn’t matter which container it’s in.” She came in and said, “You’re blowing my mind right now. I’m like, ‘Uh… liquid.” Huge laughs. That was her steez throughout, kind of an “Aw shucks, I’m just a simple director who likes to eat” approach. She was very disarming.
At one point, she asked the audience of twenty Soylent aficionados, “Has anybody here been to the restaurant “Alinea” in Chicago?” Crickets. Again, “Anyone? Show of hands? No?” I was thinking, why is that such a surprise? I’ve never even been to Chicago, and half of this room drinks their meals!
The talk was great, but they intellectualized food ad nauseam. There was a lot of talk of “palatability,” I couldn’t stomach it for much longer. Sustainability was also huge. Since Soylent is all GMO, it really is a very sustainable solution. We’re in a dire drought situation, but California is still churning out almonds like that shit grows on trees! I mean, it is very water-intensive. And beef: eat more chikin (I love those billboards), put the cows out to pasture. Hopefully, someday our food will all be algae-based, made in a petri dish or whatever the hell scientists do.
Eventually, on the note of sustainability, Abigail Fuller pleaded with the audience: “Do Not Eat Blue Fin Tuna Or Eel!” I didn’t ask why. I just sat there and fell in silently, soylently, in love with this bossy directrix. Netflix and Soylent? She appealed to my love of TV and my self-righteous dietary choices. I love you, Abigail.
She ended with her description of walking through Whole Foods and seeing all of the choices, saying, “You have to be a full time student to even understand all the choices. I use the SeafoodWatch.org app and crosscheck with the restaurant menu” to make her sustainable meal decisions.
Abigail is very fond of eating. She said that she doesn’t want to waste any of her daily calories on a meal replacement. I respect that. She likes to “taste.” So, at the end, when they asked if anyone had questions, I raised my hand and addressed her directly, saying that I personally find that since “Soylent is so bland it actually tends to heighten the flavor of my meals, it gives my taste buds a break.” I never got such a big laugh in my life. The whole room must of been buzzing on that Coffiest, yo, ’cause that was not even my best Soylent joke. And that was the capper to the talk; me and Abigail sharing a moment.
They loaded me up with Coffiest and Soylent bars on the way out the door. Kudos to MaxMuscle guy and the space suit guy and the blonde girl! I didn’t have a bag to carry them in, though, so I rode my skateboard as far as the McDonald’s on Alameda and bought a McChicken and cheeseburger so that I’d have something to carry the Coffiests in. I know that it’s kind of the least sustainable meal choice after all of that end-of-days Soylent propaganda, but it was the most convenient option at the time.