It’s barely three-quarters of the way through January, and already a story has emerged that seems to perfectly encapsulate the early 2019 hellscape: According to a somewhat dubious Reddit post, two furloughed federal workers are subsisting solely on the Silicon Valley-born meal replacement known as Soylent so they can afford to feed their infant child.
Titling his post “Soylent has financially saved my family’s life amid the government shutdown,” the author thanks the company for offering a discount for affected federal employees, writing, “This has literally saved my family’s lives. I was in tears when I saw the [discount advertised] on their Instagram story.” Soylent is offering furloughed workers 35 percent off until the government resumes normal operations.
The post — from Reddit’s r/Soylent subreddit, a forum dedicated to discussing the various joys and woes of surviving on bottled sludge — was first pointed out on Twitter by Gizmodo writer Brian Merchant. Subsequent tweets from other users including Buzzfeed News reporter Ryan Mac noted how sketchy the dramatic, thank-god-for-corporations!!! tale seemed, noting that an all-Soylent diet is certainly not the cheapest way to live. At 400 calories per bottle of ready-to-drink Soylent, the average person on a 2,000 calorie diet would need to drink 5 bottles a day, which cost $3.25 each when purchased in a 12-pack via Soylent’s website. Even with the government shutdown discount that comes to over $10 per person per day, or significantly more than the $7.64 that the average American — not necessarily one who’s scrimping and saving due to being temporarily forced out of a job — spends per day on food.
Further adding to the viral marketing conspiracy theory is the fact that this is the author’s first-ever Reddit post. He’s made several followup posts to defend his claims, though, noting that while he and his wife considered surviving on ramen or going the healthier route of rice, beans, and frozen vegetables, they ultimately “came to the conclusion that Soylent would be the best cost benefit for overall health” — which sounds an awful lot like a marketing shill.
Soylent has also propagated weird viral marketing campaigns in the past, such as that time a guy sculpted his girlfriend’s likeness using Soylent. Promoted via an IRL flyer that was also posted to Reddit, that strange stunt turned out to be — surprise! — staged by the company.
In this case, however, Soylent says it had nothing to do with the Reddit post. Reached for comment via email, a spokesperson for the company said:
As far as we can determine, the OP (Original Poster) has no connection to Soylent and we can guarantee they aren’t an employee of our organization. We are happy that the promotion continues to do exactly what we hoped it might — help individuals and families affected by the furlough get through a tough, temporary situation. While we know there are myriad food options for people affected by this situation, we believe that Soylent is a viable option cost-wise. If a furloughed government employee were to place an order for a 7-Pack of Cacao powder using the offer extended to them, their price per meal would be about $1.19/meal, or, $5.92 per person per day assuming the individual is consuming 2000 calories/day.
Nonetheless, there’s something almost comedically dystopian about federal workers being “forced” to survive on nutrient gruel as one-percenters at the highest level of government squabble over a pointless and astronomically expensive border wall.
This post has been updated to more accurately reflect the price of Soylent and to include a statement from Soylent.