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I Don’t Think This Is What People Meant by ‘Three Square Meals a Day’

The startup SquarEat makes eating more efficient by turning your favorite foods into unrecognizably pallid squares

An overhead photo showing a metal sheet tray of square blocks of processed food.
Madame, would you like an asparagus square to go with your salmon square?

Anyone else looking to make life less enjoyable right now? Good, good, I’m glad I’m not the only one. Thankfully for those of us devoted to denying ourselves simple pleasures like, say, meals with texture, a new kind of “food” is hitting the market. This “gourmet, innovative 50g square,” developed by a food-tech startup called SquarEat, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: squares of food smashed into oblivion (or something like that) and packaged for the busy worker who doesn’t have time to enjoy a full bottle of Soylent, let alone stop off at Sweetgreen to buy a salad to inhale over their laptops.

In an online crowdfunding campaign, which has brought in more than $150,000, the company describes the way it intends to disrupt the food delivery marketplace: by shipping a bunch of these squares to your doorstep. Had this concept been floated a few years ago, I probably would have reacted with more disgust and eye-rolling. But at this point, we have Soylent, we have Huel, we have so many brands that are committed to sacrificing all flavor and texture in pursuit of efficiency. Hey, at least SquarEat is saying they want you to enjoy your dinner — even if it is just six differently colored blocks of food on a sad little tray. Like a TV dinner without the kitsch! Among the sweet and savory offerings are beef square, hazelnut square, sea bass square, and quinoa square. If you put all the green blocks in a lineup and make me guess which is asparagus square and which is pistachio and cashew square, I’ll have no idea. So I really hope you don’t eat with your eyes first.

A chart on SquarEat’s crowdfunding website compares and contrasts the little blocks of compressed food with the raw ingredients they’re made of, showing in each case why the squares are actually more delicious. On one hand you have chicken, which has always struggled for popularity! “Dry, fibrous & stringy” says the chart. Below it is a beautiful, pallid block that we will just call square chicken with a “tender sausage” description. SquarEat’s review of asparagus? Dry, fibrous & stringy.” Asparagus square? Folks, it’s a “delicate patty.” And while sweet potato, a tuber so disgusting it definitely isn’t the cornerstone of cultures around the world as well as the foundation of my own career, is also “dry, fibrous & stringy,” there’s no need to worry, because the sweet potato square is “velvety & mushy potato.” Oh thank god.

The makers of these little pucks seem earnest, and like they actually believe in what they’re doing. I respect that, and with so many other efficiency-focused food-tech startups on the market, we’re way past the point where I’d root for the little(r) guy to fail. Food-tech companies are making “efficient” food whether it freaks us out or not. And there’s definitely some good here: The company claims, for instance, that they can use almost 100 percent of an ingredient in their development of these squares, which is great. Reducing waste, one salmon puck at a time!

But it seems like the presumably good people over at SquarEats are sort of missing the whole point of sitting down for a meal. Responding to criticism and jokes the company has faced online, SquarEat’s chief marketing officer Laura Vacaflores recently told Today that the company is “not the first food concept that adopted the square shape, if you, for example, think about tofu. The only thing we are asking people to leave behind is their original idea about the external appearance of the food.”

The problem here, it seems, is that Vacaflores — and probably the company as a whole — does not fully understand why people are skeptical of their product. The objection is not that these sad looking blocks are square in construction. Of course, there are lots of foods that are square-shaped and also delicious! But the difference between tofu and a SquarEat product is that one is steeped in literally thousands of years of culture and culinary tradition (and is extremely delicious in so many preparations), whereas the other one was thought up by a startup that’s younger than famous babies on TikTok. People aren’t afraid of tofu’s appearance, they’re wary of products that promise to simplify life so much that there isn’t much left to live for. Work, consume one meal’s worth of chicken square, sleep, repeat. Convenience is great, but maybe not at the cost of the history and pleasure that ties so many of us to the food we love.