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Interview with a ‘lent Founder

A few months ago I was interviewed by an anonymous journalist for an article about ‘lents that never saw the light of day. So I thought I’d share it with you here! :)

What compelled you to create Super Body Fuel and start using meal substitutes?

I heard about Rob Rhinehart’s Soylent experiment back in 2013 when I was eating a strict, home-cooked Paleo diet, largely on account of my many food allergies. I thought it was an intriguing concept, though I was skeptical about how well it could work in practice. I liked the food I was already eating, and I felt really good on it, health-wise, but as the year wore on I started to resent the hours I spent cooking and cleaning every day, and wonder how much more I could accomplish on my indie game side projects if I had some of that time back. I mean, I liked food, but I didn’t necessarily feel the need to tantalize my taste buds three times a day…

Eventually I decided to check out the DIY soylent scene that had emerged in response to Rob’s initial blog post. Experimenting with chalky concoctions became a hobby, and then a side business, as people began spontaneously asking me to sell them some of my DIY mixes. After a few months, I quit my software engineering day job to focus on Custom Body Fuel full-time. My initial plan was to quickly come up with one good recipe and a brand name that would do it justice, and just outsource everything else to a bigger manufacturer a la Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek so I could live my dream of being an independent artist – an indie game developer – but alas, it was not to be. Turns out I’m too much of a perfectionist.

So I turned it into Super Body Fuel and went inside the cocoon to iterate on formula, brand, and learning to be a manager and leader for the next several years, with the help of my employees and our thousands of customers. And when I say “inside the cocoon” I mean no marketing, no outreach, no nothing. Just working that feedback loop with our own customers, learning from experience, trying to make the best product we can within our “optimal nutrition for all” mission. Optimal and inclusive.

Every year it feels like we’re just about ready to emerge from the cocoon, and then that horizon stretches out to the next year for one reason or another. But we’ve finally pinned down the formula and the branding at this point, and we’re just putting the final pieces together as far as manufacturing and website development, so… Let’s just say I’m really looking forward to being a butterfly. And you can bet it’s not going to be called “Something Body Fuel” either!

With what sort of frequency/intensity do you use your meal substitutes? Is it a 100% replacement? Could you briefly walk me through a usual day of what you’re eating and when?

I’ve been using my own stuff (mostly Super Fuel) for anywhere from 30% to 90% of my diet, for the last several years straight. I’ve never gone 100% because I have no reason to – I like corn chips too much to ever cut them out of my diet completely, haha. But it’s rare to have a day where I go without it completely – Super Fuel with berries is the perfect breakfast for me, honestly. I keep a pitcher in my fridge at all times, and while I might also crave (and indulge) some crunchy chips, I never get tired of it. And few other meals leave me with such a perfect balance of energy and satiation, especially with my food allergies. It’s come a long way since the chalky concoctions of the early days.

Do you actively enjoy using meal substitutes or is consuming them more of a practical decision?

I actively enjoy them. I miss them if I’m forced to go without for a while – crave them, even. It’s also a very practical decision, but that’s not coming at the expense of pleasure. Cinnamon with berries is deliciously reminiscent of my favorite pie, and chocolate never gets old.

That’s the benefit of quality nutrition – your body craves it once it realizes how much good stuff is in it. And not in a compulsive way like sugary junk food. It’s a good way to reset your palate for healthy food if your brain has been hacked and hijacked by processed garbage.

Do you feel like they’ve made you healthier? How have they affected your body?

I came to this from a healthy diet, so I didn’t necessarily see the kind of dramatic benefits that so many people see when they’re coming from fast food. However, I’ve definitely learned to optimize for health further in addition to optimizing for convenience and cost, even calculating which vegetables I could combine for the best nutritional coverage when cooking for myself (spinach and broccoli is a great combination).

As far as my body, I got into this business while probably in the best shape of my life, practicing martial arts and parkour at least an hour every day on average, and walking an hour a day for my commute. Probably the best testimonial I can give is that I still have visible abs, even after all my healthy routines were obliterated by the stress and demands of starting my own bootstrapped business these last several years!

Do you feel like they’ve made you more productive? How have they changed the schedule of your day?

Yes, of course. But it’s impossible to compare life before starting a business to life after. Now that has changed my schedule and my life to an unrecognizable degree!

Food can obviously be much more than just sustenance for some folks — it can be a cultural thing, a social thing, an experiential thing, etc. — how do you see your relationship with “real food?” How has that relationship changed after you started using alt-food?

I think I’ve always had to be a lot more aware of the food that I eat, given my allergies and the general sensitivity of my body. But I really dove into the “biohacking” mindset once I got into the DIY soylent scene and beyond. My approach to food these days is a lot more “nutrition nerd” and a lot more utilitarian as a whole, though I’ve also learned to lighten up more and not be so strict about my diet at the same time. Like I said, I like corn chips.

Maybe you’re a little biased here, but do you feel like meal substitutes are “the future?” Could you see a world where people have entirely replaced their diets with these types of drinks?

I don’t think of this trend as “meal substitutes”. It’s really about nutritional completeness as a benchmark for processed food, which previously has been entirely about making something that is tasty, addictive, and cheap. The future isn’t Soylent, it’s Vite Ramen – delicious, gourmet instant ramen that is also optimized for nutrition, complete and bioavailable. And Tom and Tim, the founders of Vite Ramen, are good guys. I’m a big fan of what they’re doing, and it’s a huge honor that they have mentioned me and my work as one of their (many) inspirations.

That said, the processed food industry has been so successful at uprooting and destroying traditional food cultures, and replaced it with food that is so antithetical to health, that at this point there’s a lot of value in something as utilitarian as a powdered drink mix that can actually function as a complete and healthy meal. Powders aren’t particularly exciting, but there’s really no other way to make something cheap and convenient enough to compete with the junk that has come to dominate our diets, as a society.

I don’t see a future where people drink all their meals instead of eating them, but I really hope to see a future where people can choose to drink something healthy and cheap instead of going to McDonald’s for lunch or powering through at their desk with an energy drink. And where people expect solid nutrition from their instant ramen. I don’t think it’s that far off. And it can’t come soon enough – whether from an environmental or a public health angle.

What types of people, in your experience, use Super Body Fuel (or other meal substitutes,) and for what reasons?

Food is such a broad category that it’s hard to pin down any specifics. But the people who get the most benefit from it, and stick with it long-term, tend to be those whose work makes it hard to take time off for breakfast or lunch – whether those are the stereotypical workaholic programmers glued to their computer screens, or the hardworking people who are on their feet in a hospital, factory, or outdoor job site all day.

It’s also great for more specialized diets, whether that’s because of food allergies like mine, goals like weight-loss or bodybuilding, or even recovering from surgery or chemo where it’s hard to eat solid foods. It’s always really cool to hear from people about how this stuff has impacted their lives – you never know what to expect.

Have you seen growing interest in these sorts of products over the last few years? If so, do you have any ideas as to why?

Personally? No. I don’t doubt it’s happening, but I haven’t been focused on promoting my business at all, and things have been about the same for us, these last two or three years. I’m looking forward to getting involved, though. I think the next few years will be a lot more interesting. Being a butterfly should be fun.

Could you give me a short bio of who you are and what your life is like, generally speaking?

I used to dream of making beautiful art that would inspire people, and changing the world through the power of games. Now I live inside of a cocoon. Mostly metaphorically speaking. Though with the pandemic and everything else these days, who knows…

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