by Valentine Baldassari
I stopped eating for a week and realised that food is, in fact, good.
This mind-blowing epiphany came after a week eating nothing except Huel, a futuristic, nutritionally complete powder. Huel is made from pea and rice proteins, oats, flaxseed and a range of minerals and vitamins. According to the company’s marketing, you should be able to live off Huel and stay in “optimal health.”
It’s not the first product of its kind. “Nutritionally complete” supplements started with Soylent, a meal replacement named after an artificial food in the science-fiction novel Make Room! Make Room!—more famous as the inspiration for cult classic Soylent Green, where the superfood of the future turns out to be made of human beings. Beyond their obvious time-saving advantages, these powders are also marketed as solutions to food waste and obesity.
Huel is vegan, cheap (around £2 a meal), and requires very little preparation. But I wanted to find out if it was really the “food revolution” that it claims to be.
For my first taste of Huel, I choose a coffee-flavoured powder, because I’m the sort of person who finds satisfaction in keeping even liquid nutrition thematically related to the meal it’s replacing.
The process is simple: mix the appropriate number of scoops of Huel (in my case, two) with water, shake, and voilà! A nutritious meal. Eating it is even quicker- unfortunately, it tastes like bad instant coffee mixed with too much sugar.
Things take a turn for the worse at dinner. Curious to go beyond the basic coffee and vanilla tastes, I blend in a matcha “flavour boost.” Unfortunately, I mistakenly mix it with three scoops of the coffee-flavoured powder instead of the vanilla one. I get through half a shaker of the stuff and can’t stomach any more. So much for avoiding food waste.
After the previous night’s experiment, I’m sticking to Huel’s basic flavour, vanilla.
My boyfriend tries a sip at breakfast and does not look impressed. He avoids me in the evening and decides to have dinner at his office instead, because that’s “less depressing.” I sit at home, alone, in my complimentary Huel T-shirt.
Sorry, but I’m just too hungry: I let my boyfriend convince me that having overpriced ice cream at the theatre during Uncle Vanya doesn’t break my commitment to Huel and forever undermine my journalistic integrity. It’s a snack, not a meal- I’m not sure about his reasoning but I’m desperate for something that doesn’t taste like vanilla cardboard.
I’m starting to suspect that meal replacement powders aren’t for people like me. One of their selling points is providing a quicker, healthier and cheaper lunch for office workers who’d typically eat a sandwich or salad at their desk. But I think it’s important for lunch to last longer than 30 seconds, as it gives the day a natural rhythm by separating morning and afternoon.
I am left sitting around, waiting for my friends to finish eating after I’ve wolfed down my Huel in less time than it takes them to open their sandwich packaging. Two of them try a sip from my shaker and look like they might throw up. If I were doing this for more than a week I probably wouldn’t have any friends anymore.
The sweet vanilla flavour of Huel has really grown on me and I’ve figured out the powder to water ratio I like best. It’s stopping me from skipping meals, something I’ve struggled with for a long time. It’s also an easy way to have vegan meals.
This would be great if I weren’t daydreaming about real food all the time. At one point, I try listening to the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” on Spotify and hear “Norwegian food” instead.
I’ve taken to snacking between meals, completely defeating the point of having Huel in the first place.
It gets too much when I’m invited to a party in the evening and don’t have time to go home to have a Huel dinner beforehand. Goodbye journalistic ethics, hello pasta with pesto.
At around 2am, I discover Huel makes for a good post-party snack. The next morning, I discover it’s not a good hangover food.
Unsurprisingly, I’m relieved this is my final day of Huel. Except during my unfortunate experiments with flavours at the start of the week, I didn’t struggle too much with the powder’s taste. The repetitiveness was a problem but, to be fair to the company, it doesn’t advise replacing all food right away: the official website says “most people use [Huel] for one or two meals a day” and recommends building up over a number of weeks.
But the main issue is that I’ve been hungry all the time and ended up eating a lot more than I should. This doesn’t mean you should dismiss these new meal replacement startups; I can see myself having the occasional Huel meal when I can’t be bothered to cook or when I come home late. But if this is the future, I’d rather be stuck in the past.