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The future of food?

Earlier this year I embarked on a daft quest to defy social norms, experiment with a new diet… and stop eating “real” food.

Why on earth would you do that?

Cooking bores me. Eating isn’t particularly interesting either, or washing up. If someone devised a cybernetic upgrade or Faustian contract which did away with the need to eat, I’d be at the front of the queue. Cooking’s a waste of time I tell you. Unless you’re into that sort of thing, in which case I’m happy for you. Apparently some people enjoy watching cricket. Some people juggle geese.

So if you don’t enjoy cooking or eating, but have to carry on doing them every day, you have a few options. The ideal solution is to become rich, and have somebody else cook healthy, varied, super convenient meals. Excellent! No hassle, healthy, and presumably palatable. Assuming that’s off the table, your next best bet is to get on with it, cook yourself a series of average meals for the rest of your life, and have a reasonable diet. But this is the twenty-first century! We should be halfway to food replicators by now! We can do better!

I did not make these. Look good though, right?

According to the Internet, I’m a millennial. You probably are too, sorry. Anyway, with all that Instagraming, selfie-taking, dabbing (?) and complaining on our plates, do we have time to cook? Yes, but we (I) would rather spend that time some other way. I usually cobble together a reasonable diet from bulk veg and pre-prepared supermarket food, and the odd ready meal. It’s not cheap though, and still has that time issue. The takeaway beckons!

There is another choice though. For a few years now a small community of diet nerds has been chasing the science fiction dream of a balanced, cheap, convenient food. Yes, I’m talking about meal replacement liquid food.

All about Huel

It’s real food!

The brand I’ve tried is Huel (HUman fuEL). Huel is food. To be precise, it’s oats, brown rice, peas, flaxseed, sunflower seed and coconut fibres, in powder form. Add water, shake, and you have nutritionally complete liquid food. It looks like a thick shake, and a 465 kcal meal fits in a 700ml bottle. It meets or exceeds every one of the UK Government’s reference nutrient intakes. Huel contains all the essential vitamins, minerals, fibre, carbs, fats and protein you need. You could even switch to a 100% Huel diet (and somebody is).

It isn’t a protein supplement, though most people will find it has more protein than their usual diet. Talking of diets, it isn’t a “diet shake” either, unless that’s what you want. It’s very easy to count calories with Huel, so in theory you can lose weight by adjusting the amount you eat.

Huel and it’s competitors are extremely convenient. It takes about a minute to prepare, ten minutes to drink (comfortably), and thirty seconds to wash up. Nor is eating confined to a table – I’ve had phone calls during dinner and played games during breakast. Storage is easy too – it comes in bags best stored in a kitchen cupboard, and lasts for a year once opened. Zero food waste.

Here are some people in a glossy advert with very dramatic music

It’s hard to argue with the cost either: from £5.32 per day, or £1.33 per meal. Sure, you can eat cheaper, but not as well.

Tree hugging crusader bit

Although I’m a lifelong carnivore, I understand the arguments for eating less meat. Livestock farming is the cause of a huge chunk of greenhouse gas releases, and one of the major causes of deforestation. At the same time, there is less variety in ready meals and their ilk for vegetarians and vegans. So if you want cheap, easy food, less meat, and a reasonable diet? Well, Huel is vegan.

Huel also wins the packaging fight over many foods, because although it’s shipped in foil-plastic bags, each bag contains ~14 meals. According to the founder, if you ate nothing but Huel for 96 years, you’d produce about two wheelie bins worth of rubbish. Not bad, until suitable recyclable packaging comes along.

They’re also do-gooders, donating from every sale to Vitamin Angels, a charity battling malnutrition. So we should all switch to Huel today, right?

The obvious questions

What does it look like?

What does it taste like? Huel has a very mild vanilla flavour (you can also buy an unflavoured, more “earthy” variety. I haven’t been brave enough to try that). You can then mix it with flavourings, with honey, or even bake it into brownies (see image above!). I’m not a fan of it’s standard flavour, but with banana or strawberry it tastes a lot like milkshake. Not bad!

It’s essential to get the ratio of Huel-water right, as I learned at the beginning when I made one too thick (gloopy). Mixing well is also important, but you don’t need a blender. Vigorously shaking for twenty seconds or so produces a great consistency.

Over the first few weeks, I was averaging two meals a day on Huel. Some days even three. I’d love to tell you I felt a lot healthier, but I didn’t actually feel any different, and it’d be very subjective anyway. Considering it’s liquid, Huel is satisfying – I get hungry only slightly sooner, and I feel like I’ve eaten after finishing a shake.

After about a month though, I reduced the amount of Huel I was eating a lot. To be honest, I got bored. Going from eating whatever I felt like to the same thing all the time was too hard, even if the logical part of me liked the price and other benefits. It’s also difficult to eat Huel at work, when my friends and colleagues are eating something far more interesting. I still drink Huel a couple of times a week though, when I’ve forgotten to buy food, am saving money or in a rush. Huel remains part of my diet, but it isn’t the perfect solution I was hoping for.

At some point in the future we’re likely to have to change our eating habits in a big way. The natural resources of our planet can’t sustain our growing population in the wasteful, intensive way we eat now. We need to eat less red meat for sure, but perhaps we’ll have to do something more extreme like eat insects. It’s time to start confronting our food hangups because who knows – in the near future (or in some Trumped-up world), products like Huel may be the way forward.

*Images via Huel press website, used for review purposes and absolutely not claimed as my own. As if I could make brownies which look that good!