Serious Question: Would You Eat Soylent Green?

By Kyle Munkittrick | December 16, 2010 5:15 pm

One of the best jokes in the movie is that there are other colors of Soylent like Orange and Blue that people think is less delicious.

I really want to know: Would you eat Soylent Green?

Remember (*spoiler alert!* sheesh!) Soylent Green is people, as Charlton Heston discovered. But no one ever talks about the rest of that movie, mostly because it’s kind of terrible. But for what it was, there were some cool ideas in Soylent Green.

First, a quick recap: In the movie, the earth is overpopulated and over-polluted. Global warming is in full swing and even rich people have to eat crummy food. The government hands out rations of Soylent products, which are awful, flavorless cubes and loafs of “soy” (actually plankton but really it’s irrelevant cause it’s people) foodstuff that look like red, blue, or green Play-Doh. When you die, you go to a death-a-torium of sorts where you pay a small fee, then watch a really pretty movie filled with scenes from nature and peaceful music. You die quickly and painlessly from a colorless, odorless gas.

Then your body is shipped off and turned into Soylent Green which everyone loves to eat.

Ok! That last part is traumatic, I admit. But Soylent Green isn’t The Road. Marauding hoards of hillbilly cannibals aren’t threatening to strip the meat from your bones. You die peacefully. There is no space for anything in the movie’s version of the future (people are everywhere) and cremation involves burning, which isn’t exactly great for global warming. So what to do with the bodies of humans in a world where there is no room to put them and everyone is starving? What to do indeed…

So, in the spirit of ethical inquiry, I’d like to do some thought experiments. We’re all rational, scientifically minded individuals. In what situations would a reasonable person eat food made of people? Let me set up some scenarios for you, and you tell me how much you’d love to eat Soylent Green (which is people) in that scenario. Here we go!

First some ground rules:

  1. Soylent Green is, indeed, people.
  2. No one is hurt or killed forcefully. Only natural/voluntary deaths.
  3. Soylent Green is safe.
  4. Soylent Green is delicious.

Scenario 1: The Movie’s World

The world is overcrowded, hot, there is no food and you are starving. You haven’t eaten in a day and, after waiting in line for 4 hours, you get handed your bag of Soylent Green (because Tuesday is Soylent Green day!). Your stomach gurgles with hunger. No one but you knows it’s people. Do you eat it?

Scenario 2: Long Pig

Perhaps my favorite comic, Transmetropolitan has its own version of the other, other white meat: Long Pig. Transmet‘s lunatic anti-hero gonzo journalist, Spider Jerusalem, loves eating Long Pig, which is brand name, vat-grown human meat. Scientists think vat-meat might be necessary to feed everybody in a couple decades, and if it’s vat-grown, who is to say some of what’s in the vats isn’t people meat? Let’s say you live in the world of Transmet, where everyone eats Long Pig, including your favorite journalist. Long Pig sends you a free bag of jerky to try. If you don’t eat it, your roommate will. Do you eat it?

Scenario 3: The Road

You survived the apocalypse. The overcrowded, polluted, impoverished world from before was a joy compared with the daily nightmare you now endure. You find a bag of Soylent Green (it keeps forever) in an abandoned supply depot. You haven’t eaten in four days and it’s a fifty-mile trek to the Twinkie factory on your map. The Soylent Green is your only option other than starvation. Do you eat it?

Scenario 4: Right now!

There is a big ol’ plate of Soylent Green cubes right in front of you right now. It smells amazing. No one would have to know, you could have just one. Do you eat it?

I am genuinely interested in people’s responses. I encourage comments and fellow bloggers to tell me their thoughts on Soylent Green.

Image of people excited for their rations of Soylent Green by bandita via Flickr Creative Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Apocalypse, Philosophy

Comments (72)

  1. Georg

    There is one flaw in the pictures story:
    Eating the dead does not solve any nutritional problem:
    every single man needs the equivalent of
    hundreds or maybe thousands of corpses
    to feed on from baby age to say, sixty.
    So eating the “voluntary” corpses is not
    a solution on the problems depicted in the film.
    In such a situation most men would die by starvation :=(
    And to the question:
    Yes, I think I would eat such “soylent” if its the only way to survive.
    A cultural taboo bans telling of cannibalism,
    but that happened: some years ago some survivors
    of a plane crash in the Andes, and 1945 in East Prussia
    after the occupation by Russian troops.
    Georg

  2. richard

    I would eat it on a train, I would eat in on a plane….
    I would eat it in all of the scenarios above.

  3. Usul

    1. Yes
    2. Probably try it…
    3. Absolutely without question
    4. Perhaps with a nice Chianti…

  4. Raptorex

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. Yes
    4. No way.

    If I was starving & there were no other food sources, I’d do it. Otherwise, never. I prefer the idea of vat meat, grown in a lab, because then it’d be less likely that I’m eating a dead relative.

  5. Georg has a point about the circumstances of the movie. Siblings can’t live together in the same house now without beating on each other once in a while. Go to any crowded city in the hot summer and watch the crime rate increase. People just aren’t made to live like they did in that movie. So in a believable future, I think there would be a lot fewer people given the fact that we can only stand each other in reasonable doses. Pack us together and someone is going to start killing his neighbor.

    OK to answer your question… A definite YES to scenarios 1-3, but No to #4 because I just had a vegetarian lunch and am quite happily filled right now.

  6. Matt B.

    I would eat it in #1 and #3 due to lack of alternatives, but I have to add one thing. In real life, I kind of hate eating pork, because it “seems” like it might really be human meat (note that rule 2 does not apply). I don’t know what causes this feeling. Nothing against bacon though. And it might be easier and cheaper to make soylent bacon if the obesity epidemic continues.

  7. Brian Too

    Mmmmmmm… Soylent Green…

    /homer

  8. MT-LA

    Wait, is soylent green made of people? That wasn’t as clear as it could have been.

    Yes…yes…yes…heading to the lunch room to microwave the plate.

    To Georg (#1): Why isn’t a human nutritious enough to feed another human?

  9. escent

    @MT-LA Humans required proteins and nutrients that our bodies don’t produce naturally to survive. If we only ate human, we’d all be malnourished without additional supplements.
    There is also the fact that cannibalism in humans can lead to contracting forms of prion diseases (think something along the lines of mad cow disease, but in humans instead).

    I would say yes to all the scenarios but the last one, if it were truly healthy and non disease-causing as it can be, and is, in the real world.

  10. 1. YUM
    2. YUM
    3. YUM
    4. not hungry

  11. 1 and 3, sure, bring on the soylent deliciousness. Scenario 1 is freaky though, because all around you people would be eating it without even KNOWING. And what about Kuru? Huh?

    2. I’m not a big jerky eater. My roommate can have it.

    4, No, but I just had a big coffee and lunch so maybe I’m biased. Had I read this two hours ago, who knows?

    As a pirate I know that sometimes on a ship when rations are dwindling, some of your crew start to look real tasty…

  12. Rodney McDonell

    I see no reason why i couldn’t have some now… especially if it is as delicious as you make it sound… well you said it was delicious, that’s good enough for me. I’m into exotic foods – Ohh and I’d tell people about it ;)

  13. Jeroen Versteeg

    I don’t see anything ethically wrong with eating Soylent Green (which is people) per se, even now.
    Whether I’d be able to (put it in my mouth, chew, swallow, keep it in) is another story, and one I can probably only answer until I’ve had some!

  14. Scenario 5: It’s breakfast time.
    Scenario 6: It’s lunch time.
    Scenario 7: It’s dinner time.
    NOM NOM NOM!!!

  15. avent

    1.) YES
    2.) YES
    3.) YES
    4.) NO

  16. Adrian K.

    I was recently making some sausage with my dad and my buddy texted me to ask if I was adding some “Soylent Green” to the mix. I didn’t know what this was so I googled it and found this article. I got a good a chuckle out of the idea and then thought WTF when I read responses….

    Just an idea – the UN is working on a solution to world hunger right now that is not nearly as morally damaging as eating humans but still isn’t all that appetizing. The idea basically is to feed insects – such as grasshoppers and beatles – that are nutricious to people who lack adequate food source alternatives. Since a huge number of insects can be grown on relatively small land plots this may be a solution that works much better than people eating each other.
    Just a thought….
    And to Answer your question I would not eat humans in any shape or form. However I have never been starving and this would likely sway most peoples attitudes of what types of food are acceptable…..

  17. if solvent green did not look like people, smell like people(don’t know how people taste) my answer would be a serious yes. I would eat Solvent Green. No hesitation.

  18. Jen

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. Yes
    4. Maybe, it really depends on the presentaion.

    In the second scenario, it sounds like “long pig” is becoming a culturally acceptable food source, which I think is one of the largest problems with it in the fourth. I also may or may not eat bugs, were I offered them (though I admit, Soylent Green does bring up different moral issues than insect consumption).

  19. Yes, I would eat Solvent Green.

  20. What makes you believe governments are not discreetely disappearing nuisances into hamburger? Idi Amin was personally responsibe for bringing the Nile crocodile back from the edge of extinction through his multi-level feeding program. Soylent Green is trophic response to a calorie- and nutrient depauperate, overburdened biome.

  21. Albert Bakker

    People who eat soylent green become soylent green. I know where this is going. So I thought I’d rather grow a set of hooves and start mowing. Before you know it a farmer will show up who is going to feed me corn. Then I’ll be burgers, soap and a nice coat. And you’ll still be just soylent green. See where that got you.

  22. NakedReporta

    Given all four of these rules? Serve it up. Why not? It’s meat. Mmmmmmmmmm, meat. The only stumbling block I see here is the social taboo of cannibalism. In most of those scenarios, that taboo is countered by the predicament.

    Except for #4, where it’s just there on a plate waiting for you to taste, right now. And yeah, I’d have a taste. Fark it. I’d eat that before I’d eat, say, monkey brains or baby seal or something killed in an incredibly inhumane way.

  23. TwistedCarnivore

    What about Soylent Bacon?

  24. -jeffB

    I don’t know, but I imagine I’d eat it. In fact, I imagine that I wouldn’t mind BECOMING it, if I was going to be dead anyway. I don’t like the idea of my body going to waste — harvest any of the organs that are worthwhile, let students poke around in what’s left, then throw it into the compost. If you can improve the efficiency over composting — say, by skipping several levels in the food chain — have at it.

  25. 5teve

    @ Adrian K

    Jewish people, despite their rigorous dietary laws, have a dispensation which allows them to eat insects. This is because that, at times in their past, their only source of food had been vegetation, and then that vegetation had been devoured by plagues of locusts, leaving them with two choices: starve, or eat the creatures that had eaten their food supply. And really, there’s not a great deal of difference between a locust and a lobster.

  26. Bethany

    One word: Prions

  27. Meh-thanol

    I’m eating it NOW!

  28. absolin

    1) Yeah, it’s time to change society
    2) No way that’s totally gross, and I would get a new roommate + hide the bag of human jerky
    3) Yeah I’d eat plain human flesh at that point, no green food coloring needed
    4) No! I prefer to hold onto my morals, not harden myself in preparation for The Road. I might stick it on my tongue but I wouldn’t swallow.

  29. Spudnik

    Well I would eat it in all scenarios, protein is the same regardless if its human or animal in origin, wonders if it stays crunchy in soylent milk

  30. AC

    Remember, Tuesday is Soylent Green day. Behave while in line, or we’ll send in the scoops.

    Soon, we’ll be breeding you like cattle.

  31. Understanding the chemical processes that would render Soylent Green tm as a protien-based, nutrient enhanced, preservative-infused, artificially colored, and mechanically shaped product, I would have no problem eating it as long as whatever it is that causes “mad cow-like disease” isn’t involved.

  32. Erica

    I actually find nothing wrong with this. It’s practical and economical and sustainable. Vats of Meat would be an awesome band name.

  33. vel

    compost me and eat the veggies and critters that grow from my bones. What’s wrong with that?

    and according to Catholics, they are eating human flesh constantly, even had host turn to blood and meat :)

  34. Yep

    All cases receive a positive response. I’ll eat you right now if I can pick the pieces up with a toothpick

  35. Bob

    Prions. Look it up.

  36. wedge269

    People are made from the same materials as all the other matter we choose to eat. The only issue here is psychological and as someone who knows where their food comes from; I don’t care. If it was truly tasty and delicious so that I would prefer it over other meats, then sure I’d probably eat it under any circumstances. If it was merely ‘as good as’ I’d probably not eat it in scenario #4 unless it would go to waste otherwise. Aside from that, pass the salt.

  37. Chris

    Question. Is Soylent Green kosher? I’ll have to ask my Rabbi.

  38. OhioDemon

    Hand it here, under all circumstances.

    All the true moral obstacles were removed before any of the scenarios were presented!

  39. yes

    yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  40. Braeloch

    1. yes
    2. yes
    3. yes
    4. yes

    i’m not pro-cannibalism but if i’m hungry i’m gonna eat. and if it’s there, then it’s dinner.

  41. i would probably eat in in ALL situations. the only thought that concerns me is: i’ve been TOLD (don’t know if it’s true) that consuming human flesh (or meat i guess) causes a person to get ‘the shakes’. can anyone confirm/deny this? (please not from personal experience!!!)

    “want some Soylent Cola?”
    “how is it?”
    “it varies from person to person…”
    /futurama

  42. a-small-dead-bug

    Yes in all four. Even the last one. Sometimes you just have to try something if you’re presented with the opportunity to do so, even if its something a bit distasteful to you. I totally tried a bite of fried whale once just to try it. No regret but for the record, it was soggy and unpleasing.

  43. WTP

    Then the phrase “you are what you eat” would be trademarked. “You can come over for dinner” could mean you show up in a paper bag. No more spoiled children… now they last forever. Pezlent dispersers… for the kid in all of us.

  44. Brian Too

    We probably already eat the stuff. Does anyone know what’s in bologna and hot dogs?? We all know the answer–it’s simply best not to know.

  45. Of course!

    Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I have nothing against a meal.

  46. 2. No one is hurt or killed forcefully. Only natural/voluntary deaths.

    Since humans have never demonstrated this level of ethics and show no sign or desire of advancing toward it, the chance of this criterion being achieved is zero.

  47. I’d eat it under all conditions. I’ve always wondered what we taste like.

  48. yes

    yes, anytime. hell, i’d eat it fresh too, if well-done.

  49. geiser

    how about ravenous? good little flick. eat human flesh get supperpower, sorry superpower. sure.
    soylent green? seams a little sacrilege, so yes, i’d try it :)
    unless it the flesh of jesus, and that just seams tacky.

  50. Thomas

    Georg #1, I don’t think Soylent green was supposed to be a working long time solution in the movie, the rulers just used anything they could to keep society together (and themselves in power) for as long as possible. To make a harder moral dilemma, was this a justified decision when the price was that Earth was at the same time being stripped of the last wildlife that might sustain a small human population once the inevitable crash came?

  51. Colin

    Frankly, yes in all of the scenarios. I’d also be happy to donate my body to be eaten. As far as I can tell the only ethical dilemma involved would be whether those who volunteered would know the eventual fate of their bodies.
    I wonder whether Soylent Green would be acceptable to Vegetarians/Vegans as the product is given entirely consensually?

  52. Melissa

    1. No. There has to be some food somewhere. I will find it.
    2. No. Let my roommate eat it and then tell her and make fun of her.
    3. Yes. Twinkies are worse than Soylent Green.
    4. GROSS! No.

  53. Armand

    You forgot one other fictional use of soylent green: FUTURAMA. They consume soylent products despite absolutely no apparent shortage of alternatives, so is probably the closest example to your fourth scenario.

    Try Glagnar Human Rinds! They’re a bunch’o munch’o crunch’o Humans!

  54. Chris

    If there’s something on the menu I haven’t tried, that’s what I order.

    1. Nom!
    2. Nom!
    3. Nom!
    4. Nom!

    There doesn’t seem to be any ethical issue with any of the above. It’s just the ick factor – like asking people whether they’d wear a serial killer’s coat.

  55. Mark Bajorek

    Yes, with a little Chianti and some Fava beans.

  56. Samsam

    I just want to know….

    Do I get to keep the furniture?

    Samsam

  57. Robert E

    Two words: spongiform encephalopathy

  58. Kancho_Ninja

    Not only would I eat Soylent Green, but I would love to have a transgendered clone of myself.

    Hey, I’m just a freak like that, you know?

  59. Joe

    Yes to all, except maybe #4 – it doens’t quite contradict my reasons for being vegetarian, as there is no forced death, but I’d have to think about it seriously.

  60. Marktheother

    Ooh! with the vat grown Long Pig, can I get a cell line based on my own genes? Auto-cannibalism for the win!

  61. StinkDude1

    Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes. If it tastes good, I don’t care.

  62. Jarons20

    Sadly what that movie also implies is that the rioters and dissidents are also being scooped up in those people trucks, gassed, and made into green, leaving a docile, green eating populace that wont bother the higher ups as long as they get their weekly. I imagine vertical farms, heavily defended for the production of strawberries and grain, and I would work my way to the top of those with access, because I know the secret and I can’t bare it! “Soylent Green is People”

  63. destardi
  64. Andy G

    Yes to all! We’re made out of meat, after all: the difference is a cultural thing, which makes it no less ephemeral than America’s Next Top Model (and a lot more meaty). Sign me up for some tasty cubes.

  65. Definitely. The “humane” criteria actually makes it sound better that current readily available meats. I’ve lived on a farm, and while I’m not keen on killing my own food, I really do prefer to know it’s lived a good life, if for no other reason than happy meat really does taste better. So sure, if people are going on down that road by choice* and nobody suffers, why on earth wouldn’t we eat them?

    …though I would probably have to stare at it for a while before I got the nerve to eat it. I mean, yanno. Instinct.

    *Personally, I want to be made into a book when I die, with my skin as binding. The rest of me I intend to have cremated and made into pencils, so that my friends can write stories about me. Seriously. Anybody know a good taxidermist?

  66. David

    I think Discover had an article a few years ago about lab-grown meat, saying that it only takes a few cells to start, and presenting the even weirder idea that some people might prefer to eat meat grown from THEIR OWN CELLS! (the author, if I recall correctly, thought some vegetarians might feel this option was more ethical. To me it just sounds even weirder than any of the options presented here, but in response to scenarios given here I don’t see anything wrong with eating lab-grown human meat, nor any type of human meat from people not forceably killed. I don’t know if my appetite would be up to it if I had other food available, though.

  67. thespacephantom

    I’d eat it in all of the scenarios, except the fourth one. I don’t see any ethical problems with eating it when I’m starving, but for some reason, it seems to be a waste or something if I’d eat it when I wasn’t on the verge of painful death. No idea why.

  68. I’m impressed, I need to say. Really hardly ever do I encounter a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me inform you, you could have hit the nail on the head. Your concept is excellent; the difficulty is one thing that not sufficient people are talking intelligently about. I’m very blissful that I stumbled across this in my seek for one thing referring to this.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »