Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A "Square" Meal?

A few months ago I wrote about Soylent, the liquid meal substitute.  I was not impressed by it, either in concept or with regard to what I read about consuming it as a sensual experience.

A few nights ago, I followed a ad link to a website advertising a much newer product with a similar purpose, but rather different in design; the site can be found here.

The product in question is the MealSquare, a baked good of 400 calories per serving that, like Soylent, claims to be nutritionally complete.  Unlike Soylent, it requires significant chewing and has a discernible flavor. The FAQ describes a MealSquare as "dense, subtly sweet cornbread/pumpkin bread, with chocolate chips and sunflower seeds for added variety."

I find the approach the MealSquares people take toward their product to be more wholesome than that of the makers of Soylent.  For example, though they claim that you can get 100% of your minimum daily requirement of vitamins and mineral from MealSquares, and all the necessary calories, they admit that living solely on MealSquares is not "optimum for health." "For example, no substitute has been discovered for fish as part of a healthy diet (fish oil pills don't cut it)."

One MealSquare (photo from the MealSquares.com website)
Looking through the FAQ and other parts of the website, the MealSquares approach to making its niche in the food industry is to emphasize the following factors about its product:  1) it is primarily made from whole foods such as whole grain oats, eggs, and milk; 2) it can easily be used as either a meal replacement or a snack, because they are square and can easily be cut into 4 100-calorie units of equal size; 3) the easy divisibility and exact calories make the product useful for dieters, though it's unclear whether people attempting to live solely on MealSquares lose weight.

The MealSquares page states that the product is still in beta test mode.  However, the product is already available for sale.  For $90.00 USD (and they only sell within the US, at least for now), the company will send you a box of 30 MealSquares.  Thus, each 400 calorie square costs $3.00 (shipping is free).  Price discounts are available if you agree to have a specified number of boxes sent to you on a monthly basis. However, don't plan on stockpiling them.  MealSquares have a shelf life of only two weeks unrefrigerated and one month in the refrigerator, which makes them unusual as food bars go, and is a distinct disadvantage over the powdered version of Soylent, for example.  If you only wish to taste MealSquares, you can buy a package of just 10 squares for $29.00 (plus $5.95 shipping).

Unlike the reviews of Soylent, which read as though the reviewers wanted to like the product despite their reactions to its physical qualities, the Internet reviews of MealSquares have a negative tone even though the product is more physically appealing than Soylent.  This review from Business Insider gives useful information about the size of a Meal Square (a bit larger than an iPhone 5S), taste and texture (like "vegan banana bread" but dry; best consumed with milk or another beverage).

The author concludes:  "Some of my colleagues had less positive experiences, with the main complaint being the squares seemed to suck the moisture out of your mouth.  Indeed, if you didn't have anything to drink, it wasn't that enjoyable. I ate the squares for a few days, and while convenient, they didn't make me feel either healthier or unhealthier from a physical standpoint."  On the other hand, microwaving a MealSquare before eating, as the company recommends, makes it softer and melts the chocolate chips inside--a definite plus.

Another review, this one from reddit, notes that a Square is very filling and "takes a bit of time to eat"--advantages for a meal replacement bar.  The reviewer concluded that the product is "bland" but "quite dry and hard to eat when you're not that hungry.  Probably won't order again." But a third reviewer, who had been using Soylent regularly because he hates food, experimented with switching to MealSquares instead and had a more positive experience than he had had with Soylent.

It seems to me that, although there are definitely some people eager for a long-term easy-to-eat nutritionally complete single food like Soylent or MealSquares, most people prefer a more varied diet. Among people who really just want an occasional meal replacement or alternative, the extreme claims made for foods like Soylent or MealSquares are fast generating skepticism and a vague if general distaste.  That doesn't surprise me.  People's taste preferences in food differ widely.  It is hard to imagine any one food that would satisfy all of them, and attacking the problem by producing foods that are "meh" to everybody hardly qualifies as a win.

EDIT:  (8/16/2016)  Yes, I know that the checkerboard background on the photograph showing a MealSquare is almost violently fluorescent in appearance.  That's not my fault; that's how the photo appears on the company's website! 


  1. Wonder how these compare to 1969-vintage "Space Food Sticks"?

    1. "Compare" in what terms? I don't think Space Food Sticks were advertised as a meal replacement or as "nutritionally complete", for example. They were just meant to be a fun food, supposedly based on food NASA was sending into space with the astronauts. Actually, it would be unwise to send MealSquares into space, because they need to be eaten with a liquid, and it's a problem sending large quantities of water into space.