Whether you agree with the French and view food as pleasure and indulgence or prefer the functional American view of carbs as calories, there can be no denying food’s centrality to our lives. For many, however, it can also be the source of anxiety. Like on a Monday morning, when I’m struggling to figure out which meal I can squeeze in between my classes.
Or Wednesday, when I accidentally spend too long in the library and forget to eat. Friday afternoon, when I realise that I’ve already blown this week’s budget, and I’m wondering if I can justify spending my last tenner on a pint instead. And then there’s Sunday evening, when I’m suffering from a headache and wondering if it’s iron deficiency because, crap, when was the last time I ate a vegetable?
It’s a lot. And like all bodily functions, hunger isn’t exactly something you can choose to opt out of. Food can be great, but hunger is, more than occasionally, an inconvenience. And with the constant bombardment of media telling oneself which food is “bad” and which food is “good”, figuring out how best to fill that need can be a nightmare. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to eat exactly what you need, without any of the thinking involved?
JimmyJoy claims to do just that. The Dutch company has created the “Plenny Shake”, which has a third of the nutritional content you need per day. Replace all three of your meals with them and you’ve got your RDI covered. It’s not intended as a diet shake; the shakes contain fat, sugar, and carbs (the usual big bads of the dieting industry). The difference is that they are at levels deemed healthy. Plus, the fat and protein content comes mostly from soy, which apparently makes it better (but I am no dietician).
How does it taste? Good, according to the company’s website and reviews. But how does it *really* taste? Despite JimmyJoy’s efforts to make Plenny Shakes appear like something any normal person could incorporate into their lifestyle, the whole thing still feels kind of… health freakish. To put it simply, as I read all of the glowing reviews, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it had been since these people had had a McDonalds.
I had other questions too, naturally. Does it fill you? Does it feel funny? Are there any weird symptoms, like headaches, or shaking, or passing out in the middle of Grafton St?
I was curious, so I took it upon myself to answer these questions.
The box that arrived was surprisingly heavy. I had ordered ten bags, worth three meals each. For my first meal, I opted for what appeared to be the least offensive of the flavours: chocolate.
It’s strange when you first try it. The texture is like that of a milkshake…if the milkshake was made of blended, watery porridge. In terms of flavour, it’s there, just not very strong. The chocolate tastes like an oaty, less-tasty McDonald’s milkshake. Mango tastes like if you just added fruit juice to the oaty concoction. The strawberry, like a grainy strawberry yoghurt. The vanilla tastes of cake batter. And the banana is… strange, but it is at least unquestionably banana in its strangeness.
As I drank my first shake, I thought I had made a huge mistake. No matter how hard I tried to focus on the tiny hint of flavour, my mind couldn’t help but think about the watery sludge I was currently ingesting. It felt wrong. And it didn’t help that there was so much of it. I had been worried that the shakes wouldn’t fill me, that I’d be starving for days. But this stuff was heavy, and I struggled once I hit the halfway mark. I worked on my breakfast shake until way past noon, just as I was due to have lunch.
“This is ridiculous,” I thought. “This has to be way too much food.” But it wasn’t. Although JimmyJoy recommends three and a half scoops of powder to meet the calorific needs of the average human, I had carefully calculated my own needs based on my height (painfully short) and activity levels (nonexistent.) That shake held a third of the calories that I needed to consume. There was no way I could skip out on one just because I felt full.
My second shake lasted until four. I gave myself a break of a couple of hours before attempting to drink the third, but it was no use. By the time I got to the halfway mark, I felt sick. Too. Much. Sludge.
The second day was easier. I had a full day in college, and I realised just how handy it was to drink the shakes on the bus. Plus, I didn’t have to spend a single penny on food. While I did still spend quite a lot of time getting through them (over an hour), I managed to finish all three shakes.
Day three and it got weird. I realised that I was actually beginning to look forward to having a shake. The favours tasted stronger, and I was enjoying them. I was also getting bored, but not of the shakes. Rather, I had realised just how much free time I had since I wasn’t cooking meals or cleaning dishes. Admittedly, I probably could’ve been more productive during this time, but it usually just meant an extra episode of House. The biggest surprise for me, though, was that I wasn’t craving any other food. The sweetness of the shakes meant that I had accidentally cut out all sugary foods without missing them at all.
My plan had been to go three days drinking only the shakes and to then cut down to two a day, plus have one full meal. This was less for me and more for my parents, who were becoming increasingly worried that I was going to starve myself down to the size of a toothpick. So at the end of the third day, I decided to cheat a little by having a teaspoon of hummus. I swear, nothing has ever tasted as good as that hummus tasted. Angels sang.
The next day I had my two shakes as planned, and decided to treat myself to a takeaway. It took over an hour to pick what I wanted, and twice during that time, I considered just having a shake instead. Solid food just seemed like such an effort now. When the food did arrive, despite being starving, I didn’t enjoy it. It’s not like I was never aware of how crappy food is crappy, but the feeling was amplified.
The grease felt greasier. The salt was saltier. The entire thing was too much, and I only finished about a third of it. And although I felt completely stuffed afterwards, and unable to even think about eating something else, the meal hadn’t quite hit the spot. It felt like what I had eaten had the nutritional value of concrete. I was left feeling full, but far from satisfied.
It wasn’t long before I was ordering another bigger box of Plenny Shake mix. Although I don’t set myself rules as to how many shakes vs. solid meals I have, I’ve fallen into a nice rhythm of usually having two shakes a day, if not the three. I’ve yet to have any health issues that appear related to the shakes. On the contrary, the headaches that I used to get regularly have disappeared completely (perhaps it was iron deficiency after all.) It may sound like I’ve been turned off solid food, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, I have developed a much bigger appreciation for food. The shakes mean that I no longer mindlessly fill up my body with crap for the sake of feeling full. Rather, when I eat I am extremely conscious that I am doing so out of enjoyment. Every meal is a treat.
The shakes probably won’t suit everyone. Hell, they probably wouldn’t suit most people. But as someone who has always been torn between the need to eat and the experience of it, the shakes have made things simpler. Now there’s one less thing on my plate.