Neil Grimmer’s lunch was entirely green. We were meeting at Gregorys Coffee in midtown Manhattan, where most people order lattes and doughnut holes, but he’d managed to sniff out the most healthful items on the menu. On the table, there was a dark green juice and a yogurt concoction called the “Green Wonder,” an unappetizing-looking mush that, among many other things, contained granola, almonds, spinach, flaxseed, and kale.
“Part of me thinks this is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever had,” he said, spooning it into mouth. “But I keep eating it.”
Grimmer was half joking. As a longtime Californian, a former vice president of Clif Bar, and the cofounder of Plum Organics — a startup that brought kale, quinoa, and purple carrots into baby food — he has eaten his fair share of healthful green stuff. And however unappetizing his meal choices were that day, they had been generated by an algorithm created by his new company, a “personalized nutrition platform” named Habit that suggests diets based on individual DNA. Via an at-home test Habit will offer when it launches in January 2017, Grimmer had discovered that he was both genetically sensitive to caffeine and reacted best to a low-carb, low-fat, high-protein diet. Thus, the juice and bowl of mush.
“As bizarre and gnarly as it was, it kind of checked the box,” the 45-year-old with sleeve tattoos said, smiling.
The tech industry has always aimed its capitalist ray gun at our most essential human habits and set it to “disrupt” — communication, relationships, breathing. It has done so with varying degrees of success for everything from mayonnaise to periods. But over the past decade, the $6.3 billion weight-loss-product industry has been a particularly desirable target for the valley’s entrepreneurs. The declining sales of meal plans including SlimFast, Weight Watchers, and Lean Cuisine have signaled an opening in the market, paving the way for modern dietesque companies such as Soylent, Sakara, and iDiet. Their pitches vary, but each has an underlying theme that’s as old as it is new: Follow our science-based program, and your body will feel and look better.
If you grew up on Rice-A-Roni and Hamburger Helper, some of the meal plans might seem downright absurd. But in the Bay Area — the birthplace of the highbrow farm-to-table movement and a safe space for grown men to walk around in toe shoes — it’s par for the course.
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