Trying to get sconed?
I was first introduced to the intersection of weed and cooking through “Cooked with Cannabis,” a cooking show where chefs compete to win the judges over with cannabis-infused dishes. While I can’t say I would highly recommend watching the program (VICE TV’s “Bong Appetit” is the superior food/weed show, if you’re interested), it effectively illustrates how the weed-infused food industry is simultaneously a promising niche for unprecedented culinary innovation and an incubator for tremendous racial disparity.
With the market for infused foods gaining traction as more states legalize recreational marijuana, chefs and entrepreneurs alike are being challenged to rethink and rebrand the practice of eating as an experience. Now, food is not just something to be tasted or smelled, but something to be felt. At its simplest, this ethos means that food is supposed to evoke emotion: nostalgia, curiosity, comfort, the list goes on. Now, with the popularization of THC- and CBD-infused food, the idea of “feeling” food can be taken literally, arguably providing chefs with greater freedom to curate the experience they wish to deliver through their craft.
Cannabis-infused food offers cooks a novel category of ingredients to experiment with and manipulate. Think of each strain of marijuana as a separate ingredient with unique flavors and aromas that shape the profile of a dish; paying attention to the categorization of a strain as sativa or indica helps a chef control the experience that a dish evokes. The use of marijuana in cooking inspires cooks to think outside of the box in terms of technique as well. While the most common method of including weed is by infusing a fat with THC, cooking with cannabis doesn’t have to mean cooking with cannabutter! While it won’t necessarily get you high, another option is to treat the plant like an herb by using its leaves in a recipe (like a pesto made with hemp leaves and infused oil). Some chefs opt to simply grate weed on a microplane to achieve the same effect as one would zesting citrus: taking advantage of its fragrant rind.
A brief scroll through the first several episodes of “Cooked with Cannabis” exposes what appears to be a freakishly consistent formula for selecting contestants: Each episode features three chefs, two of which are white and one of which is a person of color. Does this pattern prove that “Cooked with Cannabis” is a racist program? Certainly not. Does it support the notion that racial and ethnic representation is a prevailing issue in the food industry? Absolutely!
Interestingly, VICE reported in 2017 that cannabis cuisine is one of the few spaces in the culinary industry with women at the forefront. For some, this is the appeal of the ever-growing world of cannabis cuisine: Such a young industry offers ample opportunity to break tradition, including the gender norms that plague the food world. However, it’s hard to say the same about the United States’ patterns of racial profiling and exclusion.
Despite the societal advancements that the legalization of marijuana in select states has enabled, legalization also brings to light the vast racial disparities that the War on Drugs has historically perpetuated. On April 20, 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report that found that across the United States, even in states that legalized or decriminalized marijuana, Black people are arrested at much higher rates than white people for marijuana possession.
Some of America’s biggest cannabis food purveyors, such as Wake-n-Bakery in Chicago and Cannabis Cafe in Los Angeles, are white-owned, meaning that while white people can take advantage of evolving marijuana legislation for financial gain, Black people continue to face an abhorrent double-standard.
Rhetorically framing weed-infused food as a trend only contributes to the erasure of this double-standard. This sends the signal that marijuana is something that people are free to engage with temporarily and eventually move past, an idea that contradicts the lived experience of tens of thousands of people of color behind bars. Readers, eaters and stoners: Partake responsibly. Be mindful of your own wellbeing as well as how your habits can affect those around you. Support and advocate for Black-owned businesses, especially those affiliated with the marijuana industry. As chef and cannabis educator Miguel Bautista puts it, we can all do our part to “destigmatize cannabis through the universal language of food.”
Sadie Matz SC ’24 is a tinned fish enthusiast from Brooklyn, New York. She cannot drive and will not take questions regarding the matter.