Chronically Hungry: Food, Pot, and Addiction

In her recent New York Times article “Marijuana Fuels a New Kitchen Culture,” Kim Severson describes the infiltration of stoner culture into restaurant kitchens, specifically marijuana’s influence on the creation of snackable and craveable dishes. From a logical perspective, Severson mischaracterizes correlation as causation–yes, chefs do smoke weed, and yes, those chefs do happen to put out munchy-esque cuisine. David Chang’s pork buns. Roy Choi’s taco trucks. Meatballs, haute sundaes, and high end pizza joints. But Severson attributes this sudden explosion of what the general population characterizes as “comfort food” to contact buzz in the kitchen, when simpler and more reasoned explanations exist: changing economic times, backlash against big money, a glorification of “Mainstreet,” and a rebellion against nutritionism. (Ron Siegel apparently agrees, at least according to Severson.) I’m not writing in direct refutation of Severson’s claims, although her one-sided, biased, and hugely predictable collection of “sources” provides an easy target for attack. Instead, I take issue with the article’s hidden core, the subtext that informs the piece’s angle.

Severson writes, “Haute stoner cuisine is a way to reach a generation that was raised on Sprite and Funyuns and who never thought fancy restaurant food was for them, Mr. Choi said. ‘We’ve shattered who is getting good food now,’ he said. ‘It’s this silent message to everyone, to the every-day dude. It’s like come here, here’s a cuisine for you that will fill you up from the inside and make you feel whole and good. Weed is just a portal.’ While Choi’s quote certainly doesn’t represent the entire thrust of Severson’s article, there’s a sense that stoner food exists to fill some void. In Severson’s view, “today, a small but influential band of cooks says both their chin-dripping, carbohydrate-heavy food and the accessible, feel-good mood in their dining rooms are influenced by the kind of herb that can get people arrested.” Weed apparently facilitates a democratization of fine dining, taking haute cuisine down a notch to a more explicitly sensual plane. Reading Severson’s article, however, I recognized a connection between the hollowness of comfort food and the world of stoner food.

In full disclosure, I don’t and have never smoked nor used marijuana for a variety of reasons, including my current ultramarathon training. So I can’t tell you about what stoner food tastes like under the influence. In this context, I understand that my comments sound rather judgemental and ignorant. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, right? My primary criticism of this gastronomic subculture doesn’t reference any inconsistencies or inaccuracies in the stoner food experience. Rather, it indicts stoner cuisine’s perversion of food itself.

As Choi and the article as a whole imply, stoner cuisine attempts to “fill you up from the inside and make you feel whole and good.” At the risk of lapsing into normative thinking, I feel confident that food should not fill an internal emptiness (other than a physical void in the belly region), nor should individuals approach food as a good that produces such an effect. Using marijuana in conjunction with food to satisfy an interior longing or complete a personal incompleteness constitutes addictive, pathological, destructive behavior that reflects unhealthy lifestyles and behaviors. Marijuana is a drug. Food is probably not a drug. Employing food like a drug, with drugs, and to take the place of drugs  builds terminally dysfunctional habits. Furthermore, this phenomenon stems from the same source as the comfort food hyperreality: a desire to regain missing time, to participate in false and altered realities that radically diverge from the manifolds of objective experience.

This week, I read Thomas Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice, a book that initially appears to validate the 1970s surfer/stoner culture in California. Nevertheless, Pynchon implicates marijuana as a wellspring of postmodern paranoia. Networks of conspiracy and government control radiate not from any external reality, but rather from the delusions and illusions of stoned characters. In the novel, these fantasies transcend even Pynchon’s carefully controlled textual reality, becoming more “real” than the constructed reality of the plot. Doc Sportello, Pynchon’s protagonist, constantly eats strange combinations of foods, almost too bizarre to be true. All under the influence of course. Chronically hungry, Sportello uses pot both to escape his past and to engage in an altered version of the past, a time that never was. . .and in a way, Inherent Vice itself constitutes a time that never was, a rendering of surfer culture that presents the popular simulations of California Dreamin’, not anything authentic.

As Dr. Dre sings in “Old Time’s Sake,” “I’m still hungry and I’m back with a tapeworm.” The funny thing about trying to fill up that hole with food and pot is that a tapeworm just spawns inside, consuming more and more: more food, more weed, more reality, more self. Until nothing real is left.


Filed under Miscellaneous

6 responses to “Chronically Hungry: Food, Pot, and Addiction

  1. devin

    First off, I disagree that the subtext of the article was that chefs use marijuana to fill “an interior longing or a sense of incompleteness.” I don’t doubt that this may be the case for many chefs, but I didn’t read that as the driving motivation behind the trend. Rather I read marijuana as the natural and obvious drug of choice for a class of food enthusiasts that seek a heightened and more nuanced eating experience.

    One part I do take issue with this the strict divide definitional divide between drugs and food (“Marijuana is a drug. Food is probably not a drug.”). One definition of a drug (wikipedia) is a substance that, when absorbed into the body, alters normal bodily functions. This definition is applicable to food too, since the foods one eats determine many of their “normal” bodily functions. So how do we distinguish food from drugs? The main distinction would be that food is necessary for survival while drugs aren’t. Of course, drugs have the potential to become a necessary part of daily functioning for many individuals (which would be addiction).

    But this begs the question: what about food eaten for any reason other than maintaining one’s “normal bodily functions”? Especially in the United States, many individuals turn to food to “fill a void” leading to rampant eating disorders and various food addictions. Studies show that high cal high sugar foods can trigger addiction-like responses in individuals. Clearly the definition of “food” is not so simple.

    I agree that “Employing food like a drug, with drugs, and to take the place of drugs builds terminally dysfunctional habits.” But the problem is much much bigger than marijuana infiltrating the world of haute cuisine.

    But viewing food and drugs this way forces one to question “recreational eating,” or occasionally eating food with little or no nutritional value purely for the sake of pleasure, something that I doubt most people would have a qualm with if practiced in moderation. So then what’s the problem with occasionally smoking weed and eating Koronet? It doesn’t have to be to “engage in an altered version of the past” like Sportello does, but because it feels good and you have nothing better to do. Recreational marijuana can simply heighten the thrills that recreational eating already provides.

    In short, I don’t see the problem as one of drugs perverting the purpose of food, but rather one of unclear definitions and stigmas surrounding the two labels. I propose that a more effective way to understand food and drugs, the benefits they provide and the risks they pose, would be to look not to the substance being ingested but the motivation behind the ingestion. [This is also why an article on west village headshops fits best in the food & drink section of any paper ;-]

  2. I am so glad you wrote this. That article infuriated me for many of the same reasons. The whole thing felt like a contrivance to reach some audience segment.

  3. TC

    You write that “individuals [should not] approach food as a good that produces [internal fullness].” Here, you are forgetting the subject of the NYT article. The chefs in question have built their careers and lives around food. Though I might run into your same normative twilight zone by saying this, I believe that individuals should find their careers fulfilling. It’s not surprising that the chefs in the article believe “that stoner food exists to fill some void,” but that belief is a function of their profession, not their recreational habits.

    You write that “Using marijuana in conjunction with food to satisfy an interior longing or complete a personal incompleteness constitutes addictive, pathological, destructive behavior.” This statement, of course, is accurate, but it is derived from a misinterpretation of Mr. Choi’s comment that stoner cuisine attempts to “fill you up from the inside and make you feel whole and good.” Once again, we must remember that Mr. Choi is a professional food lover. However, it is more important to simply note (at least to my more marijuana experienced perspective) that Mr. Choi is not speaking absolutely. Rather, he is just talking about food like a high person, e.g. “four big macs would so satisfy me right now.” Any more accurate parsing of his words is overkill.

    I find it funny that you cite Dr. Dre to make a point which he would no doubt disapprove of. Mentioning Dre doesn’t make you more knowledgeable about weed, especially when you blatantly misapply the quote in question. Also, please don’t end you post with an overly generalized and extrapolated attack on marijuana partakers.

    In addition, your use of the word terminally is insensitive and rude.

    Nevertheless, I enjoyed your post and look forward to reading more of your work in the future. (for educational purposes)

    • @TC
      Paragraph by paragraph:
      1. I don’t think that stoner food fills some sort of professional void for these chefs, nor do I think that their careers would be unfulfilling sans stoner cuisine. You’d probably have a hard time proving that these “stoner chefs” would feel unfulfilled as a chef without marijuana. But this isn’t really of particular importance, since my point was more about the use of stoner food not to meet any physiological or nutritional need, but rather to help generate simulated and previously absent emotions.

      2. I don’t think you’re really responsive to my claim here. . .whatever Choi intended to imply behind his statement, the statement itself represents an advocacy of “addictive, pathological, destructive behavior.” You don’t really clarify how I’ve misinterpreted Choi’s quote–the meaning seems pretty evident to me. I have no idea what else he meant other than a very salient and explicit explanation that stoner cuisine fills a nonphysiological emptiness.

      a. That’s Dr. Dre on an Eminem song about his addictive behavior. Off of “Relapse”. An album about the destructive effects of drug addiction. So yea. . .quote may be out of context but I haven’t radically divested it of original intent.
      b. What, you didn’t learn everything you know about drugs from Dr. Dre? I sure did. . .but no, I’ve actually read most of the peer-reviewed literature. I’m pretty sure quoting Dre dramatically increases my cred over “oh, I’ve been reading “Nature” and “Science” since I was 15 for funsies” ;)
      c. My overly generalized and extrapolated attack wasn’t an attack per se, more a judgmental observation about “marijuana partakers” who use food in conjunction with marijuana to fill up a nonphysio. emptiness. So it was actually rather specific, and though extrapolated, not overly so imo.
      d. Not sure how my use of “terminally” is any more or less insensitive and rude than anything else I say. Especially since I use it to denote “of, at, relating to, or forming a limit, boundary, extremity, or end.”-American Heritage Dictionary. . .Whatever connotations you read into it are yours, see Derrida for more info.

      4. Thanks!

      5. Good link, had “2001” for about a year, enjoy it a lot.

  4. Mary Jane

    Its not about filling a void as much as its about becoming more spiritual and harmonious, taking a natural herbal remedy such as cannabis is about taking a little time to smell the roses, to think about things much more simply, to enjoy simply existing in harmony with nature instead of desiring materialism and wealth. Capitalist western culture is simply not ready for this spirituality, and as such, prohibition continues.

  5. Hey, if weed is the reason why there is better food out there, then that’s just another reason to add for it to become legalized.

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