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.