Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Marijuana Food: Something to keep an eye on

Alright, before we get started I’m going to lay down the basic fundamentals; I do this because I don’t want to have to repeat myself multiple times in the process of writing the article, and because being as it is that marijuana is such a “hot topic” I don’t want my intention in writing this article to be misconstrued.
This article is neither in support of, nor detracting from, the usage of marijuana. Some states have it legalized for medical usage (sorry Florida, I know Amendment 2 didn't pass with a 60% vote), some for recreational usage, and the federal government still has it listed as a controlled substance that is illegal on a nationwide level. This article is not about any of those things, and as such you will not find (too heavy of) an opinion on those points. This article is a purely objective introduction to the newest addition to a widely accepted food-culture: marijuana-infused food.
To mix marijuana and food is not a new idea to say the least. I choose to believe that it probably existed before this recording of a 911 call made by a cop and his wife after eating a pot brownie did, but given the illusory nature of the “past”, I wouldn't be surprised to learn otherwise.
The basic concept is fairly (incredibly) simple. THC (the active ingredient in marijuana that gets you high/has the purported health benefits) is extracted from the plant matter through means of finding a soluble base and applying heat over a duration of time. In general, the most THC soluble substances are fat and oil, and as such you will find a lot of recipes that call for one or the other.
I’m going to share a secret with you: people who smoke marijuana are (generally) aware of the fact that inhaling any form of smoke is hazardous to the lungs, and likely to lead to long-term health issues. In fact, it would seem that a portion of Colorado’s recent economic /cultural explosion surrounding marijuana-infused foodstuffs (hereafter referred to as “Edibles”) can be laid at the feet of a more health-conscious approach to the drug as presented by the state in the “Don’t Smoke” campaign.
There’s a bit of delicious irony in that and the joke sort of writes itself, so I won’t sully your eyes by pointing out the specifics of why it’s funny that an anti-drug campaign resulted in higher revenue in the market for the drug; instead allow me to point out the not-so-obvious by drawing your attention to the fact that the leading supplier of marijuana edibles reported selling an entire month’s worth in just one day.
People love their brownies, and their cookies, and even their olive oil (which is apparently a thing you can infuse with THC); the edible industry has caused a massive upstart in projected revenue, and the largest supplier, one Dixie Elixirs and Edibles, has already begun construction on additional warehouses just to keep in line with demand. Temp agencies in the area like Hemp Temp are predicting that up to 10,000 jobs will be created over the course of the next ten years, and some projections suggest that the marijuana industry as a whole will earn in excess of $2 billion this year alone.
This article isn't going to try and convince you that marijuana food is the bee’s knees; the issue of packaging and presentation still leaves something to be desired. That video I linked to earlier that had the police officer calling 911 is a very good example of what can happen if you unknowingly ingest a marijuana-infused food. If you listened to that recording you may have laughed at the verbal bumbling antics, and the assertion that the cop “felt like he was going to die” because he was too stoned. We know that you can’t overdose on marijuana (in the traditional sense), but that’s knowledge that not everybody has. Having been on the receiving end of a “surprise” brownie and not been expecting the outcome I can personally agree that an unanticipated high can feel a lot like dying.
Since marijuana laws became lax in 2009, there have been at least fourteen cases of children ingesting marijuana edibles in Colorado, due in part to the bright and attractive packaging and a lack of education on the material being presented. With that knowledge in mind I want you to think again of the 911 recording and understand that that is the result of a marijuana brownie affecting a fully grown man; imagine how that must feel to a child. Edibles tend to hit slower, but longer, and my own personal experience with the unexpected brownie left me feeling like my world was collapsing for well over two days.
I’d laugh at the cop on the recording, but I've been there.
I’d shrug off the idea that kids are getting drawn in by bright packaging and fancy flavors, but I can’t even pretend to imagine what the end result feels like for them.
I said I wouldn't get opinion heavy on the legality of marijuana and I won’t, but this is where I will: packagers like Dixie and the like need to start taking into consideration the idea that children are going to be drawn to their products. You show me a child that says that they won’t steal a cookie when nobody is looking and I’ll show you a liar playing a dangerous game.
The current laws may very well prohibit sales to anybody under the age of 21, but when one of the major side effects of the product that you are peddling is forgetfulness, you have to take into account the possibility that more than just your clientele are going to come into contact with your wares.


What are your concerns about marijuana edibles? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

About the Author:

Damien Marty once tried to be a pioneer in domesticated Yellow Jackets; now he and his horrifically swollen face sit at home and write informative articles about food and science, other other fascinating topics. If you ever need a helping hand with a hard-to-remember factoid, or are interested in having him (terribly) sing at your doorstep, simply yell loudly out your window and he'll be there when he can.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


I don’t have a joke to start this one off with, and I apologize in advance for all of the conjecture that follows, dear reader. It would seem that right under our very noses a “trade war” has been brewing in the storm clouds in the distance; a dark and sinister one that threatens to destroy the very fabric of our meat economy…

Our meat-conomy.
Alright, so I tried, but I can’t keep this smile down. Apparently what is going on is that last year Congress passed a bill that would force meat-packers to actually indicate where the meat came from. See, before the label would read something like “Product of the US” and the consumer would just assume that the rib-eye they were about shovel into their gullet was born and bred in the good U.S. of A. Unbeknownst to the poor, unwary, “soon-to-be-victim”, that rib-eye was actually born in Canada, and then carted over to the United States to be raised and slaughtered.
The old label laws left a loophole that allowed the packing company to be vague about the specific origins of their stock, as they only had to be labeled as “products” of the United States if they were butchered and sold within the borders. While there is nothing inherently insidious about this practice, when bad things happen and someone gets “Foot and Mouth Disease” from a cut of God Knows Where bred beef that was killed in the U.S.A. (and therefore under the old laws there needn’t be any label indicating where specifically it came from), certain consumer advocacy groups believe that the customer has the right to know exactly where their meat existed from birth to bought.
The issue that we find, and that opponents of the bill are trying to make known as loudly as they can, is that keeping such close tabs on the livestock drives up cost while bogging down productivity. Since we import a lot of our meat from other countries, this would require that companies that lay outside of our borders who wish to do business with us would have to adhere to these new label laws as well. Responses from Canadian officials, being the more vocal of the collective (closely followed by Mexico), have already threatened to enter into a “trade war” with the United States, stating that they will impose tariffs on American products and goods if the label laws are not reverted back soon.
Personally, and I apologize because this is where it may get opinion heavy. I feel I can see and understand both sides of this argument on the issue. Having been at the receiving end of some bad pork on more than one occasion myself, I can definitely see where the idea of having more in-depth information immediately at your fingertips can be a good thing. I for one am a huge proponent of the “tell the customer everything” mentality which is so rarely found in current business practices today.
The entire meat-conomy (too good to never use again) basically only exists because of how well streamlined it is. You can watch documentary after documentary showcasing the truly horrific ways animals are treated in these environments, but the truth remains evident: for what it is doing, the meat-conomy is incredibly efficient. The end goal of those companies is to put pork, beef, chicken, and occasionally ammonia in your stomach, and the demand is so terrifyingly large that the only way to keep up was to create the monster we (I) call the meat-conomy. This machine was created, and we as the consumers nursed its creation.
Making any sudden change to the corporate practices of such a system is bound to cause abrupt complications in the established “flow” of business. The “trade war” that is being threatened, as I’ve already described, is a result of Canadian officials declaring that the added overhead cost of tracking each individual animal is causing estimated losses up to “one billion dollars” per year. The cited reasoning is that the additional cost of keeping track of every single head causes a superfluous amount of “busy work”, forcing the company to spend additional amounts on more manpower, and filing systems.
Our own American-based companies are stating that the expectations are “ridiculous”, indicating that a majority of the farms near the border (both Mexican and Canadian) work hand-in-hand with farms just outside of our nation’s area of control. Often times, in order to “keep good genetics,” companies will “loan out” breeder animals to the farms that lay just across the curtain. Lobbyists against the new label laws state that even though these animals are being bred using the same bulls that breed an “American” product, the companies behind are still expected to keep close track of where every single animal is born; a ruling which many in the industry feel means well, but isn’t realistic due to the amount of product being created and tracked.
Understanding that every country has different laws on how their specific industry works (and that companies that fall within the boundaries of these laws have established their projections based on them and how they impact overhead) helps shed light on the issue that one isn’t likely to find from reading reports from the pro-law advocacy groups.  
By making these changes mandatory, Congress has effectively dictated that if a company wants to do business with us in this market they have to adhere by our new rules. This means that foreign companies that have entered into set contracts with American ones are going to have to drastically adjust their business to comply not with their laws, but with ours. When you have thousands of people stretched across three nations (Canada, Mexico, and us) who rely on this industry for their livelihood, it’s easy to understand why companies that lay outside of our own borders may take issue with these changes and the increased cost it forces them to incur.
So what’s the latest news on this issue? Well, the U.S. Circuit Court ruled for the bill in July, saying that consumers have a right to know where their food is coming from. However, now the World Trade Organization (WTO) has given its final report and is expected to oppose the new bill in favor of Mexico and Canada.
What would have happened if the industry advocacy groups did not get the bill over-turned and the old label laws put back in place? Well, the one thing that would have impacted consumers most:
Meat would get more expensive, then cheaper, and then more expensive fairly quickly.
Some industry experts believe this could have broken the established market as we know it. More overhead cost means a more expensive product, which in this economy means less demand. Less demand means a surplus of product (although, since it’s a perishable one a surplus can only last for so long); cutbacks in budget could lose quite a few people their jobs, and the extra investment of both time and funds would drive the cost of the product back up.
Once the WTO’s official report is made public, and it should be coming out this month, the U.S. has 60 days to appeal the decision. So keep your eyes peeled for what’s happening in the next few weeks.
Also, do yourself a favor and read the literature from both sides of this debate; all parties involved have surprisingly eloquent retorts to each other, and ultimately I feel like consumer involvement is going to dictate whether our meat-conomy operates “business as usual”, or falls apart at the seams.

Thanks for reading!

About the Author:

Damien Marty once tried to be a pioneer in domesticated Yellow Jackets; now he and his horrifically swollen face sit at home and write informative articles about food and science, other other fascinating topics. If you ever need a helping hand with a hard-to-remember factoid, or are interested in having him (terribly) sing at your doorstep, simply yell loudly out your window and he'll be there when he can.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Gardening in the Dark: Surprisingly Not Impossible!

Last week, while I was out for a jog, I came across garage sale in my neighborhood where the majority of the things seemed to be seeing sunlight for the first time after a fifteen year imprisonment in the attic. Me, being the anachronistic sucker that I am, immediately jumped head-first into the pile of things and stumbled across a ridiculously awesome set of finely engraved clay flowerpots. When I questioned the owners as to why these pieces of art were being sold and not prominently featured in their yard, they informed me that they were moving into an apartment with no real sun access and couldn't afford to ship the pots safely if they weren't going to be able to grow food in them.
I realized at that moment that the concept of growing food in sun-deprived environments doesn't often occur to your average apartment dwelling gardener, and I’ll have you guys know that I was seriously presented with a heavy moral choice. These pots were absolutely beautiful, and the asking price was beyond reasonable. I could have easily kept my mouth shut and walked away with a wallet that was only slightly lighter and a set of flower pots that would be the envy of the neighborhood. I walked up to the counter with my money practically in my hand when I noticed that neither owner seemed entirely comfortable with the idea of selling the pots.
My conscious kicked in and I ended up informing them of the easiest things to grow in a mostly shaded environment; and we actually had a rather pleasant conversation on the different types of lettuce we enjoy and why.  It was disappointing for sure, I could have done wonderful things with those pots, but I knew it would be better for them if I dispensed of the belief that you need 10+ hours of sun a day to even bother gardening.
When I was younger I moved into fairly crummy apartment, and I was tired of spending all of my hard-earned paycheck on spinach. I’m being completely serious, my local markets had experienced a shortage and it was seriously getting to the point where I was going to have to choose between gas and spinach. In a fit of desperation, I started researching the plant, looking to see if I could convince my mother to grow it in her garden for me. Much to my surprise, I saw that spinach is just one of the expansive list of things you can grow in a mostly sun-less place.
So, without further ado, here are some tips for how to plant a garden in minimal sunlight:
  1. What do you have to work with?
    1. I had buildings on three sides of me with quite a bit of shade coverage on all windows. If you have similar issues, then you’re going to have to learn to maximize the amount of light that you have.
      1. If you don’t have windowsills, you can install shelves under the window, or use end-tables.
      2. If you have indirect sunlight - you’re in luck, there’s a wide array of plants that don’t require constant sunlight.
    2. The temperature outside when I started was just cooling down, and the leaves were just starting to turn.
      1. Different plants grow during different seasons. It may seem silly to say this as though you don’t know, but you would be amazed at the amount of people who tell me that they get discouraged because they can’t grow tomatoes indoors during winter!
      2. Temperature’s can be controlled using heating lights, in case you have the option or desire to grow things out of season!
    3. I drowned absolutely everything the first time I tried my hand at indoor gardening.
      1. Do your researches before you turn your mint into a mess. Look up exactly how much water your plants should get by size for indoor planting. It could mean the difference between having a successful indoor garden or having a desolate ghost-garden, populated only by the wails of the ghost celery.
      2. Water-logged plants are still save-able. Simply drain the pot of excess water and leave in a warm spot for a few days, re-pot if needed.
  2. What can I possibly grow?
    1. Indirect light of 6+ hours a day granted me access to the following list!
      1. Arugula.
      2. Asparagus (this is a “plant it and forget about it” vegetable, it can take a few years to get yield).
      3. Spinach!
      4. Broccoli.
      5. Strawberries.
      6. Lettuce.
      7. Thyme.
      8. Aloe… and more!
    2. No direct sunlight still afforded me a few more
      1. Mushrooms.
      2. Mint (I was actually wary to keep this plant in the house, with how invasive of a species it is, I was sort of worried that I would wake up to it trying to depose me as head of the household). But no worries, I’m still here!
        1. Smells good, too!
  3. How can I possibly keep up with this?
    1. As with regular gardening, indoor gardening is a very “plant as you need” concept. Don’t plant a dozen heads of lettuce if you don’t plan on eating a dozen heads of lettuce.
    2. Look up how to “force” certain plants to sprout faster in the shade, this makes it possible to have a yield that will be smaller, but get to maturity faster.
    3. Learn the timetable of your plants, and schedule accordingly. If done right you can have an almost non-stop supply of veggies, provided that you keep up on your calendar
    4. Chin up! This is gardening, not “Instant-Gratification-Veggie-Time”, it’s gonna take a while to get into gear.

My first indoor garden almost ended in tears, and I’m going to end this the same way I've ended most of my articles: do your own research before trying to grow anything. Research things specific to your area. And if you have cats or dogs, learn about which plants could be toxic to them, or could attract them to muck up your potted plants.
I didn't do my research beforehand on the difference between watering an outside plant and watering an inside one, and I actually killed my marjoram.
R.I.P.  Marjoram.

About the Author:

Damien Marty once tried to be a pioneer in domesticated Yellow Jackets; now he and his horrifically swollen face sit at home and write informative articles about food and science, other other fascinating topics. If you ever need a helping hand with a hard-to-remember factoid, or are interested in having him (terribly) sing at your doorstep, simply yell loudly out your window and he'll be there when he can.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pink Slime

Chances are that if you own a television and occasionally click through the news stations, you've heard this term thrown around in the last couple of years. If you’re extra astute you may have even seen the television special where the cocky chef “makes” pink slime in front of a bunch of horrified children. And if you’ve seen that then you are more than aware of the unfortunate reality that kids don’t care what food looks like before it looks like food.

Seriously, the next time you have a glimmer of faith in humanity go ahead and watch this video, and it should clear things right up. The look on Jamie Oliver’s face after he asks who would still eat a Chicken Nugget, and receives his soul-crushing answer, is priceless.  
Today I want to talk about FSOs, or Food Shaped Objects.  Now I don’t mean wax fruit, or those things that they include in Beef Jerky that are decidedly NOT seasoning packets. I’m referring to things that routinely feel the need to inform us that it is a “product” after what it supposedly is.
Cheese “product”.
Chicken “product”.
Beef “product” (I’m looking at you, Taco Bell).
I love reading these labels on food, because it’s generally the only indication that what you’re about to shove in your mouth was destroyed completely and then repurposed to mostly taste like what it originally was. The process behind the scenes is often an unpleasant one, but suffice it to say that calling a chicken nugget “Chicken” is basically the equivalent of saying that your skeleton is a “Human”.
Recently, a McDonald’s supply chain manager in Canada did a little “Video Tour” ad for the Super Bowl, showcasing exactly how Canada makes McNuggets. What is important here is the understanding that just because something isn’t coming out of the grinders looking like pink slime in Canada doesn’t mean that this is the same way things are being done everywhere. Processed meat is a disconcerting thing for more reasons than just the color or amount of bone it contains before being hammered into something food-shaped; processed meat has the potential to be anything that they toss in the machine.
Literally anything.
Bone, gristle, skin, white meat and dark meat and all the colors in between, fingernails, claws, beaks, teeth, and as was the case last year with Interstate Meat, people who work there.
Processed meat is a scary concept because we are sacrificing certainty, “If I eat this steak, I am eating from one cow and will be able to know if it makes me ill,” for convenience - “If I eat this hamburger, I am taking a “bite of a thousand cows”, and any number of them could have had bleeding cow-butt disease.” While you certainly have your “meal” on hand much sooner than it would take to go to the store, get a fine cut of meat, and prepare it yourself; you have also increased your risk of eating mystery meat.
I won’t try and throw numbers at you saying how Jack In the Box killed 4 kids back in the 90’s due to negligence, or how Federal Law doesn’t force slaughterhouses to check grinders for E-Coli; I won’t even end on some high note about how processed food is the Devil and fast-food should be stopped. If you want to eat a burger from your local fast-food joint, then who am I to say that you are wrong?
Just don’t call it “food”, and do your research before putting something in your children’s mouths that may make them very ill.

About the Author:

Damien Marty once tried to be a pioneer in domesticated Yellow Jackets; now he and his horrifically swollen face sit at home and write informative articles about food and science, other other fascinating topics. If you ever need a helping hand with a hard-to-remember factoid, or are interested in having him (terribly) sing at your doorstep, simply yell loudly out your window and he'll be there when he can.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Backyard Gardening: How I learned to stop worrying and start growing tomatoes!

We all know those woes of the grumbling stomach; the way our insides tighten and coil as we glare enviously at the television screen while it plays what must be the 102nd commercial of the hour involving food-stuffs flying through the air (and often times water to “bring out the shine”) in slow motion. How many times have we looked longingly at our backyards and thought to ourselves how much simpler life would be if we could grow a magical tree that dropped money instead of acorns, just so we would have enough spare cash to go and grab a bite to eat? 
The first time this train of thought hit me I immediately knew that something was amiss in my life. So conditioned was I to be nothing more than a consumer that I didn't even acknowledge the absurdity of the “Money Tree” for the more sinister overtones it presented; I had taken my fantasy of food and directly applied it to my wish for wealth, and in not being able to have said Money Tree I had immediately dismissed the shockingly simple (and logical) solution.
Say it with me: “You’re going to have an easier time growing (and eating) food than you are with money.” As obvious of a statement as that is, you would be amazed at the amount of people who go through their day-to-day lives with massive, beautiful backyards, who just pay unbelievable prices for “apples” that have been passed from hand to hand, state to state, and sat in cold storage for up to a year. When you take into consideration that the cost for starting (and maintaining) a garden is exponentially less than the cost of purchasing your veggies on an “as needed” basis then it seems like a mystery as to why every family doesn't have a garden!
At least, that’s what I say now after having done research on the subject. Suffice it to say if you go into your backyard with a garden hose, a shovel, and the results of a sporadic 3AM trip to the Online Seed Catalog, you may either have a terrible time because you’re not entirely sure what you are doing planting a garden at 3AM, or you may have a fantastic one because you are trying something new. Failure is powerful experience to have, and when you’re sitting on the edge of your roof looking down at what is essentially a mud-hole, it’s hard to not feel discouraged.

Dear Reader, allow me to share my gained knowledge with you.
  1. Super-Duper Basics:
    1. What are the legal ramifications of your plan?
      1. Every city, county, and state has different laws regarding what you can (and cannot) do with your property and the things you choose to grow/raise on it.
        1. If you don’t want to have your hard-work ripped out but you suddenly have seven chickens when your county has a “5 chickens only” rule you can apply for a special exception called a “Variance”, just check with your local county representatives.
    2. How many people are you realistically going to feed and for how long?
      1. Chances are that if you live in the United States you have 3.5 people in your immediate family (that .5 isn’t as tricky as it looks) in which case you’re going to want between 10-12 rows for a single season.
    3. Do you want to use the soil already present, or do you want to build your garden up with a raised bed?
      1. If your soil is crummy, or your state’s version of “soil” is rocks mixed with sand and broken dreams, then you may want to do a raised bed.
        1. No seriously, if you have toxic soil you will have a toxic yield. Your local City Hall should have the ways listed to get a free soil sample (which should be done regardless).
      2. If you have good soil as it is, then you may want to till it and save yourself some expense and time.
  1. Placement:
    1. You’re going to want to find a spot with consistent sun exposure, at least 6 hours a day.
      1. If you can manage 8-9 hours of direct sunlight you’re golden, Ponyboy.
    2. Don’t plant too close to trees
      1. The shade will kill your garden.
      2. The trees themselves will kill your garden.
      3. The animals in the trees will kill your garden.
      4. Pretty much everything will kill your garden.
  2. The Research:
    1. As my briefly-alluded-to experience with a sucking mud-hole can confirm, you’re going to want to do your own research before jumping in.
      1. Ask your family what they like to eat and see when those plants are in season.
      2. Your specific part of the world has a specific harvest calendar -- learn it in regards to what you want to grow.
    2.  Everybody likes animals… Right?
      1. I touched on this earlier but it bears repeating: find out what you are, and are not, allowed to have on your property as far as farm animals are concerned (if you are planning on having any).
      2. My assertion that “Everything will try and kill your garden” especially extends to small animals that are often considered cute. Before you go coating your entire property in rabbit-poison (which I’m pretty sure is probably a thing) do your research and find alternative concoctions you can whip up that aren't likely to make your cabbage glow bright green once the sun goes down.
        1. Same goes for insects.
    3. Oops, you accidentally planted an invasive species!
      1. There are plenty of ways to safely remove a species from your garden without destroying the other plants, go surfing before you go digging! There we have it, a comprehensive list where nothing is ordered in any semblance of importance! This is not meant to be a go-to guide to starting your own garden, but rather a culmination of the things I wish somebody had asked me before I created a sinkhole. Always do your own independent research before you plant anything, and have a fantastic time growing delicious foodstuffs for yourself and your loved ones!

About the Author:

Damien Marty once tried to be a pioneer in domesticated Yellow Jackets; now he and his horrifically swollen face sit at home and write informative articles about food and science, other other fascinating topics. If you ever need a helping hand with a hard-to-remember factoid, or are interested in having him (terribly) sing at your doorstep, simply yell loudly out your window and he'll be there when he can.