Mash-ups are the new black.
Surprising combinations of two good things into something even better are everywhere in this year’s creative economy, from a website that price checks on Amazon while you shop to Abraham Lincoln holding council with Shakespeare in the Lego Movie. But I suspect 2014’s most discussed mash-up drove into the Cannabis Cup in Denver last month to the roaring approval of thousands: the marijuana food truck.
A food truck renaissance has blossomed nationwide over the past decade or so from Seattle to DC, with the usual hot dogs and rocket pops of my childhood making way for falafel, Korean tacos, and even $220 per pound Iberico ham (thanks, Pepe by José Andrés!) handed through tiny rectangular windows. Concurrently a loosening of marijuana laws in some states, including legalization for recreational use in Colorado, sparked a new dawn for marijuana entrepreneurs in both technology and food. The Cannabis Cup, a trade show and expo, was for the first time open in Denver (to anyone over 21) for buying and selling and smoking pot. (See “Weed: A Gateway Drug Across Generations?“)
MagicalButter: A Homemade High
Garyn Angel drove in from Seattle to showcase his food technology for the occasion, selling pork bahn mi, truffle popcorn, and tomato soup—all containing THC (marijuana’s intoxicating compound). Angel debuted the marijuana food truck using an appliance he created in 2012 to infuse plant extractions into fats (oils and butters) and alcohol.
As proof that technology doesn’t have to be on the high end of the spectrum to make an impact, the small appliance (with the deserves-a-better-one name MagicalButter) is essentially a filtered, heated cup with a blender inside. Place, marijuana and oil in the cup, push a button, and the appliance extracts THC and infuses it into the oil.
Anything cooked with the resulting oil has marijuana’s active ingredient in it, and the eater will reach a slow high, slower than smoking. The resulting food, known as marijuana “edibles,” has been the target of some controversy, as some claim that people unwittingly consume large amounts of THC. (Even though in Colorado edibles must be labeled with THC mg per serving.) Of course, the MagicalButter appliance has other uses, like creating your own vanilla extract or tea tree oil at home. Naysayers think that’s the same number as tall water bongs that are used for smoking tobacco.
Getting More Out of Food
Snarkiness aside, Americans are preoccupied with adding benefits to food so we can get more out of it, from antioxidants to herbal supplements. (Who suddenly decided that flaxseed has to be in everything?) But we have few resources to ensure that the St. John’s Wort in our tea, that we just paid extra for, is of any reliable potency.
Angel has figured out a way to use his technology, which is essentially a temperature- and time-controlled cooker, to mass produce food with a stable amount of an additive (THC). His diners are able to identify its potency fairly quickly. This is crucial because, no matter how good his sandwiches are, potency will likely be essential to his sales. After all, it’s the SAMICH Truck—Savory Accessible Marijuana Infused Culinary Happiness.
While the truck isn’t yet operational for retail sales (Angel is working toward government certification), it’s not grounded either. He takes it to medical marijuana dispensaries in Seattle to perform infused-butter cooking demonstrations for patients. A near-term option may be for Angel to sell cannabis-based food to licensed caregivers to feed their patients, with virgin versions available for those without marijuana cards. Angel says that his time at the expo was “a great platform to test the concept and see where we would screw up and where we would do well. We ran out of food both days.”