Queering Food and Cannabis with Writer Chala June
From botched brownies to genius-level edibles, the food writer shares their favorite (functional) ways to fly
Truth be told, this episode wasn’t originally planned as a Pride Month podcast. I don’t believe in limiting queer people to once-per-year cameos, especially in cannabis where queer people played a pivotal role in the history of legalization (even though those efforts are continually downplayed or erased within the overall narrative of what constitutes “cannabis culture”). Still, where one Target shoves its rainbow capitalism display back into the closet, another weed witch blinds everyone with a technicolor rainbow of queer cannabis content. Happy Pride y’all!
Oh, also quick congrats in order to all the winners of the James Beard Foundation Awards! Well done feeding America; can’t wait to eat everyone’s food. Just not right now because I’m on a keto diet. I know you didn’t ask, but you’ll remember it in the next few months when I single-handedly make it a trend because I am a very, very influential woman. Don’t underestimate it. You might hate me for it, but not as much as America hates tipping culture (you can quote me on it, even). At least there’s a new season of “The Bear” coming out to make everyone feel better about that (except me. because Italian beef sandwiches are not keto, unfortunately). Anyway, back to the episode:
On the pod this week: Chala June (they/he), a National Magazine Award-nominated food writer, chef, and cannabis advocate based in Brooklyn, NY. Formerly the associate print editor for Bon Appétit, Chala’s work often draws on his Black and queer identities and how they inform his lifelong passion for culinary culture and social justice. In addition to leading virtual cooking classes for organizations like Queer Food Foundation and MoMA Teens, and contributing articles and recipes for publications like Cherry Bomb, Culture Cheese, and CN Traveler, Chala most recently moderated a panel at the Luxury Meets Cannabis Conference (LMCC).
As a lifelong semi-secret smoker who built a career writing about food, travel, and cannabis (pretty wild, right? I still can’t believe it myself), meeting Chala felt extremely overdue. After all, there are not many of us writing about the cultural intersection of food and cannabis (shout out to Christina Wong!), even though we both agree this makes no sense. I mean, doesn’t everyone like to get high and eat food and think about stuff and learn and share and do things? Surely, it can’t just be us.
“I think there’s so much beautiful overlap between cannabis and food that seems really obvious to me and seems really obvious to people who love weed. But to people who aren’t as familiar, it seems super novel,” Chala says.
It’s true. Food and cannabis are both distinctively nuanced flavors of the same love language. And for those who lack an innate sense of sensual pleasure, it is a novelty. Either way, IYKYK.
It’s hard not to love the paradox of something that both needs to be taken seriously and is also a monumental joke. Like, this is the industry home to brands called Fat Nugz 420 or Dank Town USA (even if they don’t exist, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do). It’s perfect dinner table conversation. For that reason and among others, I think food and hospitality tastemakers are going to make the biggest impact in the future of cannabis branding and culture. At least I hope they do.
Food people who become cannabis connoisseurs tend to share interest in certain qualities: the terpenes, the landrace origins, the growing and extraction methods, the “terroir.” They’re as discerning about their cannabis edibles as they are about any other ingredient or technique used to make a dish or drink. They’ll have opinions about the intimacy of shared and private “you had to be there” exclusive experiences, wax poetically about the existential and nourishing ones, and get nostalgic about the foundational experiences that shaped them.
It’s downright insufferable. And yet, I am this kind of person. I can’t help it. New York is clouded in smoke from wildfires from Canada, we have to care about all forms of nature and the impact of agriculture. That includes thinking about the past, present, and future of cannabis, for better or worse.
Obviously, having good taste does not necessarily make a good person or good company. Likewise, there are plenty of good people who do not necessarily have great taste or etiquette. A chef with excellent technical execution may lack the heart that gives a dish personality, while a grower might have objectively fire bud that smells, tastes, and feels like it was ripped from a test tube. Go too far down the rabbit hole, and you start to sound like an asshole; keep it superficial, and people might begin to underestimate how much you know and care. These are the topics I love to talk about with other likeminded folks, typically limited to this newsletter.
While I could go on a tirade about how the rise of superficial foodie culture propagated by the algorithmic chokehold of trend-based content that has had a devastating impact on food culture at-large and what that means for the future of cannabis edibles, I have a sunnier outlook. After all, the boundary-pushing Vice series Bong Appetit (now defunct) created a gateway drug into exploring the limitless possibilities of elevated cannabis edibles that will be tackled by next generation of food writers like Chala (as well as yours truly). And Chala was the first to get cannabis edibles go to mainstream in the print issue of Bon Appetit. It’s pretty historic how understated that act is because it also raises the bar for brands to compete with better quality stuff than we first saw on the market.
Chala discovered their passion for food working in kitchens and food trucks as a line cook while pursuing a publishing degree from Emerson College. While the industry can be notoriously hard on the body and demoralizing on the spirits, it usually leaves a taste for flavor and a thirst for knowledge that translates well into writing. After racking up a few bylines in noteworthy food magazines, they landed at Bon Appetit where they brought much-needed queering to the food publishing industry (ironically filled with queer people who were rarely afforded the opportunity to express themselves or their culture fully).
As an avid cannabis consumer, LMCC provided the platform to Chala to discover a whole world of edibles that rarely saw the day of light in media. Falling in love with the business and passionate edibles makers, they decided to go all-in to learn everything about infused foods and uplift the category. Of course, not before going through the classic rite of passage: a botched batch of brownies. “I was in college and it was my first time making them, and after that experience, I did not really trust myself to make for a quite some time.”
Fortunately, they gave it another shot years later, making some pretty memorable biscuits with cannabutter. “They were so delicious, but once again, I made them way too strong and I ate too many of them, and I was like, ‘I’m going to leave this to somebody else who might have a better understanding about this than I do,’” Chala says. “But when I had that a-ha ‘Come to Jesus’ moment about cannabis and really started diving deep and learning about different products that are out there, I started using infused oils. I stopped trying to do the infusion myself because that was a mess.”
It’s truly amazing to consider how the normalized convenience of walking into a store to pick up a bottle of precisely infused oil rather than risk the guesswork or running mundane errands while stoned changes the whole conversation around cannabis and what that means for the future as a subculture (particularly the youth, who will no longer understand what it means to rig an Arizona Iced Tea can into makeshift pipe. #daretothinkdifferent).
“I don’t want to eat an edible and go flying off into the stratosphere when I have to go into the city for a meeting or go grocery shopping and then I’m staring too deeply at things. Grocery shopping when you’ve gone too deep into the edibles hole is an interesting place to be.”
On the latest Pipe Dreams podcast, Chala sits down to discuss experimenting with infused foods in the kitchen (Weed grits! Blood orange olive oil cake!), their cannabis routine from escaping the psychic assault of the MTA to the joy of a luxurious drag at the end of the day, the importance of proper dosing before going into a CostCo on someone else’s tab, how plant medicine helped them during their transition, what’s happening in queer Black drag culture, the shifting cultural dynamic in New York between mainstream and socially impacted communities, and their predictions for what’s next in cannabis edibles.
Listen, like and share the episode. Follow Chala on Instagram and TikTok, and make sure to follow The Weed Witch for all of the latest and greatest. Have someone in mind that you think should be on the show? Drop a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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