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Lessons from industrialized food: The importance of home grow

Food is medicine, and plants are food. Protecting the right to grow medicinal plants such as cannabis and psychedelic plants at home is a health and economic justice issue.
Written by
Dr. Amanda Reiman
April 6, 2023

How much thought do you give to the foods you put in your body? How do you feel after a fresh salad vs. a processed burger? And, what does this have to do with the ability to grow a cannabis plant in your backyard or mushrooms in your cabinet? Plenty.

Convenience and commerce at the expense of public health is nothing new. Just look at our food system. Industrialized agriculture crossed with technology like microwaves and the social construction of the kitchen as the antithesis of feminism gave rise to an obesity epidemic. This largely impacted economically disadvantaged communities. Why? Because while fast food and TV dinners were marketed as ways for women to get a break from the chore of cooking and people without money to enjoy eating out, the reality was they were cheap to produce and relied heavily on the already subsidized large-scale farming of corn and soy. As a result, entire communities suffer a severe lack of access to whole, nutritious food.

If you’re like me, and at least a few of you are, you’re a GenX’er who grew up during cannabis prohibition. When I was a teenager/young adult, there were no flashy packaged vapes with candy sounding names. No alluring waxes or shatters or melts. No gourmet edibles made by chocolatiers. There was weed. In a baggie, from some dude. Sometimes you made brownies with it, but they were always grainy and tasted terrible, and I didn’t decarb it right because it was the nineties and the internet didn’t exist yet. And while this all sounds like a “walking uphill both ways in the snow” kind of scenario, the truth was, we developed our relationship with the cannabis plant in its raw, naked, non commercialized form. Yes, it was illegal, but it was also untouched by consumer marketing and branding, other than the “totally amazing grower from Cali” that everyone’s baggie of weed seemed to come from.

I started growing my own cannabis in 1998 while living in downtown Chicago in a small, one bedroom apartment. I had been using cannabis medicinally for a few years and was tired of having to find it all the time and not knowing what I would have access to. I had NO cell phone, only a pager, so it wasn’t like I could just go live my life while the sellers did their job. I had to work HARD and risk a lot to get cannabis. And, as much of a risk as it was for me, it was nothing compared to the risks that people of color were taking to do the same thing. Point being, I saw growing my own as a way to end my reliance on this prohibition-driven headache of getting my medicine. It took a while for me to figure it out (again, no internet), but once I learned, I never looked back. And, I can honestly say that the experience of growing my own cannabis has made me less susceptible to the commercialization of the plant. It grounds me and reminds me that cannabis was here long before social media marketing and catchy brand names.

And how is this connected back to food? One in three Americans now grows their own food, which is a 200% increase since 2008. Two million families now produce their own food. Platforms like the Food Network focus on helping people prepare their own food at home, rewriting the narrative about what it means to spend time in the kitchen. And it’s not hard to see the rise in meal kits, which arose from a renewed interest in preparing food with real ingredients at home. Society has slowly realized that all of the cache and convenience of processed food has come at a price, not just for our health but for that of the planet.

Food is medicine, and plants are food. Protecting the right to grow medicinal plants such as cannabis and psychedelic plants at home is a health and economic justice issue. I fear a future where the only cannabis products available in some neighborhoods are sugar-laden edibles and other products made cheaply to appeal to the heaviest consumers. We see this pattern not only with food, but with alcohol.

The right to grow personal, medicinal plants is no different than the right to grow food, which is a main reason why I founded Personal Plants. And access to freshly grown and minimally processed food and medicines is crucial to community health. Organizations like Planting Justice work to install gardens in underserved communities. Early dispensaries and collectives like WAMM in Santa Cruz, CA, invited patients to actively participate in the cultivation of their medicine. Communities around the country are currently debating the question of whether to allow personal cultivation as a part of cannabis and psychedelic access. Protecting the right to grow personal medicinal plants is a matter of social, environmental and economic justice, and a way to protect the act of nourishing our bodies from the bottom line.

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