After 20 years producing food magazines, cookbooks and reporting on the food industry, I learned that the father of my co-designer, Nellie Williams, had lung cancer.
I've worked with Nellie for nearly a decade and consider her to be something of a little sister. Her family lives in the small town of Washington, Missouri (just outside St. Louis), which at the time, did not have access to medical marijuana. Her dad, Fred, spent several years enduring one grueling treatment after another, with no real results. In 2016, I put a call out for edibles to my cannabis-using friends in Chicago—chocolate edibles, specifically. The lymph nodes in Fred's neck were severely swollen, making it painful to swallow. I knew chocolate would melt on his tongue.
Fred downed three chocolates in about 20 minutes. I warned him to slow down but was relieved and excited to see this very sick man finally experience some relief—relief that came from a plant rather than opioids. It was life-changing for everyone in the room; his wife and six daughters were so grateful to see their husband and father finally—after all these terrible months—eat a full meal and get some real sleep. That day was the last time I saw Fred. He died in June 2016.
My experience with Fred was the catalyst for Kitchen Toke, a quarterly magazine devoted to the culinary, health and wellness benefits of cannabis. Aside from watching my parents smoke pot when I was very young, (and trying it myself in high school), I knew nothing of marijuana. And as I looked for entry-level information on the subject, I realized there wasn't much available. It occurred to me that there was a white space to be filled for people who don't want to smoke marijuana, but might be willing to try it in food—for nutrition, health and wellness. Kitchen Toke was born.
Food as medicine
Why would a person introduce cannabis into their diet? For the same reasons people choose organic foods over non-organic foods. For the same reason people use healthy oils and other healthy fats: Cannabis takes health and wellness to the next level. Add to that the option to use cannabis without getting high, and the reasons grow.
When I say cannabis, by the way, I'm referring to the whole plant. I'm a huge proponent of eating foods in their "whole" entirety—just yesterday I had a conversation about eating the outer-skin of garlic. Garlic skin is loaded with heart-healthy, anti-aging properties, like phenylpropanoid antioxidants. As a matter of fact, most "skins" are good for you, whether it be from fruit, fish or vegetables. Cannabis is no different.
How to start
For people lucky enough to live in a state where you can grow or buy cannabis leaves, I suggest eating them raw. Cannabis leaves are packed with tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), the non-psychoactive acid form of THC known to ease symptoms of epilepsy, chronic pain, digestive disorders and more.
For those with medical cards, I recommend buying a cannabis flower with higher CBD content than THC, (approximately 4-to-1). Add it to a high-quality good coconut or olive oil and use it throughout the day. Hemp-derived CBD, which is federally legal and available nation-wide, contains 0.3% or less of THC and is great for hesitant first-timers. The product options are wide, with new CBD-infused honeys and olive oils and even salts showing up on the shelves every day.
Personally, I love starting my day with cannabis. By the time my stress kicks in, I feel like I've already beat it the punch. Stress, as we know, is a silent killer. But do we know why? From the hectic morning commute to the call from the kids' school to working on deadline, the compilation of individual daily stresses triggers a release of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine. In more permanent states of stress, the amount of cortisol in the body can lead to weight gain, anxiety and insomnia. Weight gain has been linked to heart disease. Lack of sleep triggers a vicious cycle of further cortisol production—and thus more weight gain and less sleep!
Break the cycle
In 2011, while training for a triathlon, I discovered I had an insulin-resistance problem. I practiced "brick-training"—running, biking and swimming in a single day—several days a week, and to prepare for those days, I would fuel up on carbs the day before. I was trying to do some good for my body but ended up gaining more weight than ever. I knew something was wrong. I felt awful. My clothes didn't fit, and I was in a constant state of inflammation.
My doctor ordered a blood test. The results revealed that all those carbs weren't being properly broken down and as a result, insulin was flooding my body. I decided then and there to take control of my own health. I finished the triathlon and began an 8-week eating program of healthy fats, low-carbs and no dairy. My insulin returned to normal levels, and my weight dropped by 20 pounds. I succeeded at hitting the "reset button," and I looked and felt better than ever.
My discovery of cannabis took my eating and health and wellness program to a whole new level. I was already fit, but with the integration of cannabis into my diet, my overall inflammation dropped, my sleeping improved dramatically, and my post-workout muscle recovery is significantly quicker. I hope my story inspires you to do some research, look into what CBD can do for you. Starting with CBD is a great entry point and accessible for everyone.
Here's my favorite salad recipe with torn cannabis leaves
"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." -Willa Cather
A logical fallacy called bifurcation (yes, it sounds like a disease) is used to make people believe that they can only choose between two extreme choices: love me or leave me, put up or shut up, etc. In relation to my career and my love life, I was once stricken by this crazy malady.
I spent over a decade in and out of love relationships that undermined my career and drained my creative energy along with my finances. The key problem was that I was convinced that I had two options: be a kickass, and powerful professional who scares off any prospective mate or surrender to that deep and profound love such that my ambitions blow away in the wind. For years, my psyche ping-ponged between these two choices like that was the only game in town. But why?
Turns out we women are often programmed into thinking that we can't have love (at least that good, juicy heated kind) and any sort of real career. This is not actually that surprising given the troubled history that America has with women in the workplace. Post WWII, women were supposed to quit their jobs and scurry back home and leave the careers for the returning men. And if you think we've come a long way from making women feel they don't belong in the workplace, consider Alisha Coleman. In 2016, she was fired because her period leaked onto a chair!
But try to keep a good woman down, and well, you can't (Alisha sued her former employer). Given enough information we will always find a way to overcome our situation. As we teach in my practice, Lotus Lantern Healing Arts, we are all our own gurus. The light in the lotus just offers a way to illuminate your path.
So what was I missing so many years ago when I kept struggling between two suboptimal choices? The answer is the understanding that if I wanted to have it all, I had to start living right now as if I could. For me to be with someone who supported me having a fantastic career, I had to believe that that was actually one of my choices and start living that way.
Of course that is easier said than done (like most life lessons). So once I made that realization, here are the three key changes I made (and no they didn't happen all at once):
First, I stopped apologizing. Why the hell do women always feel the need to apologize for everything! (Sorry for swearing! Jk.) In particular, why do we have to feel bad about time away from the homefront? Remember Don Draper stopping off at the bar before heading home? I took a Madman lesson from him and stopped apologizing for my free time and let go of my usual rush to get back. Instead I focused on enjoying the transition, which was often needed to release the stress of work. Whether I was slow-driving listening to my jams and singing at the top of my lungs or stopping off for a pedicure, a little ritual went a long way to making me feel like a real human when I walked through the door.
Second, I let go of perfection in order to be present. I stopped stressing over a work deadline and instead rescheduled it to tend to my love life or postponed a romantic dinner because a juicy work opportunity appeared. In this way, I did not force an unnatural choice or one I did not want but really paid attention to what felt right. Instead of feeling subpar in each realm, I end up getting the most out of my time in both places.
Third (and perhaps most significantly) I began to welcome and expect encouragement from the most significant person in my life. I made it clear to my partner that I wanted insight and not criticism. And since I knew I needed understanding and not saving, I said, "Please help me look at my career woes from a different angle instead of offering me advice." Ultimately, I only accepted partners that truly supported my dreams and didn't let me play small.
Today, some of the most exquisite pleasure I feel comes simply from my partner witnessing me. Having a cohort who really appreciates my struggles, helps me integrate work and life, and enjoys the wins together can be mind-blowing. Likewise, when the shit hits the fan (again, not sorry!), it's really important to have a partner that can hold space for you and help you remember those wins.
It's a constant battle. Our culture still perpetuates the myth by pitting love and career against each other (ever see Fatal Attraction?). Men don't always get this message, but then we don't need to wait for them to get it. All we have to do it start living right now in the way we truly deserve and bring others along with us. When my friends see me and my partner together separately killing it in the career department and fiercely loving each other they say, "Your relationship gives me hope."