I have eaten my way through the streets of cities all over the world, seeking out experiences through food and saying yes to everything from alligator hot dogs to giant winged ants—but in terms of sheer unforgettableness, none of it compares to what I experienced while working as a weed trimmer. And not even because I was stoned.
When you’re a weed trimmer, like I’ve been for the past four years in the hills of Mendocino County, you’re removed from society and have to cook with limited time and resources, which gives you an ultra-close look into the essence of how both you and other people live and eat.
The job comes with a few prerequisites: must not be a cop, must have an appreciation for weed, and must be willing to camp.
My first season was fall of 2015, a dude named Stephen's first harvest with his partner in that plot of land—a hilltop overlooking peaks, valleys, and rolling hills that looked like a landscape painting from the romantic period. The kitchen, at the time, was framed by an outdoors shelving unit built by Stephen, an ex-rock and roll drummer, who cultivated the land and doubled as a carpenter and handyman. When I got there, they hadn’t quite figured out how to feed their crew of ten; rations included a small selection of seasonings, quick oatmeal packets, toothbrushes, scattered tools, a jar of peanut butter, boxes of nails, a loaf of bread and an opened box of pasta. Next to the wooden shelves was a sink, a two-burner camp stove, and a mini-fridge, all lightly coated with dirt picked up by the breeze carried in from the coast about 60 miles west.
The first season Stephen took it upon himself to cook dinners for us, and the camp was treated to every imaginable variation of chili: white bean, black bean, and red bean were the usual legumes, which he’d prepare in a slow cooker every morning. After a while, shockingly, we got sick of chili, and the crew pitched in and bought steaks, which most of us didn’t even bother to cut with our knives—instead, we just stuck forks in the middle and lifted them to our faces to gorge on.
Every now and again, on days where we had to go out into the gardens and harvest the plump, 7-to-8-foot-tall trees—which basically consisted of chopping down their endless branches with shears—I would take it upon myself to make enough coffee for anyone who needed it, usually clocking in a few minutes late with a full French press in one hand and a hoard of cups in the other.
The following year, the kitchen was way better stocked, and my partner and I had turned vegan. We upped our game from an equipment standpoint, and fell wholeheartedly into making tofu and potato scrambles, smoothies, portobello burgers, burritos, wraps, sandwiches, pasta, and literally zero chili—at the cost of longer breaks and pricier grocery trips than in the previous chili-driven year. Other trimmers relied heavily on frozen meals like pizza and lasagna (from either a lack of interest in cooking, or a keen focus on trimming). But everyone ate with one special ingredient that couldn’t be avoided: finger hash, or kief. Kief is a product of trichomes, the hairy, white, sugary coating on buds that protect plants from being destroyed or devoured by insects or animals by producing levels of THC high enough to get a creature too stoned to finish eating the whole tree. After a day’s work of trimming, our fingers were coated with this stuff, so naturally we wound up eating it. The taste reminded me of oregano—earthy and musky with a hint of bitterness, perfect on pastas and breads.
That year we lost one of the camp’s many chickens the weekend of Halloween, because some of the guys wanted to have poultry for dinner. They plucked a hen from the coop, called up one of their dads to instruct them on how to kill her, and grabbed her by the head and spun around her body until she was decapitated. Once the meat was cooked and unchewably tough, they realized why people don’t generally eat hens.
In later years, we added new traditions, like a colleague’s bacon party, where he’d split open a bag of bacon and toss all of it on a pan, eating it in the later hours of the night after a long day of trimming, usually deliriously stoned. Also, sunset joints, where every sunset for the last few weeks we would roll a couple up, drop our trimming trays and head out to a lookout point and smoke, sharing the last light of day. And at the end of each season, we’d visit our local Japanese restaurant and take up the whole back room with our crew, feasting on okonomiyaki, sushi, and sashimi, and washing it down with Asahi dry and shots of unfiltered nigori sake. This was the meal that equalized us and brought us to the table, as friends and comrades, with identical glee and excitement. It marked the beginning and end of every season—an experience I’m still very grateful for getting to live in the delicious and eccentric way we did.
This article originally appeared on Munchies US.