The van with tinted windows pulled up to the driveway with its cargo — cardboard boxes full of marijuana. And the customers eagerly awaited it, grunting and snorting.
The deal was going down for three hungry Berkshire pigs from a Washington state farm, and a German television crew was there to film it.
Part flavor experiment, part green recycling, part promotion and bolstered by the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington state, pot excess has been fed to the hogs by their owners, pig farmer Jeremy Gross and Seattle butcher William von Schneidau, since earlier this year.
Gross and von Schneidau now sell their “pot pig” cuts at von Schneidau’s butcher shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market at a premium price — bacon is $17 a pound while chops go for $16.90 a pound.
“He’s like, ‘Let’s see what kind of flavor it gives it.’ So we ran it, and it gave good flavor,” Gross says. “It’s like anything else, what you feed them is what they’re going to taste like. It’s almost like a savory alfalfa-fed cow or alfalfa-fed pig.”
The meat, though, won’t get people high. It’s just a flavor infusion.
Gross and von Schneidau get the marijuana excess — roots, stems, and other parts of the plant that are ground and not used for consumption — from a medical marijuana dispensary. At the butcher shop, cuts from the pot pigs are signed with a little drawing of a marijuana leaf.
“It tastes like the best pork chop you’ve ever had,” says Matt McAlman, who runs Top Shelf Organic, the dispensary providing the pot plant waste for the pigs to eat.
The idea has brought worldwide attention. On a recent afternoon, Gross hosted a crew from a German science show while von Schneidau has already been interviewed dozens of times.
The men, though, are relishing the spotlight to advertise von Schneidau’s idea of locally sourced food. Gross’ hogs at his Snohomish, Wash., farm were being fed recycled byproduct before the marijuana idea.
While Gross raises pigs on his property, he works full time as a construction foreman. The only way he can stay in the pig business, he says, is the free feed he collects from a local distillery and brewery. He feeds his pigs barrels of the distillery wheat “mash” every day, fortified by a nutrient mix his veterinarian created. Gross gets his free pig feed, while the distillery and brewery get rid of waste.
Gross is applying that model to the medical marijuana excess and von Schneidau hopes it’s an example people use as production of marijuana ramps up under the state-approved system.
“Absolutely, it’s a good opportunity to help people get rid of their waste,” says von Schneidau, who is also attempting to start a privately owned mobile slaughterhouse.
But currently the state draft rules say pot plant waste must be “rendered unusable” by either grinding it or mixing it with non-consumable, recycled solid waste, such as food waste, compost, soil and paper waste. The state’s rules for medical marijuana do not say how to get rid of marijuana byproducts.
John P. McNamara, a professor at Washington State University’s Department of Animal Sciences, doesn’t find the experiment amusing.
“Of all the crazy things I’ve seen in my 37-plus years, this is the dumbest,” he says.
McNamara says in order to introduce a drug or medicine to feed that’s being given to animals that make part of the food supply, the federal government must sign off on it after extensive review. He adds that research has shown that cannabis ingested can be transferred onto tissues.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the agency that oversees the nation’s food supply. The agency, on its website, says it “approves the additives or drugs that are used in feed products.”
Currently, Gross is only feeding three pigs the marijuana mix, which on a recent afternoon they chomped down on with fervor, sticking their snouts into the pile of mash.
Asked if feeding marijuana affects the pigs, such as perhaps giving them munchies, Gross says he can see no effect on the pigs. Already all pigs do is sleep and eat, he says. But his farm manager mentioned that one of the more salty sows mellows out after a feeding.