This Conversation is featured in Gossamer Volume Six: the Garbage issue, which you can order here.
Most of the work that I do is in food and food security advocacy. I focus on how to feed people. One in four kids are hungry every single day in America, which is pretty wild. Almost 60 million people go hungry or go to bed hungry every day here. Hunger is treated like a temporary emergency when it’s a systemic issue. I’m also a chef and the host of a TV show, Counter Space, but everything I do always goes back to hunger and why some people have food and other people don’t. That’s me. What I care about the most.
I just want to make people feel full. And while that’s a temporary feeling—shit, there’s nothing like it. Like, man, you just feel good. The right meal at the right time is like a Birkin. I think being a chef is the coolest job ever. Food was never part of the plan. I was a college dropout. I got a job at a restaurant and I lied that I knew how to use a knife. They quickly found out that I didn’t, but I learned. It wasn’t like I was planning on being a chef one day. I always loved food, but I know what it feels like to go to bed hungry. I was a foster care kid. I lived in a group home.
I always loved food, but I know what it feels like to go to bed hungry.
My mom is a drug addict. She wouldn’t even deny that. It’s a sickness. It’s an illness. It’s a disease. She’s a substance abuser to this day. She did not get the adequate care that she needed. She did not and does not need to be in the prison system. She does not need to be arrested. She needs care. So as a kid, my mom’s priority was not necessarily food on the table. It wasn’t necessarily care. But my mom did the best that she could. She is also my greatest inspiration. She was a terrible mother, a monster, but she inspires the work that I do every single day because she is sick, and that’s all there is to it. She’s just sick.
I got into this work because I’m not the only one in that situation. Millions of people on the planet find themselves in that very same situation. Drugs aside, there are parents who have to decide, “Do I put food on the table or do I pay the electric bill? Do I buy new shoes for my kids or do I buy a turkey for Thanksgiving?” These are real life situations that people find themselves in.
I remember when I was a kid, I loved these fish sticks. But my mom wouldn’t buy them because they were really expensive. One time, she surprised me with them—I was so hyped. I put them in my lunchbox and this asshole kid at school called me Fishy Roe because they smelled really bad—and my last name means fish eggs. I was mortified. So I go home, and the fish sticks are still in my lunchbox and my mom’s furious. “Why the hell didn’t you eat your fish stick? I paid all this money for these, why the fuck didn’t you eat your fish sticks?” I told her what happened, and the next day my mom forces me to go back to school with these fish sticks and to tell this kid to fuck off.
I get to school and this kid makes fun of me again. When I got home that day, my mom asks me about it and I’m like, “This kid is horrible. This kid made fun of me.” So my mom looks at the PTA list of the student addresses and goes to this kid’s house. She takes her beat-up car, our ’92 Corolla or whatever it was, and she backs over his bicycle. She sure as hell did. The next day, this kid’s still a jerk. He’s saying this thing happened to his bicycle and he’s still making fun of me. But I’m like, “I don’t care. That’s what you deserve, you little shit face.”
The reason that’s probably one of my favorite memories is because it’s an example of my mom mothering me in her own unique way, and the best way she knew how. She saw her kid in distress and being bullied, and she protected me in a way that made sense for her. She was not a great mom, but she was a good woman. The older I get, the more I realize that we want those two things to be one and the same, but that’s not often the case.
My mom didn’t give a shit about the fish sticks. But she wanted me to feel proud to eat whatever the hell I wanted, whenever I wanted, and it doesn’t matter if somebody else doesn’t like it. It was a good lesson to not let anybody fuck with you. I carry that with me all the time. My mom taught me what not to do in a lot of ways, and those lessons are just as valuable.
We would just have a planet of dead shit if it wasn’t for fungus.
Counter Space is, at its most basic, a food news show. Climate, the environment, racism—every one of these things impacts the food that we eat. Each episode is different. We talk about protest food. We talk about regenerative farming and big tech. We talk about why fungus is so important. We have these conversations in a way that feels relatable and cool and often very funny, because I think that humor’s a really important way to grab people.
We need to look at where we’re putting our resources. I think the future is mushrooms. We would just have a planet of dead shit if it wasn’t for fungus. Fungus are energy transformers. They take something that’s dead and they break down that plant material and make it into nothing again. Without fungus, when someone dies, they’d just stay there forever. Fungus inside the body is what helps rigor mortis. It’s what helps decomposition. We look at it like it’s this yucky thing, but fungus is how we have streets that aren’t lined with bodies.
We have more than 200 different fungi on our hands at any given moment. Fungus is not a plant—it’s its own universe. As humans, we are so scared of death. Fungus can teach us that it’s not that scary: when you die, you just become something else. Fungus is proof that life continues. This fungus still exists on you, still feeds on you, still thrives and turns you into something totally different, which is fucking awesome. It’s proof of life after death. I could talk about fungus forever.
I’ve taken mushrooms 50 times in my life, easily. I have a lot of family trauma and microdosing is something that has really, really helped me. Especially when I was younger and had a lot of anger issues. Psilocybin is not the evil that a lot of people might think it is.
My rules are: make sure you can be outside, make sure you’re either with people who you love or you’re alone, and be prepared for more detail and more information than you normally get. Mushrooms really helped me develop a relationship with my younger self. They helped me mother myself as a kid. My little self relies on my big self, you know?
I believe that a lot of realities can exist at once. It’s a little spacey and Interstellar of me, but I do believe there’s another reality in a different universe where time is set up differently and where young Soph is in the now. Let’s say that right now, it’s 10:41 on November 18th, 2020. I believe that in some other universe, it’s November 18th at 10:42 and it’s 1995.
Mushrooms really helped me develop a relationship with my younger self.
Who says that I am the most conscious being and that right now is the most important now? I don’t fucking know. All I know is that the decisions that I make impact not just the future, but the past—and how I feel about it. If I can come to peace now with my childhood, then I am helping little Soph come to peace with it in her reality, too. The older that I get, the more mindful that I am about the decisions that I make, the way I treat people and the way that I treat myself, because I have to believe that it matters.
Something’s wrong with my brain and cannabis just doesn’t work for me. But I have a partner who has chronic pain who is a completely different man when he has it. He needs it. That’s my personal tie to it and that is enough for me to say that I don’t understand what the big deal is. In every single way, I don’t understand. Prohibitionist laws waste billions of dollars criminalizing cannabis. Black and brown people are disproportionately arrested for cannabis. There are sick people who need access to it and they can’t have it. Prohibition fosters illegal cannabis markets that benefit from organized crime. It’s all a problem.
But the biggest thing with cannabis for me is prison reform. That’s why I work with the Women’s Prison Association. I think about the times my mother was arrested. I don’t consider cannabis a drug. It’s a plant. My mom was using serious drugs and I still don’t believe that she deserved to be in prison. More than 80% of the women incarcerated are incarcerated for drug conviction. That’s outrageous. What an absolute waste of resources.
We can’t have revolution without imagination, and we can’t have a fucking imagination if we don’t have a fucking full belly.
When you arrest a woman, you have to think about what you’re doing to that family. There are hardly any funds put towards reentry services when it comes to reintegrating that mother with her children. And that’s where cannabis and prison reform intersect. Some day, hopefully soon, cannabis is going to be legal everywhere. What about the people who spent years of their lives in prison for having less than an ounce of weed on them? What do they get? Is their felony gone? Do they get their record expunged? Are they going to be able to vote now? Are we going to write them a check? Is that really equivalent to a life lost?
When I think about cannabis, I think about money and industry. This is something that America can provide globally. We don’t grow any coffee. Almost 100% of the coffee in America is imported and all we do is bitch about how expensive it is. Sixty percent of the specialty foods we get in this country come from fucking somewhere else. Chocolate, wine, spices, quinoa, avocados, food, oh my god—40% of our food comes from fucking Mexico. People want to make America great? Then let’s start truly domesticating the farming experience. Integrate that shit.
I want to feed the world so that people will have full bellies, because when you have a full belly, you can fully engage your imagination and then you can be revolutionary. We can’t have revolution without imagination, and we can’t have a fucking imagination if we don’t have a fucking full belly. I want to feed people so that they can use their imagination so that we can become these revolutionary beings that we’re supposed to be and can be as excellent as we were meant to be. That’s it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Sophia Roe photographed by Meghan Marin in Brooklyn. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies. Subscribe to our newsletter here.