Cameron Sims has great energy. He greets everyone with a smile and a big, warm hug, and, with his blond locks pulled into a loose pony tail and his tall, lean frame draped from top-to-toe in flowing hemp clothing, resembles a yogi at a wellness retreat rather than the man (affectionately) named “New Zealand’s King of Cannabis Cuisine”.*
A couple of years ago Cam established Plant Culture, a “social enterprise supplying premium hemp seed products in compostable reusable packaging” with a vision to shape “a sustainable and positive future for everyone, everywhere”. Cam also wants to use the project to dispel some common cannabis myths and misunderstandings by way of talks (he’s spoken at TEDxAuckland); cooking classes (your place, or his); pop-up restaurants and private functions (which is why Verve is here); and an upcoming cookbook.
The pop-up experience is a relatively new addition to his repertoire, but the exquisitely presented dishes do little to betray Cam’s relative inexperience (Cam’s culinary skills, though self-taught, are gaining some serious respect from some serious people, such as Simon Gault). There’s a real rustic vibe to the event, with offerings including a dense, seed loaf and three wholesome pizzas served on wooden slabs alongside lime and coriander dips, garnished with just-picked wild flowers like the fragrant onion weed. Mouth-watering strips of marinated smoked coconut could easily pass for premium beef slices, but this is a strictly meat-free affair as Cameron—who grew up on a sheep and cattle farm in Wairarapa—adheres to a vegan lifestyle and all his dishes follow suit. All are also hemp-based, using oil or seeds. We finish with a banana and ‘custard’ cake and a decadent hemp coffee.
At one point, Cam jokes that we’re dining on animal food as nutritious hemp inhabits a grey area in New Zealand law. Our nation remains the last in the world to not allow it to be legally eaten, even though it lacks the psychoactive substances of its plant-cousin marijuana. So, while hemp oil may be sold for culinary purposes, seeds are for animals only—a law that, according to New Zealand Food Safety, will be amended later this year to allow for human consumption. And some farmers are already gearing up.
No other plant, says Cam, offers such potential across so many areas including fashion, construction and medicine, and few other crops are this ‘green’. The “super crop” requires just a quarter of cotton’s water supply and takes only three months to grow, offering New Zealand’s agricultural industry a “a financially and environmentally viable alternative to traditional revenue streams”.
Hemp, famed for its nut-like flavour, has been consumed since ancient times, and its health benefits are also compelling. Gram-for-gram, it contains more iron and protein than steak, more omega-3s than tuna, and greater dietary fibre than oats. It is an antioxidant, three tablespoons of which offer more than 100% of our recommended daily magnesium intake. Cam proudly states that hemp, which is just one of many thousands of varieties of non-mind-altering cannabis, is “the world’s most nutrient-dense seed” and he has the “traditional meat and three-veg types” in his sights.
But Cam’s ambitions stretch way beyond luring meat-eaters to his hemp and vegan cause. With investment, his vision is of a biodynamic university, with “one hand in the soil and one hand in space”.
“With everything on the verge of collapse, industrial hemp can serve as a resource for humanity,” he says. “One that can reinvigorate agriculture around the world.”
Visit plantculture.nz for investment opportunities and information on upcoming classes and events.
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces
Photography: Vanessa Lewis