What the heck happened to Reality Sandwich?

For the past seven years, and up until recently, I’ve served the psychedelic community through my work with Reality Sandwich, a web magazine that covered a wide umbrella of topics through the lens of psychedelic culture, spirituality, and consciousness. I stumbled upon Reality Sandwich while I was still in college, and was immediately struck by the depth and scope of the content. Every piece felt authentic and distinct. This was a true community of individual voices.

I knew I had to be involved, so I began interning there. I eventually became the managing editor, working alongside co-founder and editorial director Ken Jordan. 

If you’re reading this and are also a Reality Sandwich reader, you may have noticed a drastic change in the site’s appearance. Recently, certain internal administrative decisions were made that led to control of Reality Sandwich being transferred to Delic Corp, a self-described “psychedelic corporation” founded by Jackee Stang and Matt Stang. They both have involvement with High Times, where Matt Stang is the Chief Revenue Officer, and Jackee Stang was the VP of Content and Programming. Matt Stang is also an advisor to Evolver, the parent company of Reality Sandwich. 

This sudden transfer of Reality Sandwich is a deep violation to me, and many in the community feel the same way. What has happened is emblematic of the issues raised by the commercialization of psychedelics. With popularity comes corporate interest, which leads to the exploitation of a culture. Reality Sandwich’s current predicament is just one example of this larger phenomenon. 

One can only speculate that Delic Corp was genuinely unaware of the longstanding community that has supported Reality Sandwich throughout the years, and believed they could easily attain control of a potentially profitable asset with little to no pushback. 

This has not been the case. As longtime Reality Sandwich contributor Adam Elenbaas put it, Reality Sandwich “wasn’t one person’s project to give away, or to sell, nor is it one person’s to decide the future of…RS from day one has been a collaborative, counter-cultural, community effort.”

In my opinion, and the opinion of many Reality Sandwich contributors, it’s simply unacceptable to take a website and company name, divorce it from the people who donated the intellectual property that gave the brand value in the first place, and act like almost nothing happened.

Reality Sandwich has a long, rich history as a grassroots operation cultivated with love by a devoted community and volunteer efforts. A corporate takeover cannot vanquish that legacy. 

 

The Origins of Reality Sandwich

Reality Sandwich was founded in 2007 by Daniel Pinchbeck, Ken Jordan, Michael Robinson, and Jonathan Phillips. There was a new scene growing on the fringes, one that partly emerged from Burning Man as the playa attracted more people. It was oriented around a growing interest in not only psychedelics, but plant medicine, shamanism, yoga, meditation, and indigenous wisdom traditions. Many people were acutely feeling the spiritual void endemic of capitalist, consumer-driven societies. 

It was clear that this growing community needed a way to come together. The intention behind Reality Sandwich was to create a space where people could share radical, strange ideas that didn’t have a home elsewhere.

Two years prior to the launch of Reality Sandwich, Pinchbeck helped start a company in LA called Evolver, later renamed Evo, which was a green consciousness marketplace start-up. They put out one issue of a magazine, edited by Pinchbeck and Erik Davis. Jordan was brought on as a consultant, and eventually became Evo’s president. Then, the company’s CEO shifted Evo’s focus to selling green products to soccer moms. Back in New York, Pinchbeck and Jordan decided to follow through on the company’s best ideas, and do it as a bootstrap operation.

So, along with Robinson and Phillips, they started the company that eventually became Evolver, with Reality Sandwich as its centerpiece. 

A couple of years later, they added Evolver.net, a hub for the growing consciousness scene, an on and offline community where people could come together and “find the others” who were also having some kind of unconventional spiritual awakening. It had its own social networking feature, complete with profiles, forums, and user blogs. 

Over time, Evolver kept growing. It produced online courses through the platform Evolver Learning Lab, presented by leading experts like John Perkins, Starhawk, Alberto Villoldo, and Itzhak Beery. It launched the Evolver Spores, a network of 50 local grassroots groups across the country. An Evolver Editions book imprint published authors like Charles Eisenstein, Chris Kilham, Graham St. John, and Jay Michaelson. There were Evolver retreats, and even an Evolver festival in Atlanta. 

Reality Sandwich became one of the most popular webzines for the scene, presenting in-depth intellectual articles by innovative thinkers, including (but not limited to): Dennis McKenna, Alex and Allyson Grey, Starhawk, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Charles Eisenstein, Stanislav Grof, The Teafaerie, Jeremy Narby, Erik Davis, Douglas Rushkoff, Joanna Harcourt-Smith, and Rupert Sheldrake. 

By 2015, Reality Sandwich reached up to 200,000 readers a month. Hundreds of live, interactive webinars spanning a vast breadth of topics were recorded and archived. A community of hundreds of thousands of people was built around the various initiatives housed under the Evolver umbrella. 

It was not without its difficulties. The company was grassroots and perpetually under-resourced. In 2012, the original team had burned out and went their separate ways. Jordan stayed on, inviting new management on board that brought along retail and business experience, one of whom eventually became the company’s CEO. This lead to the opening of The Alchemist’s Kitchen in 2016, a botanical dispensary, retail and event space in the East Village. The Alchemist’s Kitchen was the full realization of a vision that had been a part of Evolver since the beginning: a marketplace where members of the community could sell the things that they make. 

 

Reality Sandwich’s Transfer to Delic Corp

More recently, with Alchemist’s Kitchen as the focus of Evolver’s attention, Reality Sandwich fell into neglect. Jordan and I had been editing the website in our spare time. Longtime editor Steven Taylor left in 2015. At this point, even though Reality Sandwich was at its most popular, with 200,000 monthly readers, we decided to shift our attention to the new botanical dispensary we were launching. When The Alchemist’s Kitchen opened in 2016, my time was primarily devoted to the store, from managing the blog to site maintenance and social media. I was no longer being paid to manage Reality Sandwich because the site wasn’t bringing in any revenue. I had very limited bandwidth for Reality Sandwich, and the time I did carve out to maintain any regular activity was a labor of love. Even under these more challenging conditions, Reality Sandwich averaged over 60,000 regular readers, and published ten articles a month. 

Last year, the company recognized that Reality Sandwich, and everything we’d been doing through the Evolver community, was well positioned to expand and reach many more people because of the growing interest in consciousness culture. Evolver Media Productions, LLC (EMP) was set up as a subsidiary under Jordan’s direction so it could bring in finances to support a reimagining of Reality Sandwich, alongside a renewed focus on Evolver’s podcast, online learning, and event programming. 

Jordan spoke with many people about possible collaboration, including Matt Stang and Jackee Stang. The conversations with them didn’t go anywhere. Jordan mentioned to me that they were interested in creating a “Goop for psychedelics.” That certainly was not in alignment with the values and culture that made Reality Sandwich. 

Then in January 2019, Delic Corp made an offer to buy Reality Sandwich. Jordan, in an email to the Evolver CEO, made it clear that RS was a core asset of Evolver Media Productions, and not for sale. He wrote, “Reality Sandwich is a cornerstone of EMP and has been from day one… we’re not in a position to sell Reality Sandwich.” As is explained in the lawsuit that Jordan filed this summer, he was told that the Evolver CEO “did not follow up” on the deal, leading Jordan to understand that he had “abandoned the possibility of transferring Reality Sandwich to Delic.” 

However, it is now clear that the CEO went ahead unilaterally with a purchase agreement to authorize the transfer of RS. This was in violation of Evolver Holding’s bylaws and EMP’s operating agreement, which requires approval by the company board and certain shareholders. All that Jordan and I knew was that Delic Corp was still interested in a possible deal, but we never thought it would go through because EMP controlled Reality Sandwich. 

I first learned about Delic Corp’s interest in May. Since Matt Stang was an Evolver advisor, we felt that it was important to be in conversation with them, as a courtesy. When Jordan told me that they might want to speak with me to learn more about Reality Sandwich, he requested that I wait until they spoke first with him, so he could make clear that RS was not for sale. 

An Evolver employee working directly under the CEO reached out to me to facilitate a meeting with Delic Corp I agreed, but made it clear that I would not speak with them until they spoke to Jordan. 

The proposed meeting with Delic Corp never transpired.

A few weeks later, on July 19, I received a call from Jordan who discovered he had been removed as an admin from the Reality Sandwich backend. Needless to say, we were shocked. I logged into my account, and saw that I still had access. I also saw that Jackee Stang had been added as an admin. We mistakenly assumed that this was some kind of error that could be easily corrected. But the next day, I had also been removed as an admin with no explanation. I suspect I was later fired for failing to comply with Delic’s request to meet with me.

It was only after Jordan filed the lawsuit to block the transfer of Reality Sandwich without the company following the appropriate legal process that we discovered that a purchase agreement for Reality Sandwich had already been signed by the CEO. Apparently, the price offered was no cash, and 3% equity in Delic Corp, a media start-up that has never earned a dollar. 

The legality of the transfer is still in dispute. 

As an advisor for Evolver, who had received shares in the company, how could Matt Stang not have known that Jordan was Managing Director of Evolver Media Productions, and that EMP controlled Reality Sandwich? How could he have not known how ethically questionable all this was?

While preparing this article, I reached out to Delic for comment. They didn’t respond.

 

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Delic’s Reality Sandwich

The current Reality Sandwich is a commercialized shell of what came before. 

What started as a counterculture magazine, conceived during a time when psychedelics were of no interest to corporate agendas, has become the antithesis of that vision. 

Reality Sandwich’s scope was vast and kaleidoscopic; it included shamanism, non-local consciousness, alternative economics, plant-based wellness, healing arts, eco-activism, design science, mindfulness practices, the occult, psi phenomena, visionary technologies, and more. 

Even as psychedelics grew in popularity, Reality Sandwich remained a platform for thought pieces aimed towards informed and serious readers. Alongside pieces about psychedelic therapy and advancements in drug policy, were essays about the esotericist Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual teachings and the 8-circuit model of consciousness. 

Now, in the opinion of myself and others, it has been packaged as a banal, dumb-downed product for an imagined mainstream consumer.

The most immediate and glaring difference is the new aesthetic. Reality Sandwich contributor Bernardo Kastrup described it on his blog as “silly and atrocious now…a mixture of McDonald’s with SpongeBob.” It’s a visual reflection of how poorly Delic Corp understands the psychedelic community. Compare the old and new logos; the former a nod to visions one might see in ceremony, the latter a grilled cheese sandwich.


According to this Facebook post, they’re “simplifying the layout and creating a visual aesthetic that is cohesive with the ethos of Reality Sandwich: ‘take a bite out of consciousness’.” The magazine’s actual tagline had been “Expanding consciousness, bite by bite.” That’s not an ethos. And they’ve taken it so literally, it’s embarrassing. The slogan now anchors the entire aesthetic in a cutesy, non-offensive attempt at mass appeal.

Delic Corp oversimplifies the psychedelic experience in a way that is naive, which is potentially dangerous. 

They claim to provide “useful information about the world of psychedelics.” It seems Delic Corp doesn’t understand how nuanced this territory is, and how careful one should be when navigating it.

Consider “The Tradition and Science of Music During a Trip.” This introductory piece only skims the surface and seems afraid to delve too deeply into any one concept. It briefly glosses over a number of topics related to music and psychedelics (from music’s neurological effects on the brain to the icaros during ceremony) without offering anything truly thoughtful. 

At the end, there’s a guide to assembling the “perfect trippy playlist.” A sophisticated reader is not seeking out advice like “set an intention” or “choose tracks that resonate with your present emotional state.

They make trite reference to psychedelic cliches. For example, “If you’ve ever synced up Pink Floyd’s The Wall with the Wizard of Oz, you know that a psychedelic experience doesn’t always require a substance. Music can be a pretty trippy experience all on its own.” It’s as if their psychedelic experience never progressed past their parents’ basement. It reads like Tiger Beat for trippers.

Even more alarming is the piece “What is a Spirit Guide & How to Find Yours,” which claims to provide “tips and tricks to help you connect with your spirit guides,” and kicks off with a series of “Have you ever” statements reminiscent of infomercials. 

I wonder if Delic Corp has any real understanding of the lineages behind these concepts, or just think that they’re cute, new-agey ideas that can be reduced to SEO-friendly “tips and tricks”. It’s irresponsible and misleading to simplify these complex traditions in a way that’s fast and easy reading.

The worlds that open up through psychedelic spirituality are nuanced, and require sensitivity and patience. It’s necessary to put in the time to thoroughly understand what you’re working with.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with an educational platform whose purpose is to provide information that is easily absorbed by newcomers without scaring them off with heady treatises. But when you examine this new content as a reflection of a corporate invasion by people with seemingly little regard for the community they’re entering, or understanding of the material that they’re working with, their hollowness is resounding. 

Contrast the above articles with the piece “The Keeper of the Fire: Shamanic Initiation” by Itzhak Beery. The article addresses an important and timely question: “what is the role and relevancy of shamanism in our modern world, and what function must a person perform to be called a shaman?” It evinces an actual understanding of the dialogue within the psychedelic community. It provides information on the history of shamanism, valuable for someone just learning, but it is not a generalized piece that glosses through the history of shamanism. Beery is a respected modern shamanic healer and gifted teacher whose wisdom is clearly present in the story. 

Reality Sandwich built its reputation by providing content from serious writers whose authority the reader could trust, writers from various fields and professions who had the experience and research to back up their words. Its intellectual integrity made it a trusted source.

What’s also troubling about the new site is the anonymity lurking behind it. Nowhere on the site or in their newsletters do they ever actually say who they are.

There’s a lot of “we” peppered throughout the “Start Here” page and “Our Story,” making claims about what this faceless “we” believes, and nothing about who believes it. In the past, it was always clear who was behind Reality Sandwich. Now, there is no accountability for their words, and no transparency. Just a strange corporate voice. 

In a newsletter to past contributors, they greet the reader with “As the President of Delic Corp…” while never saying who that president is. They go on to say that Delic is made up of “entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and experts from a diverse mix of backgrounds and skills,” but it’s never made clear who any of these people are.



In
this interview with Delic co-founder Matt Stang from Marijuana Retail Report, he talks about branding and marketing, nationwide chains, the “world’s first cannabis Starbucks,” and the multi-billion dollar opportunity that is the booming cannabis industry. When asked about what cannabis retailers should “go for,” his response was:

“I think brands are becoming dominant, as they are in every other facet of consumer culture. I think if you’re gonna have a great shop you have to have the great brands. If you don’t carry the best brands people are gonna come in and they’re gonna leave if they don’t feel like you have the thing they’re looking for.”

While it’s flattering that Matt Stang apparently sees Reality Sandwich as a flagship brand for psychedelics, this approach is directly in opposition to everything the site has stood for since its inception.

 

Community Response

Delic Corp has already faced backlash from members of the Reality Sandwich community.

Author and former Reality Sandwich Editor-at-large Graham Hancock found the change to be “profoundly depressing.” 

Future Fossils host and longtime Reality Sandwich contributor Michael Garfield warned that “these are not the kind of people that any respectable member of the psychedelic community should want to represent us. Integrity is utmost and they’ve demonstrated from square one that they don’t have it.” 

Expanding Mind host Erik Davis commented that the new site appeared to be a “dumbed-down, pop internet flytrap for eyeballs…the defanging of Reality Sandwich’s weirdness is emblematic of the larger shift to a new set of stories about psychedelics, many of which are a lot more conventional.” 

Adam Elenbaas made an impassioned Facebook post shortly after the new website was launched, in which he said that “their purpose, it appears, is also to make Reality Sandwich more profitable and more mainstream… I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make something work, or trying to make good things more appealing to more people, but this isn’t the way to do it… not at all.” 

Longtime contributor Tamra Lucid expressed concern for the writers’ copyrights, saying:

“What happened to RS is typical of what is happening now in the businesses of cannabis and psychedelics, where increasing mainstream acceptance has attracted investors eager for profits. RS was a communal effort of many independent content creators. RS allowed us to keep the copyrights for what we wrote, unusual for a website. The new owners made changes without consulting us first, while keeping our content live, an ethical conundrum. The whole thing reminds me of gentrification, where existing local communities are displaced. It seems typical of our society’s current predicament, where many bosses seem to consider the people who work for them easily replaceable, rather than uniquely creative contributors. I also find it poignant that this happened when the people on both sides of the issue pride themselves on cultivating higher consciousness and conscientiousness.”

Psychedelics scholar Neşe Devenot, PhD, who interned at Reality Sandwich nearly a decade ago, recalled noticing a difference in Reality Sandwich’s tone when she started receiving emails with uncharacteristic language like “Hey, you still there? It’s Reality Sandwich” and “We’re back and we’re hungry!” 

As she read on, the emails gave her “alarming insight” into Delic Corp’s “mentality.”

She said: “They describe their mission as ‘redefining psychedelic culture for a mainstream audience. That means, for everyone,’ which completely ignores the extent to which many people in the psychedelic community have been explicitly marginalized from the mainstream. They reveal their profit-based motives in describing the new ‘team’ of ‘entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and experts.’”

She also observed that their newsletters, which include primers of Trump’s problems with Ukraine, seem “out of touch with the community,” and said that they appear to be “flexing” their “psychedelic credentials” by linking to past interviews with people like Rick Doblin of MAPS. She wonders “how many of these highlighted contributors know about what’s been going on at RS, and how comfortable they would be associating with Delic in the future.”

Then there’s this spectacularly revealing slip:

“And in a huge moment of unintended irony, they explain that ‘Delic is redefining ‘psychedelic’ as an alienable human right.’ They meant to say ‘inalienable,’ but they actually used a word that means ‘transferable to another’s ownership’ – a word that their ‘team’ was probably more familiar with.”

 

The Bigger Picture

With the mainstreaming of psychedelics comes what Erik Davis meant by a “new set of stories.” These narratives are primarily concerned with the benefits of psychedelics as therapeutic tools in a medical context. That’s markedly different than the weird musings of intrepid psychonauts, which has defined psychedelic culture for so long. 

Of course it’s great that more people are learning about psychedelics, and can potentially work with them to heal. But there is a larger, growing concern within the psychedelic community about how these substances are being integrated into the mainstream. The psychedelic experience is innately subversive. It deconditions one from the trance of dominant culture, challenging passive consumerism and ruthless capitalism. 

There exists a tension between organizations like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which operates within a conventional medical paradigm to work with psychedelics therapeutically, and those who view psychedelics from a more spiritual and expansive perspective, one that’s about rejecting societal norms. 

While the growing success of organizations like MAPS is a positive development, I feel that our community would be wise to protect the innately subversive side of the psychedelic experience.

I have certainly benefited from working with psychedelics to process my own trauma. However, there is more to psychedelics than healing wounds so we can function more productively amongst the status quo. These substances can help us not only heal ourselves, but also our communities, and work towards collective transformation.

To quote Terence McKenna: “It’s clearly a crisis of two things: of consciousness and conditioning. We have the technological power, the engineering skills to save our planet, to cure disease, to feed the hungry, to end war; But we lack the intellectual vision, the ability to change our minds. We must decondition ourselves from 10,000 years of bad behavior. And, it’s not easy.”

Reality Sandwich has always operated in this spirit. It was never oversimplified “useful information” about psychedelics. It was a playground for limitless exploration of ideas that challenged dominant narratives. 

Delic Corp doesn’t seem to have any idea what the spirit of the magazine was ever really about. Instead, they fixate on the idea that psychedelics are meant to medicate a widespread “mental health problem,” and that these substances can simply help us “live happier lives.” Sure, they can, but there’s a much bigger picture that Reality Sandwich once tapped into. 

The danger of mainstreaming psychedelics is that it’s taken to extremes by groups like Delic Corp, who appear to have glossed over MAPS’ research, and concluded that psychedelics will become a ubiquitous replacement for antidepressants. Do they believe psychedelics will follow at the heels of cannabis and become, as Matt Stang said, a “multi-billion dollar opportunity”? You can almost see the cartoon dollar signs flashing in the eyes of overeager investors fresh from their gated communities at Burning Man. 

There is a grand irony in the idea of a corporation expecting a community that has historically rebelled against venal capitalist agendas to simply nod along and “have a bite.” Delic Corp has done nothing to earn the trust or respect of this community. And yet, it seems they expect Reality Sandwich’s audience to trust them implicitly. Why?

Because they’ve parroted one of the most basic values of the psychedelic community, which is that “humans have the right to choose their own psychedelic experience”?

Because of claims to “reimagine the platform and create positive change” without even telling us who they are or what that positive change looks like beyond getting happy? 

Because they advertise themselves as a “Female-founded” business?

Delic Corp appears clueless about the community that has supported Reality Sandwich. They claim that Reality Sandwich is in their “care,” and that they’re “mending” a “lame duck…back to health.” But if they truly cared about doing right by Reality Sandwich, a magazine that no one can deny needed attention, they would have worked with us to preserve its vision. They would have made a clear effort to understand, respect, and engage with the community that  supported and co-created it for over a decade. 

If they had done that, they would understand that even with the rising popularity of psychedelics, that subversive, counterculture quality of this culture is crucial.

And they would never proudly declare that Reality Sandwich is “No longer a part of the counterculture; you are nurturing the new wave of mindful evolution. One bite at a time. Welcome to the mainstream.” 

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