Of Mushrooms and Capitalist Ruins

You really should join your local mycological society especially now that fungi are finally getting much overdue attention in the academy and popular culture. The Los Angeles Mycological Society has a book club overseen by Aaron Thompson that’s explored both the biology and our complex social relationship to fungi. The last book we read was one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins.

The book begins with the stories of matsutake pickers in the Pacific Northwest, a heterogeneous group of recent Southeast Asian immigrants, middle class Japanese Americans and white survivalists. Beginning with the pickers and middlemen, she traces the long supply chain of this extraordinarily expensive mushroom, that’s given as a gift in Japan, and shows how these cultures interact with their histories and the environment.

The strength of this book is that Tsing doesn’t shy away from complexity and contradiction. She doesn’t try to tie everything into a tidy narrative. What emerges from this story of matsutake is not a neat timeline but an assemblage, a messy collision of cultures, biology and economics. Tsing’s ethonograpic mosaic mirrors the biology of the fungal world which is itself a bundle of contractions, at times symbiotic at other times parasitic with a complexity that we’ll never be able to fully grasp.

Matsutake, it turns out, thrives in forests disturbed by human activity. Like Kat Anderson’s masterful Tending the Wild, Tsing’s book shows the mistake of considering “nature” outside the presence of human beings. The matsutake economy, it turns out, is just about the perfect story with which to consider the neo-liberal and precarious ruin we find ourselves in. Tsing says,

Without stories of progress, the world has become a terrifying place. The ruin glares at us with the horror of its abandonment. It’s not easy to know how to make a life, much less avert planetary destruction. Luckily there is still company, human and not human. we can still explore the overgrown verges of our blasted landscapes–the edges of capitalist discipline, scalability, and abandoned resource plantations. We can still catch the scent of the latent commons–and the elusive autumn aroma.

Following the matsutake’s long mycelium threads, wherever they lead us, might just be what we need to do right now.

077 Radical Mycology

peter-mccoysmall

Our guest this week is Peter McCoy. Peter is a self-taught mycologist with 15 years of accumulated study and experience, Peter is an original founder of Radical Mycology, a grassroots organization and movement that teaches the skills needed to work with mushrooms and other fungi for personal, societal, and ecological resilience. Peter is the lead cultivation expert for the Amazon Mycorenewal Project and Open Source Ecology and the primary author behind Radical Mycology, a nearly 700-page book on accessible mycology and mushroom cultivation. During the podcast we discuss:

  • What are fungi?
  • How to cultivate edible and medicinal mushrooms
  • How to establish a mushroom bed in your garden
  • Tempeh
  • Peter’s cultivation how-to videos
  • Growing mushrooms in an apartment
  • Easy to grow mushroom: King Stropharia
  • Source for spawn: Field and Forest
  • Plugs
  • Improving soil with fungi
  • Remediating soil
  • Peter’s new book Radical Mycology

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Stinkhorn NSFW!

Proof that the mind of Gaia has a crude sense of humor–something along the lines of, “Let’s find another design context for that dog reproductive appendage, only this time we’ll make it slimy and smell like carrion.” I guess you gotta do whatever it takes to get those spores around even if it means pandering to blow flies. 

Extra points to the mycologist out there who pins down the scientific name of this fly attractin’ stinkhorn mushroom. Comments!

Mushroom Porn

Funny how going to a mushroom fair can enhance your perceptiveness (and not in the way some of you are thinking!). Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have noticed these beauties in my own backyard, as they were deep under a rosemary bush.

I’m no mushroom expert, so don’t quote me on this, but I think they are common blewits, Clitocybe nuda. The spore print was a very light yellow/buff. If they are Clitocybe nuda, they are edible when cooked. I’ll just appreciate them for their beauty.

An administrative note: We’re flattered to have been the subject of a comment spamming attack all the way from Cebu City in the Philippines. Hello Cebu City! I’ve temporarily turned on comment moderation until the spamming folks get the idea that most of the visitors to this blog are probably not interested in dubious investment advisers and pharmaceutical sleep aids. Note to the spammers: ship us some durian and we’ll consider an advertising deal!