Friday, April 8, 2016

Dirty Mycophilia and Crop Dusting

What to read if you have Mycophobia? Mycophilia; Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms.(2011) By Eugenia Bone. I learned a lot from this book. Most importantly, I learned that I am best conquering my fear when I focus on a different one.

Also, there are a lot of scary proverbs about them worth noting! “No Mushroom is poisonous until you eat it” (6); “Any mushroom is edible once” (20); “There are old mushroom eaters and bold mushroom eaters, but no old, bold mushroom eaters” (34).

Then there are piece of information that *aren’t* sayings, but should probably have one to catch the idea: “Fungi love to grow on cotton shirts but are less likely to grow on a silk blouse” (61). Please, Victoria’s Secret, take all of my money now. Take all the cotton. Take it and burn it.  

But then, in this big beautiful book, full of all the information, I stumbling upon this footnote. And it breaks my brain, and then my spirit, in that order. I stumble and I couldn’t get up:

              “*In 2010, Taliban insurgents and angry Afghan farmers accused the United States of dusting their poppy crops with F. oxysporum, affecting up to 50 percent of their opium crop. A program (funded by the USA) within the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime did seek to develop F. oxysporum to battle pot and poppy fields, but the project was terminated in 2002 without ever being used, the result of warnings from scientists that the fungus could mutate into hardier strains that could attack nontargeted crops. The poppy crop failure was likely the result of a natural fungal blight, possibly Macrosporium papverus, a type of root rot.” (87)

Ok, this isn't a bio-terrorism lab--it is from the botanical gardens in Atlanta. But scary image of growing maybe-fungi-in-containers, right?

So how would the fungi do the thing to take down a whole field? Well, “”Imagine you are lying on a giant steak. Your stomach enzymes seep out to predigest the steak, and then you absorb the steak through your skin” (49). This is how mushrooms get their nutrients. We have the disturbing video from the Planet Earth Series, “where life is built on decay.”

In the space of my brain devoted to food security and land rights, things still are not quite okay. Biological warfare scares the fungi out of me. I honestly cannot wrap my head around the above quoted idea, even though I know that it happens. All the time.

From time immemorial, people have attacked enemies’ crops. I know this. But if there is any unfair fight, it is fighting with fungus. Take other things that should have sayings, but aren’t: “mycorrhizal fungi function as a giant communications network between multiple trees in a forrest…. “nature’s internet”” (71). I’m glad we haven’t penetrated that underground cloud….

Or, “the cell walls of fungi are made of chitin—the same substance as crab shells and squid beaks—which doesn’t exist in plants” (42). They’re one step away (using my bad-science-logic) from having exoskeletons! I jest, but in seriousness, I do not like, and do not know how to proceed.
Mushrooms and scallops. Perhaps "Chitin" is why it works? IDK....

I do not wish to come off as a mycoalarmist. After all, “saprophytic fungi have been key to the civilizing process, if you consider good wine as an indicator of civilization” (81). Yes, that’s a fairly Eurocentric worldview, but damnit I like wine. And we need the myco for wine.

So in conclusion, in attempting to learn more about mushrooms I got sad about bioterrorism and scared about non-silk underwear. I still like porcinis, I think…. But those are 90 % water, and we clock in at about 80 %. Even they are better at being us than we are at being water. Hell thy mushrooms, indeed. 

1 comment:

  1. Seems like mushrooms can help with depression, that do anything for your myco[phobia|philia]?

    (though to be fair, it's the psilocybin, not the mushroom itself, and I think the ketamine metabolite isolated earlier this month is probably more promising on the anti-depression front, though, without the fun)

    And apropos of nothing really here's this smbc comic that has something to do with fungus.

    That mushroom and scallops dish looks delicious, btw.