Saturday, April 1, 2017

When The Apocalypse Comes Mushrooms May Save Your Life

Although this article focuses on foraging in the woods I think the little (fun) guys would be even more satisfying if grown on the corpses of my enemies.
Or something.

We're talking apocalypse here, lifeboat ethics and all that, resource allocation, build the new city with their bones, reduce, reuse, recycle etc.

Okay, maybe I should stick with the 're' theme and re-read the post* on the medical implications of a turn to the dark side in ones sense of humor.

Anyway, after that rather disjointed (!) intro here's the headline story from Oxford American, originally published in the Spring 2013 issue and re-posted March 28:

The Day After
On the morning of December 22, 2012, the first day of the New World, a small tribe of humans gathered at the entrance to Pisgah National Forest in hopes of finding something to eat. Our destination was Catawba Falls, whose elevation was lower and warmer than nearby Asheville, North Carolina, allowing for a wider array of winter solstice pickings for the fallout shelter. Our leader was Alan Muskat, an expert at foraging for wild foods, and as we gathered in a circle Alan passed around edible samples he’d collected on recent forays into the woods, starting with a small dropper bottle containing a black fluid. While the mystery mixture made the rounds, our little clan made introductions.

There was a family of six from Florida who did some foraging in the Everglades. A pair of computer programmers who had been traveling for the past three years and had hit it big selling apps; they came to Pisgah after realizing they had no idea how to feed themselves. A father-son duo both named Pete—“people call us Pete and re-Pete”—hailed from Jackson, Wyoming. They wore Carhartts and Pete the Younger sported a neck cravat. Pete the Elder had the craggy features and bowed stance of a man who has spent his life outside on a horse. He looked just like one of the lawmen from The Outlaw Josey Wales. Alan looked him over and said, “I’m going to make you my deputy.” Even postapocalyptic foragers, it seemed, need law and order. The newly deputized Pete the Elder took a squirt from the dropper bottle and grinned. “It tastes like geology.” 

The decoction contained chaga, Alan explained, a Russian name for a fungus reputed to contain powerful anticarcinogenic properties. Even in this new era, one in two men and one in three women among us would suffer the disease at some point in our lifetime. Chaga fungus, along with turkey tail and reishi mushrooms, were among the best cures. Deputy Pete nodded gravely and took another squirt from the vial. Alan passed out dried berries—sumac (sour) and beautyberry (sweet)—then came a bag of foot-long honey locust pods, which Alan claimed is one of the most flavorful wild foods in the region. We nibbled the edges of the pods, careful not to eat the mildly toxic seeds. The taste was sweet and reminiscent of tamarind, for which Alan says it can be used as a substitute. Lastly Alan passed around a plastic container filled with cut-up bits of purplish flesh. It looked like the tropical dragon fruit, and in fact tasted like dragon fruit, except this fruit grew right up the road. It was prickly pear cactus, another of Alan’s favorite wild foods. The container went twice around the circle, our fingers staining the color of blackberries, and when the container got back to Alan all that was left of the fruit’s dark flesh was an inch of what looked like coagulated blood. Like a priest draining the chalice after mass, Alan lifted the cup with both hands and swallowed the dregs.
“Okay, troops,” he said. “Time to move.” He picked up his foraging basket and started up the trail, then hollered over his shoulder. “Deputy! Bring up the rear!” 

When it’s the end of the world as you know it, the qualities you look for in a leader begin to coalesce mainly around finding stuff to eat. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, and most of us are pretty clueless about how to eat from them, and yet eat from them we can, Alan insists, and bountifully. For the past seventeen years he has made his living selling wild foods, especially mushrooms, to Asheville’s top chefs, who pay handsomely for his discoveries. He once sold a fifty-pound chicken of the woods mushroom for $750. At one time he supplied nearly four hundred pounds of wild mushrooms a year to over thirty local chefs, but more and more he’s focused on teaching a new generation of foragers. He maintains a lively website called No Taste Like Home, featuring long, ruminative blog posts peppered with foraging advice, philosophical musings, and folksy epigrams (“Home + Land = Security,” “We revel in real eating and real-ating,” “Coming home to eat, we find what truly feeds us”). Known as the Mushroom Man, “a carnival barker for fungus,” Alan has appeared on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, The History Channel, and PBS, and is now being courted by several reality TV shows. They’re digging for drama and lurid details, though, and Alan is not sure he wants to play along. Most foragers tend to be a reclusive lot, but Alan has more Miami in him than Asheville. He drives a convertible 2002 Toyota Solara and listens to ’70s yacht-rock bands like Steely Dan and The Eagles. He occasionally DJs parties, which he did professionally for ten years before entering the foraging trade; he gives impromptu rap/breakdance performances, one of which is the popular “A Fist Full of Fungus,” which we would soon witness as a grand finale at the falls. And unlike most foragers, he doesn’t keep his knowledge close to the vest. If Alan has a basic message he wants to get across to his fellow foragers at the dawn of the New Age, it’s that the world is still our home. We are safe here. There is enough for everyone. A Cuban-American Jew who graduated from Princeton, Alan has a cultural memory that reaches back to the days when his people gathered food each morning in the wilderness of Sinai; he knows that manna can’t be hoarded.

We don’t make it very far past the trailhead because Alan is stopping every five feet and pointing out, if not actual wild foods, then the indicators of their presence at other times of the year. Like those wineberry canes, which will fruit next summer, or the poplar trees which form a symbiotic relationship with morels that will emerge in the spring, or a dead hemlock tree lying astride the creek on which can be found in the month of June a mushroom called Ganoderma tsugae, known in China as ling zhi (the mushroom of immortality) and known in American as white butt rot, but most widely known by its Japanese name reishi, a medicinal mushroom that, when brewed into a tea, packs a wallop of antioxidants and immune-boosting polysaccharids known as beta-glucans. The Japanese government has officially recognized reishi as a treatment for cancer....MUCH MORE 
Previously from Oxford American, a Little Richard story: "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven

Previously on the mushroom channel
Hawaii's Orgasm Inducing Mushrooms
Deaths Of 550,000 Confirm Which Mushrooms Are Okay To Eat
Complex Systems: How the Internet Grows, How Viruses Spread, and How Financial Bubbles Burst
"Her Royal Highness?... Magic mushrooms at Buckingham Palace"
Mushrooms, Is There Anything They Can't Do?

Possibly also of interest from MarketWatch:
How food foragers make $300 an hour digging in the dirt 

*"Warped sense of humour could be ‘sign of impending dementia’"
Following last week's "Long-winded speech could be early sign of Alzheimer's disease, says study" a "friend" sent this along.
I can't catch a freaking break this month....