Fungi is fashionable—but is the mushroom boom ethical?

Mushrooms growing on log
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Have you noticed an unusual number of mushroom ads on Instagram? It’s not your imagination: the global functional (non-psychedelic) mushroom market is projected to make $69.3 billion by the end of 2024. That’s the crux of Emma Orlow’s recent article in Taste, which explores the recent mushroom boom. In the article, Orlow mentions companies like North Spore and Nearby Naturals, both of which encourage customers to grow their own bright pink or yellow oyster mushrooms. The article also cites trendy products like nonalcoholic mushroom-brewed beer and chaga mushroom-based coffees. Toadstools are certainly in the spotlight—but what are the cultural implications of the mushroom moment?

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Orlow points out that, while mushrooms may be on trend as the world grapples with an ongoing health crisis, many of the Instagram-friendly products are “simply repackaging the way mushrooms have been revered for their medicinal properties for thousands of years.” For example, the mushroom-cacao drinks consumed by the Aztecs, or the ubiquity of mushrooms in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

In the article, Orlow quotes Kirsten Kirby-Shoote, an urban farmer and member of I-Collective, an Indigenous food collective. Kirby-Shoote expresses concern over companies capitalizing on the “exoticism and exploitation of Indigenous medicine,” extending to what Orlow calls “potentially disrespectful harvesting practices” that come with food trends. “Chaga in particular has very specific cultural traditions,” Kirby-Shoote told Orlow. “I consider land, water, and plants to be relatives; once you divorce them from that, you’re more comfortable calling them a resource . . . you’re not going to see an emotional connection.” As we continue to grapple with global health, ethical food production, and the capitalistic food trend cycle, mushrooms may very well stay in the spotlight. For more information, check out Orlow’s article here.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.

DISCUSSION

archaeopterixmajorus
Archaeyopterix Majorus

Seeing a lot of comments along the lines of (no offense to example, this wasn’t a nastily made point or anything, and it demonstrates what I’m talking about):

April > Lillian Stone

3/16/21 8:40am

So now it’s a problem for people to more widely benefit from medicinal uses of things because it “belongs” to one culture only?

I /think/ what the issue being raised, albeit with some unfortunate wording that’s raising ire and hackles, is that there is a food or medicinal resource in the world that has been traditionally harvested a certain way by native/older cultures than our modern global ‘Americanized’ or commercialized one. I believe the root issue being raised is — this popular new resource more and more people are becoming aware of has always been harvested a certain way, and now it is popularized its being harvested less respectfully — aside from the ‘family’ comment, when we harvest any resource there is always a sustainable way to do so, and then there’s the way we tend to harvest stuff that always gets out of control before planning for volume or sustainability in sight of only greed and need (money for the sellers, and gluttony for the consumers).

I don’t think mushrooms will be the hill to die on, but the intent of all this is obviously overall to get people to slow down a little and try to avoid that cycle not only here, in the specific example, but for all resources in the future. Just look at vanilla (global shortage), coffee (climate change is affecting supply all over the world, coupled with the gargantuan BUSINESS around the wonderful beans), cacao (endangered in places, climate), or non-food items like gold, with people ruining entire tracts of native, necessary jungle for just ounces. Especially in the case of vanilla and gold, the clearing of land for production of these resources is also further damaging the planet/environment, in addition to getting to that point means eradicating massive swathes of rainforest scrubbing our atmosphere of carbon and allowing us all to LIVE and BREATHE.

I wish humans would try harder to patiently analyze their feelings and then rationalize responses carefully, instead of knee jerk emotional reactions to stuff that if they stopped to think deeper would seems less negative or ridiculous once they get over their emotional, immediate response. We need to get to a point where we don’t ever follow the immediate gut feelings, and soon enough maybe those won’t BE our immediate reactions to someone discussing the responsible, respectful use and harvest of finite resources.

The whole PLANET is a finite resource, fellow humans.