Nina Furstenau: You’re listening to Canned Peaches. I’m Nina Mukerjee Furstenau.
We’re trekking through farms, forests and faraway kitchens exploring five ingredients.
Come with us - to discover how communities locally and globally are intertwined through food.
But over the last few years, mushrooms have rapidly increased in popularity. The so called Shroom Boom has opened the doors for people to find new communities through fungi.
[sound of Nina reading]
Nina Furstenau: Before we get into all things mushrooms, it might be helpful to get a few fungal facts straight. So, I have with me producer Lauren Hines-Acosta who reported on this episode.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Hello, happy to be here.
Nina Furstenau: Hey Lauren, so to start, what’s the difference between mushrooms and fungi?
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Well, fungi are a kingdom separate from plants and animals. And mushrooms are part of the fungi kingdom, including lichens, (like-ins) yeasts and molds. One way to think about mushrooms is that they are the fruiting body.
Nina Furstenau: What do you mean?
Lauren Hines-Acosta: So, mushrooms grow from a fungus called the mycelium. It’s this white fuzzy network of threads that grows underneath the ground. It’s like an apple tree making apples.
Nina Furstenau: That’s really interesting. We wanted to see some mushrooms firsthand, so we took a foraging trip with the Missouri state botanist Malissa Briggler back in July. She invited us to her house in New Bloomfield, Missouri. It was surrounded by a forest woodland perfect for mushrooms.
[Sounds of driveway of Malissa’s house]
[sound of radiolab walkup]
Nina Furstenau: What are we doing today?
Malissa Briggler: We're gonna go out and try to find some chanterelle mushrooms. And they're a fun mushroom to look for because they're kind of a bright color. So unlike morel mushrooms, they're kind of camouflage. And they look a little bit like all the leaf litter and everything is kind of hard to find. But chanterelles kind of pop out there a yellow.
Nina Furstenau: What do you like about fungi?
Malissa Briggler: “Oh, it's extremely interesting. I mean the variety of everything that you can learn. I think that's the main draw for me, and that they are just everywhere. So when I first started is like, ‘Oh, I probably won't find any mushrooms today.’ And you can always find mushrooms. They're everywhere. I mean if you just look around and start paying attention, and yeah.
Nina Furstenau: Taste is why humans are interested, right?
Malissa Briggler: “Yeah, yeah I always… and you can kind of tell, like, who's an optimist and who's a pessimist. Because if you, you know, if you're looking on the bright side might be I'll eat that. But then if you're looking on the negatives, I was like, Oh, that might kill you…I found that it is kind of a gateway into just learning more about fungus in general, and exploring and then it becomes less of a question of, you know, can I eat it or not? It's just Oh, what species is this?
[sound of Malissa] “We’re gonna ahead to that gate right there…” Nina says “oh this is beautiful…” Malissa says “Yeah this is my dad’s property over here…”
[sound of a gate and walking noises]
Malissa Briggler: “But let's see. So what we probably want to look at is more like kind of over here. And so with chantarelles…”
Nina Furstenau: “Oh that’s trash.”
Malissa Briggler: “Yeah. There is a game that mushroom hunters play — Is it trash or mushroom? Because sometimes you run across something you thought was a mushroom you walk all the way down this hill and find out it was just a Styrofoam cup or something like that.”
[sound of Malissa] we found a mushroom! And here’s something. We can pretend we found it. What kind of mushroom is that…
Nina Furstenau: We did find some mushrooms, after scaling a steep hill. But they weren’t edible. It was interesting, though, since they were growing off a fallen tree. But Malissa wasn’t disappointed.
Malissa Briggler: “That's my example is like you can always find mushrooms you know it might not be the one you're looking for. But there's always something to discover.”
Nina Furstenau: “There's so many connections in nature. And what I was saying earlier is that it seems like this nature and your interest in plants and other in everything out here is draws you here. And it has drawn people to nature for a long time. And people interested in mushrooms have to be involved in that. Or that they're not going to find it. Because look at how much -we've looked a little while today. It's not easy pickings. You know, you have to be patient and you have to look you have to kind of just sort of wander.”
Malissa Briggler: “Yeah, I try to tell people that too. And try to encourage people to go out and hunt mushrooms because even if you don't find what you're looking for, it's still a good way to spend your time, you know, and you do end up learning more about the wildflowers you saw or this spider that you walked into or something. It’s still”
Nina Furstenau: “kind of connects you.”
Malissa Briggler: “You’re really not disappointed with your experience. You know, I mean, I'm not in my experience. I haven't been but, you know, some people might be more on a mission. They didn't accomplish our mission. But.”
Nina Furstenau: “We were talking a little bit about how food connects community but it's also how I mean food connects us is in this case, especially maybe it's easy to see is connecting us to this larger natural world. Yeah, because you have to go get it yourself. Many times now we can get some things and groceries but I want you to”
Malissa Briggler: “In a way it’s to just disconnect you know, we're so busy and you know connected.”
Nina Furstenau: “Disconnect and connect.”
Malissa Briggler: “Disconnect to connect. Yeah, yeah.”
Nina Furstenau: It turns out mushrooms are about wandering. Spending time going through that forest and being present, looking for mushrooms was really nice.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: I mean the wandering was nice. But I did run into like three spiderwebs. AND got ticks.
*reminiscence/tease/briefly talk about the godforsaken spiders and ticks*
Nina Furstenau: Well, Lauren, it seems that doesn’t stop many people. How did the “Shroom Boom” come about anyway?
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Many foragers and mushroom growers say it really jump started when the documentary Fantastic Fungi Louie Schwartzberg came out in 2019. Then, lockdown had everyone stuck inside looking for fun and safe things to do. People began foraging outside and then sharing that knowledge online through platforms like TikTok.
Nina Furstenau: Right, and that has created many communities around mushrooms. Malissa runs the mid-Missouri chapter of the Mycological Society. She told us people come to the society with different levels of expertise.
Malissa Briggler: “I think that the people I've encountered in learning more about this too have always been so encouraging and helpful… and how impressed I am with the knowledge that is out there. It's amazing.…So some people get really specific, you know, so I'm just going to learn about this group of mushrooms. And so then they get to be kind of an expert on that to where other professionals are going to that person. And so yeah, it's it's, it's pretty neat.”
Lauren Hines-Acosta: And that creates a community of shared knowledge. I talked more about that and other groups that have formed around foraging with Hasmik Djoulakian and Patricia Kaishian (Kay-she-en). Hasmik is a graduate student at Berkeley and Patricia is the curator of mycology at the New York State Museum. The two wrote a paper in 2020 saying mycology is a queer discipline. Let’s listen in to a conversation I had with them back in July.
Hasmik Djoulkian: “I think, not always necessarily, but I think sometimes like the structure of those spaces, kind of invites, like a nonhierarchical space for people to enter into…I think that that always feels really special.”
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Okay, wonderful. Alrighty, well, so I read your paper. And I thought it was super interesting. And I kind of started on this path of like mushrooms and queer culture, because my colleague and I were talking about just how mushrooms already appears very much in the queer community, and like cottage core, very Frog and Toad vibes... do you think maybe that paper kind of helped jump start that or?
Patricia Ononiwu Kaishian: “It's like, kind of amazing to see that people were like, taking up interest in the natural world and at a scale that I had never seen before. And foraging was a big entry point for some people into mushrooms. So I'm definitely not saying that we caused that because that was like a global phenomenon. But I do think that we sort of put into the ether the explicitness of this connection to queerness.”
Nina Furstenau: So, what’s the connection between the LGBTQ+ community and fungi?
Lauren Hines-Acosta: It seems mycology and the LGBTQ+ experience have many parallels. One, fungi live outside of a binary. In this case, the plant and animal kingdoms. Two, the western world has rejected fungi because it’s seen as deviant and dangerous. Three, fungi often don’t have a binary mechanism for sex or reproduction. Some reproduce asexually without a mating partner. There are even 23,000 different genetic combinations at the chromosomal level. Fungi embody many different types of reproductive options and do not have a strictly binary method.
Nina Furstenau: Oh wow.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Yes, wow. And on top of that, over 10% of mycologists identified as LGBTQ+ according to the Mycological Society of America’s 2016 survey. That was about three times the national reported average at the time.
Nina Furstenau: And more has come out of this shroom boom. We’ve seen a shift to plant-based diets, mushroom growing kits and a new industry. Even though we were unsuccessful finding edible mushrooms, chef JT Gelineau had some chantarelles for us. He was growing his own 90 miles away near St. Louis at his mushroom cultivation facility called, Mushrooms Naturally.
[sound of radiolab walk up]
Nina Furstenau: So the first time you did this, did you have to trust in – have a lot of trust in that this could be something edible?
JT Gelineau: It's the first time I actually grew a successful mushroom was pretty exciting, because it was six to eight weeks of doing all this stuff in this being very new and not knowing what to look for… it is such a new industry that besides you know, internet learning, and then a few books from a few, you know, writers and educators. It's been so unknown. You know, 10 years ago, 12 years ago, when I started doing this, I couldn't look up reference pictures, you know, real quick to make sure that things were okay. But then, you know, when my first Kotaki mushroom grew, I was excited and I couldn't be happier.
Nina Furstenau: So you said within the last nine years you’ve seen an uptick. Can you give me an example?”
JT Gelineau: So for Lion's Mane mushroom, you know, and a lot of it has to do with some of the documentaries that have come out so Fantastic Fungi was a huge one, you know, and it happened to come out during a pandemic when people were watching a lot of TV and just kind of educating….So the fact that people have never known about them is crazy, you know, but me as a as a cultivator and a chef, I've known about these forever. We had to stop growing them because we had so many chefs not want to use them. And this was five or six years ago. So we stopped, and it took the general public's demand and asking for are these mushrooms that we started growing them again.
Nina Furstenau: So, the community of people who grow mushrooms - Do you have any characteristics of people who grow mushrooms?
JT Gelineau: Yeah, you know, a lot of the mushroom growers that I know locally are all people that were kind of self-taught into science or gardening in some aspects. And it's just kind of grown into a deeper dive and a lot of us started growing all at the same time because of different reasons. But Paul Stamets came out with a couple books, there were a couple of websites in the early 2000s. And it really turned it a lot of people on to like, the practicality and the actuality of being able to grow at home. So this is more or less like, the information being available.
[sound of walking into cooler] “we can peek in here real quick that this is just kind of our walk in cooler a- wow!”
Lauren Hines-Acosta: So, Nina, what was that like seeing his whole mushroom facility? What did he show you?
Nina Furstenau: It was X! There was one room with a 12-foot ceiling that had these bags of sawdust and fuzzy white mycelium stacked to the ceiling. He said that room can grow several thousand pounds of mushrooms.
JT Gelineau: Not one person in this room would be standing here if it weren't for fungi and the fact that people are just now kind of realizing what a background player mushrooms have been in their lives…
JT Gelineau: Mushrooms have been connecting us for a long time and so many cultures have grown up through ignorance and micro phobia that now the general public is becoming aware that a lot of these things are just old mentalities and they're getting all over these stereotypes of mushrooms being a bad thing to stay away from just to avoid for safety. And they're really realizing all of the things that they can do.
JT Gelineau: The mushroom boom really is so broad and it's so person related. There's not an age of person, there's not a type of person that people want to change their health people want to change their, their plastic usage, people want to change all kinds of things for the better. And mushrooms are just giving people a venue for a vehicle for it.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Nina, please tell me you got to eat some mushrooms.
Nina Furstenau: Oh yes, don’t worry. JT walked us through a mushroom tasting. He also made a summer sweet potato hash with locally found chantarelles.
[sound of pan sizzling]
Nina Furstenau: “I see that you just put some olive oil, no?”
JT Gelineau: “This is our grapeseed oil.”
Nina Furstenau: “Grapeseed oil.”
JT Gelineau: “Yeah, so we're gonna heat that up in our cast iron will brown up our sweet potatoes, we'll pull those out. And then we'll give our chanterelle mushrooms a good hard sear to really kind of carmelize them almost like you would have bacon or like a you know, a meat based product for the base of the hash. But again, all vegan and then we're going to put some of our butternut squash and Kotaki miso paste that we make and finish it with some of our Shio.”
Nina Furstenau: “That sounds fantastic.”
Lauren Hines-Acosta: JT had a really nice set up for us.
Nina Furstenau: Yeah, he gave us a whole spread of different mushrooms. I think it was from the mildest flavor to mushrooms with the most umami — or savory flavor.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: I’d say hen of the woods was my favorite. Had the texture of crab.
Nina Fursteanu: Well, we’re going to listen to how much I loved trying them all.
[sound of sizzle of sweet potatoes cooking]
[sound of cutting squash]
[sound of trying all the mushrooms] “If you guys want to start trying all of your mushrooms you know now that you've got the progression, you can really start feeling the difference in flavors and textures as you work your way through them….”
Nina - “Second one. Mmm. Oh my. Subtle difference. I did them in the order from mild to stronger. Just how he cooked them. Mmm. The textures are different. Mmmm.”
Lauren Hines-Acosta: So, what flavors got that response out of you?
Nina Furstenau [answers (taste/smell/touch)]
Lauren Hines-Acosta: I’ve always like mushrooms, but I understand why some people might find it gross. To those of you who don’t love eating mushrooms or know someone who doesn’t, JT might have something to say about that.
JT Gelineau: “It just people to try these different varieties, and to get the flavor profiles and to get over whatever thing they don't like mushrooms for in their head, you know, whether it be a juvenile memory, or, you know, the soft, sloppy mushroom that they just never liked, or, you know, mom just never really cooked them, right?”
Nina Furstenau: “I'm familiar.”
JT Gelineau: “It's just trying it the right way. And I get, I get 75 year old men that grew up in the country that you would never ever convince in your life to try these things. And they come back the next week. And they're like, that's it, I want more.”
Nina Furstenau: “That's really, really fun.”
Nina Furstenau: So, to review, the shroom boom has brought mushrooms out of the stinky scary spotlight and into something people can build communities around. There is a whole new industry around it and people are expanding their palate.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Yes, mushrooms are certainly getting their fair share of love. Hope Flanagan, or Noodinesiikwe (Nooden-ancykway), is even seeing elders in the Ojibwe community starting to use mushrooms differently. She’s a Seneca elder that teaches about wild plant gathering for Dream of Wild Health in Minnesota. I talked with Hope about how mushrooms are now also being used as a food source instead of only as medicine in her native spaces.
Hope Flanagan: For one thing, there's less and less access to meats. As there's less and less forests, and then the forests are changing with climate change, there's less and less proteins available for old proteins that you will depend on. So of course, you're going to look at what are some other protein sources…. As this Earth is changing with climate change, we're gonna have to get more and more aware of what our actual foods and how to use them, according to what plants are willing to show up and put up with our human frailties. In the old stories. The humans are the last ones here. So we're the silly babies that don't know how to act. And our job is to listen to our elders that have been here before us, Mother Earth, the Sun, the creator, all the spirits, the plants.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: So what are some maybe foraging practices that go against that, or if there's not really a money incentive involved?
Hope Flanagan: Count 13 and pick one. That's always never do more than that count 13 and pick one. Always give before you take. So for us, it's tobacco, but it could be food. And don't be like, Oh, gee, I don't want the end of this old hot dog, I'm gonna put that out. Don't do that. You give them the best part, the first part. So when you start thinking like that, when you start valuing something, we started thinking, oh my gosh, I really, really want this. But I'm gonna sacrifice sacrifices because I'm being given a gift from Mother Earth. From this living being this fungus, this mushroom, the tree had to die to let the mycelium live. And now they're here. And here's this fruiting body, which is just going to go back into the mycelium, you know. So all you got to think about the whole system.
Nina Furstenau: Like Malissa said, when you go out looking for mushrooms, you might not find what you’re looking for. But you might find something more.
Hope Flanagan: I don't think we've got a whole lot of wiggle room to spend a lot of time not being present… we're going to need each other for spiritual support, for growing food, for cleaning water, whatever it is, to go back to tribal thinking about like, I'm not the winner here. It's we. This is a we experience, not an I experience.
Canned Peaches is produced by Lauren Hines-Acosta, Janet Saidi, and me, Nina Mukerjee Furstenau, with production help from Yasha Mikolojczak and Alex Cox.
The series is written by Lauren Hines-Acosta and Janet Saidi.
Our editor is Aaron Hay.
Thanks to Lauren Hines-Acosta for co-hosting this episode with me.
Canned Peaches is a project of the Missouri News Network at the Missouri School of Journalism, Vox Magazine, Harvest Public Media. And KBIA.
Our engagement and outreach team is led by Jessica Vaughn Martin, Kassidy Arena, and Professor Kara Edgerson.
Special thanks to Harvest Public Media’s Maria Altman, Vox Magazine’s Heather Isherwood, and the Missouri School of Journalism’s Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies Professor Kathy Kiely.
Canned Peaches is produced with support from Missouri Humanities and the Missouri Humanities Trust Fund.
On Canned Peaches we’re exploring how we’re all connected through the food on our plates.
For more episodes, go to KBIA.org.
And you can see more stories from Canned Peaches at VoxMagazine.com.
I’m Nina Mukerjee Furstenau. Thanks for listening. See you next time.