Fungi are not the threat The Last of Us shows. they are our future

For the first few decades of my life I hated mushrooms. I thought it was disgusting to look at and eat. And then a documentary changed my life.

Mushrooms got a bit of a bad rap. Beyond the general hesitation that people might have towards the idea of ​​eating a mushroom, like the media what’s left of us, Annihilation, and other mushroom scares have sprung up in unexpected places and shapes, successfully playing with the frustrating nature they can have. But mushrooms are more than that.

In 2021, my partner and I bought digital tickets to the Indie Memphis Film Festival. We watched many movies that we love. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair and I Was A Simple Man (both on Polygon’s list of our favorite movies of 2022) and an incredibly funny documentary about a group of bus drivers doing a stage production. Foreign in your name Alien on the Stage (still waiting for the larger version of this)!

But no movie has had such an impact on me. talking mushroomMarion Neumann’s documentary on the healing powers of fungi for our world and the importance of the alliance between humans and fungi for the long-term survival of our species on this planet.

Image: Intermezzo Films SA


The documentary spends time with various people around the world whose lives revolve around mushrooms. Some are explorers, some are scientists, some are activists, and some combine these roles. One of the key characters in the movie is the matsutake mushroom, a delicacy that is extremely expensive due to its rarity in Japanese cuisine. Matsutake benefits from human involvement, growing in forests where people live together. Some say it was the first to grow in Hiroshima after the United States dropped the 1945 atomic bomb, which killed more than 100,000 people and left many more with radiation-related complications for decades.

The mycelial web is a perfect example of the wonderful mystery that is perhaps the world of fungi we are still learning about. It is a vast network of underground roots that connect fungi and other organisms. Its powers, although somewhat known to us, are still mysterious. We know that this is a broad communication network not only for fungi, but also for plants and trees (the latter can use the mycelium to warn other trees of dangers such as diseases and insects). We know it can spread nutrients and water to organisms that need it. We know that the mycelium can stretch thousands of miles (famously, the world’s largest organism is a mycelial web) and has some intelligence. But there is a lot we don’t know.

This is the kind of stuff that makes fungi an easy villain, the plant world’s cockroaches that will outlive and outlive us. It’s really hard to understand that such a vast and powerful web can exist and work in the magical ways it does, and when faced with something that’s hard to understand, an understandable urge is to fear it. And as we’ve seen over and over—tall branches that go beyond our wildest imaginations, growths where we don’t want them to grow—are good things for horror fiction.

So it makes sense to portray the mycelial web as a terrible, existential threat. what’s left of us, with a foreword by a scientist (played by John Hannah with pleasant Scottish glee) telling a horror story about how mushrooms can change our minds on television in 1978. I get it, and we’ve seen that in the literary world over the last few years. From his terrifying transformative powers Mexican Gothicfrom mushrooms to blood-red mushrooms What Moves the Dead?The fear of mushrooms grows like this… well, you know.

Image of an infected person stuck to a wall with overgrown mushrooms in The Last of Us

Photo: Liane Hentscher/HBO

Often, as what’s left of usIt is used to convey the fear of mushrooms, a broad hive mind, or to imitate parts of the human body, such as hair, or to communicate through the bodies of the dead. Pretty creepy, isn’t it? But the truth is cooler than even our wildest fantasies can concoct.

Fungi, like mushrooms, can decompose organic compounds, and a network of mycelium can remove pollutants from the environment. That’s right – fungi can literally remove chemicals from soil and water, and the process known as mycoremediation can clean environments contaminated with heavy metals, petroleum fuels, pesticides, and other pollutants.

Fungi are also one of the only organisms that can fertilize complex biomass, and through mycelium we can grow alternatives to plastic. And it just scratches the surface of their potential and our relationship with them as we seek to mend our relationship with planet Earth. Fungi have been here longer than we have – they’ve been here since the beginning of time as we know it, and they may have come from outer space (fungus spores can survive there too)! They are the experts of this planet and compared to them we are still newcomers. If we want to continue living here, we must listen to them.

With environmental disaster looming, it’s easy to assume that humans are just a problem in this world. Matsutake shows a different way – to live with the world around us and to have a better relationship with the Earth. We don’t have to be the problem here; people can and should to be a healthy part of this planet’s ecosystem.

White and beige Mushroom image from The Mushroom Speaks.

Image: Intermezzo Films SA

talking mushroom it encourages us to think not only about the role they play in our ecosystem, but also about how they can inspire us to make changes in our world. Mushrooms are constantly changing to fit the world around them. What if we approached our place here the same way?

Let’s get back to the point where mushrooms “change our minds”. What if it could do this on a societal level for the betterment of the planet and our relationship with it? What if “changing our minds” instead seemed like “changing our behaviour”, stopping our destructive practices to create a better tomorrow for us, our children and the billions of other organisms we share this planet with? Telling the worst-case version of these stories is undoubtedly engaging and fascinating, and any person’s discomfort with the mushroom-related images is completely understandable. But it’s not hard to imagine an alternative route for this narrative framework. Fortunately, among mushrooms’ many beautiful qualities, they are admirably immune to the ebb and flow of discourse, so it’s none of their business that they’re often portrayed as a threat.

It’s easy to embrace the apocalypse when it comes to the future of our climate. I tend to this. I was in a particularly vulnerable place on the subject when I saw it talking mushroom, was guarded about a movie that would touch on some of my deepest fears. Instead, I found hope for the future and people fighting for it, as well as our mushroom friends.

And that’s it from someone just starting their journey into the mushroom world. Likewise, if you’re interested in learning more about them, I highly recommend watching them. talking mushroom and reading books like Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing Mushroom at the End of the World.

As we continue to destroy our planet, the solution to a better relationship with Earth lies in a web of fungi and mycelium. By understanding them better, working with them, and being more mindful of what we put into the world and the cost of it, we can create a better tomorrow. And all thanks to mushrooms. No matter how frustrating they may be to look or think about, they are more committed to the survival of this world than you are. And there is no better ally than that.

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