Mushroom Pickings

And I serve the fairy queen, to dew her orbs upon the green, to dance our ringlets to the whistling wind- A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II Scene I

As a hobby mycology has a tendency to raise eyebrows and a wave of questions. To get those out of the way quickly:

Mushrooms?
Yep.

Really?
Really.

Why?
They look so fucking cool. Plus, free food.

You eat them? Isn’t that dangerous?
Yep.

How do you know which to eat?
By identifying them.


So do you pick magic mushrooms?

Foraging in general is not really something that you just jump into. I started picking mushrooms a few years ago thanks to a friend. Searching for them was a way for us to be outside, to somehow connect with the land. There was something incredibly satisfying about cooking up something you tracked, collected and identified – and sure there’s always a risk you might have made a mistake the results varying between a bellyache and a liver transplant – that’s part of the fun.

Naturally we weren’t the only ones who felt that way, mushroom picking has been an European tradition for thousands of years and remains strong in many countries: Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Hungary to mention a few. They are intrinsically linked with British and Gaelic culture but their consumption has continually declined. To me their rejection is symptomatic of our disconnect from our environment and where our food comes from.

My final year at University required an independent project, chosen, researched, designed entirely by me. Mushrooms were an obvious choice, specifically I wanted to deal with their rejection and convince people to eat something they found revolting.

I spoke to groups that deal with food scarcity and cook exclusively with food thrown away by supermarkets, stood in different stores speaking to people buying fresh and packaged vegetables, read about the psychology of taste, cooking books, fairy tales and songs.

That was a lot of interesting stuff.

Number one the absurd waste of packaging that happens yearly. Most fruits and vegetables already come in an au-naturale protective package but we insist in wrapping them in plastic which mostly cannot be recycled. As a nation we are also very picky about the appearance of what we eat though we aren’t the only ones: it’s estimated a third of the world’s food goes to waste, mostly because of how they look. We don’t even know how to pick vegetables as a result. Everything is shiny and pre-packaged and we just deal with a brown avocado by complaining and getting a new one. Literally, after creeping people in Sainsbury’s for two weeks by staring them as they picked their produce I saw one person carefully pick loose limes. They were Brazilian.

In short, there’s a massive disconnect between the food we eat and where it comes from, we know nothing about seasonal items and we waste food and money on completely unnecessary packaging.

In terms of my independent project it gave me two avenues: one, to change the mind of adults, who already made a decision on how they feel about eating mushrooms. Two, to influence he tastes of children at crucial stages of development so that they enjoy mushrooms. You can see the adult project here, and the child one here.