03 Jan ART718-wild food and cultural differences
In 1927, the American journalist and banker R. Gordon Wasson married a Russian Valentina Pavlovna Guercken. For their honeymoon, the young couple went to Appalachia. In the woods, Wasson was shocked when his wife started picking mushrooms. In vain he warned her against taking her home and eating… cock. Amazed by the difference in their approach to mushrooms, the couple decided to explore this phenomenon. The result of their travels and many years of work was the book “Mushrooms, Russia and History”, in which the Wassons gathered a lot of evidence that the nations living on the edge of the North Sea are mycophobic, abhor forest mushrooms, and the rest of Europe is rather mycophilic – they love mushrooms to collect and eat (from Greek mykos – mushroom).
“My wife was a Great Russian, and like all her countrymen, she learned from her mother’s lap a solid, empirical knowledge and love of common species (mushrooms) that for us Americans is astonishing. I, of Anglo-Saxon descent, knew nothing about mushrooms. By inheritance, I ignored them all; I rejected those nasty fungal growths, parasitism, and decay,” Wasson wrote in an article for Life magazine.
“Mycophilia and mycophobia divide the Indo-Europeans into two camps. I suggest that when such characteristics testify to whole tribes or nations and have remained unchanged throughout recorded history, and especially when they differ from one person to another, we are dealing with a phenomenon whose root cause can only be discovered at the origins of history. of culture.” So what is the cause? Why do some people love picking mushrooms and others avoid them?
More than 20 species of primates are known to include mushrooms in their menus to varying degrees. Based on this, it is assumed that our relationship with them began hundreds of thousands of years ago. “It is unlikely that hominids – living in close relationship with nature and relying on everything it offered them – did not notice mushrooms growing in the close vicinity and did not check their usefulness” – writes Robert Hofrichter in the book “The Secret Life of Mushrooms”.
However, hard evidence is hard to come by. Plant cell walls are made of cellulose, which humans cannot digest, so fragments of vegetables, fruits, or cereals are excreted and can be identified in petrified feces. Meanwhile, fungal cell walls are made of chitin, just like insect shells. It is digested by the body. However, scientists managed to find evidence that our ancestors had a taste for mushrooms – they were preserved on tooth deposits. In caves in Chukotka, paintings were found depicting people with mushrooms floating above them. Some ethnologists believe that they are an expression of the toadstool cult, which has ancient roots in this area. For thousands of years, Siberian shamans drank the urine of fly agaric reindeer
to evoke a vision. Then their urine was drunk by other people, and so seven times they passed psychoactive substances to each other.
Over time, people discovered that tinder stopped bleeding and learned to make fire with Tinder. A type of fungus is also yeast that causes fermentation, to which we owe beer, wine, dairy products, and bread. “But you only have to look at the habits of people still living in the Paleolithic and Neolithic stages to see how much both edible and poisonous mushrooms were important to them. The latter is used for hunting, fishing, and criminal purposes. In many tribes, the most dangerous spore-forming mushrooms are skillfully dosed to obtain drugs, aphrodisiacs or hallucinogenic drugs used in religious practices” – writes Maguelonne Toussaint-Samst in the book “Natural and Moral History of Food”
Since mushrooms are so easily accessible (just bend down to pick them up) and their use is versatile, why not everyone uses them, and some even avoid them? – Everything depends on geographical and historical conditions. In many countries, mushrooms are a substitute for meat. This is the case, for example, in the case of Russian cuisine, which was shaped by numerous fasts. Knowledge related to the acquisition of mushrooms and its dissemination in society are also extremely important – says Dr. Magdalena Tomaszewska-Bolałek, author of books on culinary culture, and head of Food Studies at the SWPS University.
MYCOPHIES AND MYCOPHOBES
Contrasting the fungus-loving Russians with the mushroom-repulsive English, Valentina Pavlovna Wasson concluded that the latter did not suffer from outside invasions, while the Russian peasants many times had to flee from the Scythians, Huns or Tatars and hid in the forests where they were fed by mushrooms. The fact is that the Germanic countries, in the sense of the origin of the language, i.e. Germany, England and the Netherlands, do not have laws regulating the collection and trade of mushrooms (the exception is Austria related to Italy). On the other hand, Slavic countries (Poland, Russia, Belarus, Slovakia, countries of the former Yugoslavia) and Romance countries (Italy, France, Belgium, Spain) or with significant French-speaking minorities (Belgium, Switzerland) have relevant “mushroom legislation”. “This suggests that the mycophilic attitude of the population may be culturally conditioned and typical of Romance and Slavic countries” – write the Wassons.
This division is reflected not only in the cuisine, art or customs but also in the nomenclature. In mycophilic eastern Europe, Provence, and Catalonia, there are many words associated with mushrooms, and various species have many positive names. “In Eastern Europe – especially in Poland,
Baltic countries and Russia – a completely different naming tradition applies. Mushrooms, especially boletus, have always been loved in those regions. The Russian name belyj grib (white mushroom) refers to the white flesh of boletus. In the Basque language, there is the name ondo zuri (good white). White has a connection
with purity: fresh snow, the bride’s dress, angel wings, etc. The color white symbolizes innocence and virtue,’ writes Pål Karlsen in his book Biography of the Truth.
In contrast, in the mycophobic Anglo-Saxon countries and the rest of northern Europe, until recently there were only a few, general and contemptuous names for mushrooms. In English, the word mushroom is both a mushroom and a mushroom, while forest mushrooms are referred to as “toadstools”, where a toad is a toad. English poets, led by Shelley and Tennyson, associated mushrooms with decaying corpses. “Terra del Fuego is probably the only country on Earth where mushrooms are a staple food” – Charles Darwin, an Englishman, wrote in his diary during his famous voyage on the ship “Beagle”, when he made observations that gave rise to the theory of evolution.
In the 18th century, the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus pioneered modern taxonomy (a system of classifying organisms). However, he did not apply himself to mycology as he did to zoology and botany. One possible explanation is that he was a mycophobe. He did not like mushrooms, either as food or as a biological phenomenon. He simply despised them, because so much about them was unclear: “There is nothing in nature more variable than mushrooms, and with so many doubts it would be difficult to conduct research and divide into species” – wrote Linnaeus. And since he was very influential, his theories and works were not questioned. As a result, his compatriots are not interested in mushrooms, although 70 percent. Sweden is covered with forests. Eating mushrooms in this country was introduced only by King Charles XIV John from France. But still, hardly anyone collects them, and you can only buy fresh chanterelles there next to farmed oyster mushrooms and champignons.
Mycology gained the status of a serious science of fungi only at the end of the 19th century, and the kingdom of fungi was created quite recently, in 1967, by erasing them from plants. European species are already fairly well described, but in North America and Southeast Asia, researchers are just getting started. South America and Africa, on the other hand, can be considered as blanks in this regard. So far, about 100,000 have been described in the world. of fungi, and although an average of 1,700 new species are discovered each year, it is estimated that there are still about 1.5 million fungi to be discovered and studied in all climatic zones – on land, underground, underwater, on trees, in the digestive tracts of people and animals.
A DELICTION OF EMPERORS
On the tables of gourmets from southern Europe, the emperor’s fly agaric has been present for millennia, which the rulers liked. The ancient Egyptians liked and cultivated mushrooms, while the Greeks were not delighted with the advantages of mushrooms, they were rather afraid of them. They appeared at night after a storm or rain, came out of the ground, and sometimes grew in groups, creating devilish circles. The Romans, on the other hand, were mycophiles. Mushrooms were often on their tables, the favorite was common in the south of Europe, including Italy – imperial toadstool, which in the first phase of growth when it breaks through the ground, resembles an egg. It was served at the feasts of Julius Caesar and the great gourmet leader Lucullus, it was also a delicacy of Nero, who sprinkled donors with gold dust. To this day, it is eagerly eaten in southern Europe, even raw with lemon juice. In Georgia, a delicacy is the imperial fly agaric baked in a special clay pot.
An interesting example of a country that combines two traditions is Finland. People from its western part eat mainly noble varieties of mushrooms: chanterelles, and boletus. In contrast, in the eastern part, where Russian cuisine has had a greater influence on the local culinary culture, there are more varieties of mushrooms on the menu. In other words, the further east, the greater Russian influence, the greater mycophilia, the further west, and the greater Swedish influence, the greater mycophobia.
In Poland, picking mushrooms is allowed almost everywhere, and the right to use common areas is firmly entrenched. In Italy, it is not only a tradition but also a form of extreme sport. In this hot country, many mushrooms grow where it is a little cooler, that is, in the mountains. Therefore, collecting them is the third most common reason for rescue operations in Italy, next to skiing and climbing.
In North America, Indians ate mushrooms. But the descendants of white settlers eat them less willingly, preferring mushrooms or sulfur yellows called forest chickens. Most mushrooms, mainly boletes, grow on the North-West Coast, the humid climate makes it possible to pick them all year round. In Australia, colonized by the British, mushrooms are collected almost exclusively by Polish, Russian, and Slovak emigrants, and kangaroos jump between plate-sized ridges.
– Mushrooms contain many substances thanks to which we feel the umami taste – meaty, metallic. It proves that the food is rich in protein, i.e. nutritious – says Dr. Tomaszewska-Bolałek. – This flavor is highly valued in the Far East. In countries such as China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, the texture and texture of food is also very important. Mushrooms, thanks to their different consistency and structure, provide many sensory experiences during
food, the expert added. No other area in the world impresses with the richness of mushroom species like Yunnan Province in China. There you can find e.g. 200 species of tubular mushrooms, which accounts for 75 percent. world boletus exports. To regulate mushroom picking and divide the proceeds
between peasants, the authorities assigned the right to collect to individual farms and villages.
The smallest and youngest boletes are collected; later they are usually processed in the factory into canned mushrooms. Larger specimens are cut and dried on a metal grate outside, under which hot ashes are placed. They go to Europe, mainly to Italy. The favorite mushroom of the Chinese is the “yellow tubular mushroom” (Boletus roseoflavus) not found in Europe and grown by Termitomyces termites.
MUSHROOMS ATLAS SAFETY
BOROVIK VERSUS SATAN
Many edible mushrooms have toxic doubles. Theoretical preparation for their collection is necessary. In principle, tubular mushrooms are safe to eat, the exception is the devil’s boletus, which is often confused with its edible double, the king boletus (they grow at the same time and environment). According to Robert Hofrichter, the author of “The Secret Life of Mushrooms”, all of them are more or less poisonous. In support of his thesis, he cites a list of confused mushrooms, which include, among others: spring gooseberry and poison bellflower, chanterelle and orange goblet.
The giant Termitomyces titanic is also a delicacy in Zambia and Mozambique. You don’t need to collect many specimens to feed your family. One, the size of an umbrella, is enough. The governments of many African countries, as well as the WHO, are trying to convince Africans to grow and eat mushrooms to solve the problem of hunger. Thermophilic truffles have been successfully grown in South Africa since 2009. Until recently, they were the most expensive mushrooms in the world, but they are being dethroned by the inconspicuous Chinese clubfoot (Cordyceps sinensis). These poisonous ergot mushrooms are not toxic but parasitize the caterpillars of a certain species of butterfly. They attack them underground, kill them, and thrive in their dead bodies.
The occurrence of club flies is closely related to the host territory and is narrowed to the Tibetan Plateau. Known and used in Chinese medicine since time immemorial, with their antidepressant effect, beneficial effect on the immune system, and alleged usefulness in the treatment of cancer, “caterpillar mushrooms” have become a desirable ingredient in many natural medicinal preparations. Macużnik has even been hailed as Tibetan gold, but it is more expensive than this metal – a kilogram can cost up to 100,000. hole. Mushrooms bought at markets are x-rayed in stores because scammers stuff them with metal balls to make them heavier and more expensive.
The very term “mycophobia” (or more precisely, “fungophobia”) was coined in the 19th century by a distraught English mycologist who complained that as a scientist he was “mocked for his eccentricity by the upper classes and considered an idiot by the lower classes.” For the English, “mushroom” means mushroom and mushroom at the same time; all forest mushrooms are referred to as “toadstools”. The great English poets (including Tennyson and Shelley) associated mushrooms, which are the joy of our eyes in the forest, with decomposing corpses. The association of fungus and rot runs through travel reports and memories. Charles Darwin, who recorded in his journal during his five-year voyage on the Beagle the observations that gave rise to the theory of evolution when he arrived in Tierra del Fuego, noted that the natives ate mushrooms and commented: “Terra del Fuego is probably the only country on Earth where which mushrooms are a staple food. However, the strongest confirmation of the English abhorrence of wild mushrooms is an article in “The Times” from 1943. During World War II, due to the blocking of food supplies by sea by the Germans, food in England was rationed and the diet monotonous. The government and numerous social organizations conducted an educational campaign on how to deal with such a situation. She was joined by one of the mycologists who was touring the country with a series of talks that boring to disgusting dishes can be spiced up and enriched with the addition of forest mushrooms. The venerable “Times” account of one of them gave a stunning title: “Edible toadstools.” The action, of course, ended in a fiasco.
However, the Wassons’ book was published 60 years ago, so one may ask whether, in the era of Europeanization, globalization, multiculti, and fusion cuisine, the fundamental division into mycophobes and mycophiles has persisted. It turns out that it persisted, and science has hard evidence for it. In 2013, five authors published the article “Mycophilia or mycophobia. The law and guidelines on trade in forest mushrooms prove the diversity of consumer behavior in European countries”. The thesis, in a nutshell, was: in countries that like mushrooms, their trade is regulated by special laws, in hydrophobic countries this is not the case.
Scientists divided the countries of Europe (geographically – up to the Urals) into a number of circles – geographical, linguistic, and cultural – collected laws, regulations, orders, and guidelines and passed everything through the machine of multidimensional and subtle statistical analysis. And bingo! Hypothesis confirmed. It turned out that the Germanic countries (in the sense of the origin of the language), i.e. the Netherlands, England, and Germany, do not have legal acts regulating the collection and trade of mushrooms. Austria is an exception, but its dissimilarity is explained by the authors’ proximity and centuries-old political, cultural, and commercial ties with northern Italy. “In general, Germanic-speaking countries should be considered mysophobia.”
In contrast, Western European countries with mushroom legislation are Romance countries (France, Italy, Portugal, Spain) or with significant minorities speaking Romance languages (Belgium, Switzerland). Most of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe with mushroom legislation are inhabited by people speaking Slavic languages (Belarus, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, and countries of the former Yugoslavia). “This suggests – say conscientious researchers – that the mycophenolic attitude of the population may be culturally conditioned and typical of the Roman and Slavic peoples.” (https://tvn24.pl)