Will mushrooms save the world?

By Catherine Rollot

Posted today at 6:00 p.m.

Devour his own words. And make a fricassee spiced with olive oil and garlic to support its point. In June 2020, when his first book, dedicated to the hidden world of mushrooms, was released, Entangled Life (Random House), the young British botanist Merlin Sheldrake was engaged in an experiment. Grow Pleurotus ostreatus (a variety of oyster-shaped oyster mushroom) within a copy of his book, after having seeded it with spores and placed in a damp, closed bag. A month later, the Cambridge University Doctor of Ecology posted, on his Twitter account, a video of the tasting of his mushroom, nourished with ink and paper. “They were delicious, I didn’t smell any weird taste, which proves that the mushrooms completely metabolized the text. “

At 34, the young man with the first name of a magician and the appearance of a minstrel is passionate about the fungal world, that of fungi, mushrooms in vernacular. To get his proteges out of the woods, he does not shy away from any eccentricity, such as recording the bioelectric activity of his book-eating oyster mushrooms. The scientist, also a musician and brewer, has released a jazzy tune. His book, ranked among the best writings of 2020 by the Times, award-winning, quickly became a bestseller, translated in sixteen countries, including recently in France under the title The Hidden World. How mushrooms shape our world and influence our lives (First Editions, 378 pages, 20.95 euros).

“Lepista nuda”, a work named after the so-called “blue foot” mushroom, planted by Phyllis Ma in an orange.  In 2019, the New York artist embarked on a still life photography project featuring mushrooms in majesty, after visiting a mushroom farm in Brooklyn.

For Merlin Sheldrake, the humble inhabitant of undergrowth and damp recesses is nothing less than“A magician with multiple powers”. Capable of repairing our environmental damage, but also, in its spongy and filamentous wisdom, of giving us avenues for reflection on our relationship to others. In short, the fungus has it under the hat. Before him, the guru of this plant, the American mycologist Paul Stamets, had already developed the idea according to which the fungus is the new means of ecological transition. A theory exposed in particular in a TED talk titled “Six Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World”, 7 million views, but also in Fantastic Fungi, a documentary by American director Louie Schwartzberg, currently airing on Netflix.

Economical and almost inexhaustible

Long relegated to the edge of forests or the plate, sometimes despised, this organism is arousing growing interest. And has been growing everywhere for some time. Mycelium, the underground vegetative apparatus of fungi made up of a multitude of filaments, is now a serious ecological replacement solution for meat, leather, plastic, concrete, insulating materials … In fashion, Adidas, la designer Stella McCartney and even Hermès, by announcing the marketing by the end of 2021 of its first mushroom vegetable leather bag, the Victoria travel bag, make it their green banner.

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