I used to have a friend named Randy Armentrout. He died about 20 years ago of a brain tumor. We knew each other well and attended many a social function together.
But what you should know is that Randy was an extrovert, a big man, a bit overweight as well, a rugby player, and loud. He rode a big Harely motorcycle, wore leather, and chains and keys and generally looked like he could easily be the last man standing in big biker bar fight. He was actually quite gentle, brilliant, and had beguiling sense of humor. Here is something I saw him do many times.
We would be at some social event, and someone, male or female, would make a disparaging remark about someone famous, such as “Oh, I can’t stand Billy Joel” or “I think Jennifer Aniston is ugly,” or the like. Randy would glare, and as usually was the case, would look way down at the person.
“What did you say?” Randy would ask, clearly looking very angry, very big, and very intense as if it was only with great restraint he had not already pounded the offender through the floor. In the inevitable silence that always followed Randy would add in a very soft voice, nearly trembling with rage: “She’s my cousin.”
I watched many a person melt at that moment, a moment that Randy would let stretch on for four or five seconds and then laugh this great big belly laugh and we’d all get a chuckle from the look of relief on the face of the would-be-victim.
But one area in which Randy was not kidding was motorcycles. I own two motorcycles and 90% of my traveling is on two wheels. But my attitude is laissez-faire. However, anything other than 101 percent approval of them and the riders and the industry uncorked a tidal wave attitude out of Randy. Oddly, it has been my experience that mushroom hunters tend to be the same way.
Do not misunderstand me, I like mushrooms, all kinds, from around the world. But I don’t teach people how to forage for them. When asked why I say the threat to benefit ratio is too high. Personally, I have enough liability right now with green plants without adding the legal burden of including mushrooms. When I mention the threat factor of mushrooms that is often when I get threatened by mushroom foragers, and they’re not joking.
Most mushroom are not toxic, I am told in very angry tones. They are packed with nutrition is the next defensive statement. Mushrooms are woefully misunderstood usually follows.
Sending the defenders to authorities who say otherwise does no good. Like suggesting to Randy that loud pipes really don’t save lives, suggesting that mushrooms are less than perfect foraging food gets you lambasted… always. Intensely. In fact, I generally don’t even broach the topic any more. Indeed, I try to steer the discussion to lichen which I think has more edibility.
What I can’t understand is why that mushroom-related behavior is so consistent, decade after decade. Maybe sorting out dangerous mushrooms makes one feel as if they aren’t that bad. Maybe mushrooms really aren’t that difficult or bad. Maybe riding a motorcycle on the Turnpike in a thunderstorm is quite pleasant. (Actually I have done that for nearly 50 miles and it is decidedly not pleasant.)
I am also bothered by the fact that every year or two a very experienced, if not a multi-degreed mycologist dies from eating mushrooms. While it is nice that mushroom hunting is a self-correcting endeavor — like wearing no motorcycle helmet — that they die so often is not encouraging. The only mushroom expert I knew very well actually died in his sleep but was so irresponsible in his own life that I could never trust my life to his mushroom advice.
I think my students are safer for me not teaching about mushrooms. If they want to know I’m sure there’s a mushroom expert (with a better lawyer than mine) who will oblige.