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Transcript for

Giuliana Furci on "Without fungi we wouldn't have food"


Giuliana 00:00

They power our life.  So from bread, to wine, to chocolate, to beer, to coffee, to tea, and we could go on all those foods directly use fungi in the fermentation process. I mean, fungi are fundamental to all the power systems inside food systems. They're just not visible.

Samara 00:24

Welcome to Feed, a food systems podcast presented by TABLE. I’m Samara Brock

Matthew 00:29

And I’m Matthew Kessler. This is not a typical conversation for Feed. We are still talking about food systems. And we are still talking about power. But we’re focusing on the more-than-human world. Specifically, the kingdom of Fungi. And our guide for this episode is Giuliana Furci.

Giuliana  0:44

My name is Giuliana Furci. I am the Executive Director and Foundress of the Fungi Foundation. And I'm currently in Santiago, Chile.

Samara 00:53

Giuliana Furci is a mycologist who has also published Field Guides to the Fungi of Chile. She is the Fungi expert in Chile, spending her time either studying, learning from, or protecting fungi. Her foundation works to increase fungal awareness in the public through education, citizen science and political advocacy.  The Fungi Foundation helped make Fungi a protected species under Chilean law - which is the first and only nation to include it in their environmental legislation.

Matthew 01:23

In our chat, we talk about how fungi are as diverse as the animal and plant kingdom,what role do fungi play in sustainable food systems, the contradicting lessons that you can learn from fungi, and what power do fungi have over humans and food systems?

Samara 01:37

You’ll also hear the voice of TABLE volunteer Zip Walton, who helped us prepare for this episode. They began by asking a question about the room where Giuliana was recording.

Zip  01:45

Well, I do want to know more about Giuliana’s mushroom cup.

Giuliana  01:50

Everything is really mushroom-y here. It’s 25 years of memorabilia and gifts. So it gets pretty hardcore. My son is pretty sick of it.

Matthew 02:02

Have you done any fungi clothes?

Giuliana 02:04

Loads and loads. It starts piling up. Even the belts. But it’s the socks that do it for me. I’ve got a whole series of socks.

Matthew 02:15

As always, you can leave us comments, questions, feedback and suggestions for future guests by sending us an email to We start by asking Giuliana about her origin story - how did Giuliana choose fungi, or did they in fact choose her?

Giuliana  02:32

So I came to focus on fungi when I was 19 years old, and I was looking for some animals in the forest and wanted to really just understand how foxes were moving with the logging of old growth native forest in Chile and I would see mushrooms on the way. And I wanted to know who they were and there weren't any books about them. So it was a very, very certain lightning bolt that arrived and stayed. And it's been, almost two and a half decades now that I've been dedicating my life to them, but it really was by chance. And in any rational way, I would say it's them that choose you.

Samara  03:06

Can you describe a personal experience that you had with fungi that have made you care so much about their importance, that you've spent your entire life's work working on their behalf?

Giuliana  03:17

I don't know if there's a particular experience that I could pinpoint, I would say that it's the encounter with every fungus that produces an absolute sense of plenitude, that is so overwhelming, really, that there's nothing much I can do. I've tried to do other work. But it's sort of like I can't rescind the responsibility sort of bestowed upon me by some weird force, which I hope is them. There's no other way that I could live a meaningful life if it weren't working for them. And so I think it's in every experience, and it's in every encounter. And it's in the notion of, in everyday life of all the products and encounters one has that includes them, every one of those fuels this insatiable need to work for them. Yes, it's very, very strong.

Matthew  04:11

So we wanted to establish this foundational relationship that you have with fungi and move this more towards the domain of food and agriculture. We're really excited to speak with you on this, because it might not be an obvious kind of link for some people to think of. Where does fungi fit into this world? 

Giuliana  04:28

So without fungi, we wouldn't have any food as a species. We wouldn't have food because plants can't live outside of water without fungi that live on our in their roots, and therefore there would be no terrestrial plant on Earth. If there weren't any terrestrial plants on Earth, most of the animals that are consumed wouldn't be around either. More importantly, let's say, Okay, fungi have assisted plants to live outside of water, and there are animals that are edible, we would be able to feed ourselves as a species, but we wouldn't be able to preserve food, which really has been the driver for civilization as we know it. It's the fungi that play the most fundamental role in food preservation. Yeasts, and all the ferments - they're all based on fungi. And even the sterilization of liquids for humans to be able to move over land and not die from a bacterial infection in water that's been stagnant. All those processes of sterilizing water are also based on fungi. So it's very safe to say that without Kingdom fungi, we would have no food at all, we wouldn't even exist as a species to be quite honest. 

Matthew  05:39

Can you speak a little to how fungi operate in agroecosystems, what their role is in soil, what the relationship is with the crops that are grown above the soil?

Giuliana  05:51

So when we ask about the role of fungi, we have total knowledge and knowledge that we're talking about a kingdom of organisms that are as diverse as kingdom of plants and the kingdom of animals. Therefore, inside the kingdom of fungi, you will find organisms as different as you know, lichens, mold, mushrooms, conchs, yeast, there are aquatic fungi that live in the marine systems, freshwater system. And even if we just look for example, at the difference between the fungus that might live on the roots of a plant and produce mushrooms once a year, and a fungus that maybe grows on wood, you can find species that are as different as fleas and whales, right? Both fleas and whales are animals, but they're really, really different. And the same thing happens in the kingdom of the fungi. So we can't generalize about the role of fungi in food systems. What we can say is that many fungi have very important roles. And I would probably divide them in two main areas. One is the symbiotic relationship that assists a plant and/or animal in order for them to live as we know them, so fungi that live on are in the roots of plants or inside the cells of plants that are enabling that plant to synthesize nutrients from the soil that are enabling that plant to increase the area from which water is absorbed. And then we have another role, which is the role in decomposition. So fungi that decompose and that recycle organic matter. And I would say that those two roles, symbiosis and decomposition, are the main roles that fungi play in food crop systems. The decomposition is really important because the end of one life form is the beginning of many others. So, we will find that, you know, every leaf that falls onto the floor is decomposed, ultimately to, to create soil and to enable the life of other plants and organisms that come after that. But without fungi, no plant would live outside of water. And without fungi nothing would decompose. So maybe it's easier to understand the role of fungi thinking, what would happen if they weren't there?

Zip 08:08

Giuliana, I love this idea that you mentioned that the one thing linking all the fungi within the kingdom is that they are embedded in their food. And it seems to be that one of the recurrent issues in our food systems is how detached we are, from our food, from the production, from the waste, from what's in it. And I'm just wondering if there's a way that we can become more fungal in our relationship to food and become more embedded in this relationship? And if there's anything that you think fungi can teach us about how we interact with food and food systems?

Giuliana  08:42

Yeah, it's incredible that the life of a fungus normally depends on the size or duration of its substrate, which is its food. So the limits to fungal existence are the limits to its nutrient sources, and I think fungi teach us very clearly that we are limited by our food, and that there is a limit to how much food is available for different individuals. Food is a limited resource. And I think that our notion of food as being an unlimited resource is leading to really, really scary consequences for humanity and for the planet. So I think if anything, fungi, you know, if we could learn anything from them, it would be how precious food is, how precious it is to really uptake all the nutrients and in all the coverage of the presence of that food in order to optimize nourishment. And I think it's also important to acknowledge that when there isn't enough food, then you cease to exist. You reproduce, and then you cease to exist.

Samara  09:50

So we're focusing this season on power in the food system. How do you think about power?

Giuliana  09:55

I think power should be decentralized. Decentralized and shared.

Samara  10:00

And do you think of the nonhuman world such as fungi as having power? 

Giuliana  10:05

Absolutely. I actually think of fungi being the most powerful organisms on Earth, because they hold the key of the energy flows of all living beings.

Matthew  10:16

And is there a connection there between the power of fungi and your wish for power to be decentralized?

Giuliana  10:24

So it's a really good question, Matthew. People normally think of all fungi as being organisms that are connected through mycelium, which is a very decentralized system. But Fungi are a kingdom of organisms, made up of many different types of living beings from unicellular yeasts, to mushroom forming species that have mycelium. So not all fungi have mycelium in this decentralized way. But what is common to all fungi is that they live inside their food. And therefore, they cannot be centralized. They are in the center of what sustains them. So they're always sort of a satellite organism, that is absolutely dependent on another, they are in no way self-sufficient. And that gives them the power of not being you know, a centralized power source.

Samara  11:21

Wanted to ask you your reflection on something one of our past guests said, so we were asking them about non-human power, and non-human actors' impact on the world. And their stance was that non-human actors do not have power, because they're not actually acting intentionally with foresight or a plan. What would you say to this?

Giuliana  11:44

I would say that a human is not one single species, there is one kilogram of our body weight that we will never be able to shed, and it's microorganisms - which there are fungi, bacteria and others. I think it's hard to talk about a human as just one species that's powered in one way. We are very heavily influenced by our symbiotic organisms. And, and therefore, I wouldn't even say that humans can do it by themselves.

Samara  12:13

Yeah, interesting. I mean, the way you were talking about fungi and all of its impacts, alcohol, hallucinogenics. There's so many ways that fungi reconfigure our ourselves, our beings, maybe that's wrapped up in their web.

Giuliana  12:25

You know and if one thinks about it, humans have always looked at the celestial from the terrestrial. We're always looking at the macro cosmos from the micro cosmos. And in every culture humans do that using fungi, whether it'd be through, Roman Catholics in communion with wine and bread, or whether it be Vedic cultures with Soma, which is based on Amanita muscaria. If you look carefully at how different cultures communicate to their gods from from the earth. They almost all include fungi, or are based on fungi. So I would say that, I wouldn't consider us to be doing any of that by ourselves.

Samara  13:10

And you campaigned for the Chilean government to protect fungi in national legislation, can you talk a little bit about that, and share what it taught you about power, who holds it, and how it can be shifted?

Giuliana  13:21

In the year 2010, there was a lot of talk about governments having to shift to an ecosystemic view of nature. And that meant drifting away from the notion that nature is a system that is made up of isolated components. And this was literally the language, ‘components of nature’. And what we did as a foundation really is demonstrate that what makes a system and ecosystem are the fungi. Because the fungi are the organisms that connect, the different organisms from different kingdoms between each other. So Chile was at a very poor environmental performance level, it was being evaluated by different countries, and international fora. And when the chance arose, to propose Chile as the first country to adopt this ecosystemic view of nature, the Fungi Foundation really moved in and over two years worked hard with decision makers you know, with senators, members of parliament and others, to understand what it would mean to include this kingdom into the legislation. How much it would cost for this additional requirement of including fungal baseline studies in environmental impact assessments, and where that cost would be? What that process taught me in particular is that, in order to change things, you have to do it from inside a system that you may well not be in agreement with, but you have a couple of options. One could be, you know, to be from the outside pushing for change, you know, in a very persistent way. But there's also this other way of shifting power and shifting resources for the recognition of fungi and other organisms, and that's from inside a system that has a power structure that you may not agree with. So I learned from that process that in order to change some of the conservation priorities of a country and some of the focus that's very plant and animal centric, you have to go into a power system that is not ideal.

Samara  15:23

And in terms of the impacts of that, what will be the sort of results of having them incorporated into those laws?

Giuliana  15:30

So what happened here in Chile is quite old. It's 10 years now, that fungi have been included in legislation. I would say that some of the most important results occurred in 2021 when international organizations adopted fungi in their language, so the IUCN species survival committees and some large NGOs. And what happens there is that language creates reality and by acknowledging the interconnectors of nature in language, from a top-down approach, you're ultimately triggering obligatory change that tends towards effective conservation. And the reason I say effective conservation is because you can in a habitat, in a forest, you can uproot some plants, so you can harvest the seeds and, and sow them somewhere else, and you can capture animals, and you can cage them, and you can take them somewhere, and you can reproduce them. But you can't do that with the fungi, the only way to protect them is to leave them in that habitat, in that forest, and protect that forest because they're in their food. So you'd have to move all the food for the fungi to be moved. So they are very effective conservation, quote, unquote, tool, because they oblige you to protect the habitat in which they live in to protect their food, ultimately. And so it's a high impact. And it's happening, it's happening not only in Chile, it's starting to happen in other places of the world as well.

Samara  16:54

You touched a little bit on sort of individual rights of nature versus ecosystems. And as individual rights of nature have sort of gained ground in places like New Zealand, there's been some pushback where others are saying, No, we need to think about ecosystems and relationships. What is your take on that you seem to have made the case that focusing on fungi individually might actually help us think about ecosystems? 

Giuliana  17:20

Well, I don't believe individuals exist in the first place. So there's no organism that lives without another. And I think it's a false notion that you're protecting one species, even through the rights of nature cases that have existed. Every one of those cases may have one legal subject. But that life form is an ecosystem in itself.

Matthew  17:45

We asked Giuliana how she navigates the world of politics and power to change legislation, an experience and setting that’s very different from her fieldwork in the forest.

Giuliana  17:55

So when you're in those power struggles, or conversations. In my case, I rest very assured that independent of whichever language is used to refer to an individual, the fact is, the scientific fact is that an individual cannot survive by itself. So it's really, you choose your battles, it's not worth diving into that understanding. It could actually take the whole argument backward. To explain that. It's best for some things to be implicit rather than explicit. And one of the very important implicit things is that, in the case of a tree or an elephant, they do not live by themselves, they can't.

Matthew  18:36

And how does she think society or food systems would change if humans shed their anthropocentric view of the world and put other species or ecosystems at the center. 

Giuliana  18:45

So I think, ultimately, where I have very strong philosophical discussions with others is that I really do believe that we are just another animal in the system. And if you look at animals that are closest to us, you know, molecularly so if we look at, you know, primates and others that are closely related, we see that, that, that there's not always a democratic distribution of food. And the power struggles and the power dynamics and are really intense. There's a lot of cruelty and there's a lot of, self centered. There are a lot of self centered things going on. I really like to think that we're different, but one realizes, and especially when you are in countries like, you know, like you're in Chile, or close to other countries here in South America, you realize that when things get difficult, we really just do go back to that basic animal behavior. And we can't afford to be extremely democratic with food unless there is a lot of it and more than enough for everyone. I mean, ultimately, I think the sharing and the kindness with that within a close community happens just like it does with with animals. You look after your kin, but you you do not stop eating so that the person or the animals in next territory, to give them the priority, if you're hungry, that doesn't exist in the animal world, and it doesn't exist in the human world when there's scarcity. We're just animals really. Yeah.

Matthew  20:12

That reminds me of our last theme. Just a quick question on this, in our last season, we explored local and globalized food systems and different preferences around that, and I think, you can look at nature as a place to learn and observe and you could probably land at both the kind of regional, self functioning systems as well as maybe take even a more of a Gaian theory. And I just wonder how you land in that spectrum?

Giuliana  20:38

I mean, it's interesting, because inside the animal kingdom, there are so many different examples. Yeah. And so the bees that function in one way. You have the felines that function in another, but I think, you know, looking at our closest relatives would be probably the wisest way to look at it. You can't ask a fish to fly like a bird, right? Why would we ask, you know, a primate to function like, like an insect, right? We're just not. And, you know, we can learn and we can change. But I think this is all very luxurious. I mean, you can do that when there is enough and more than enough for everybody. But in the event of scarcity, you go back to this system in which you tend to look after your own and your kin. And I am unsure.  How possible it is for that to be different in the face of scarcity. I think that our animal instinct really is a lot stronger than the possibility to reason something different that might be detrimental to our nucleus.

Matthew  21:37

Do you think then, nature shouldn't be a guide here? And that we should acknowledge that in this mode of scarcity, we turn to this behavior? Or is it somewhat inevitable that in the face of scarcity, which is and will continue to exist - then would it be inevitable to follow this path?

Giuliana  21:57

I think the latter in the face of scarcity would be inevitable to change this because it’s an animal instinct.  But most of us, many of us - not most actually - most live in a  situation of abundance. And in that situation of abundance. Nature is a wonderful teacher of how to share and how to hopefully how to distribute that to people who don't have abundance and there I think we have so much to learn. And we can learn not only from other animals, but from fungi and other organisms, but that possibility to learn to distribute or learn to choose is only possible in the face of abundance.

Samara  22:35

Do fungi compete when resources are scarce?

Giuliana  22:40

Absolutely. Absolutely. So for example, if one looks at there's a an incredible type of wood called spalted wood, right so these woods that have you know, lines and different colors, every black line that one sees in spalted wood is a frontline is where two fungi are waging a war for the nutrients for the food they're in. And, the fungi will be putting enzymes out there so that the other species doesn't advance more into the food. And they will be trying to surround the other fungus and limit how far it can get into the food. So yes, they absolutely do. 

Samara  23:18

It feels like you know, Suzanne Simard was such a radical person in this whole ecosystem. “Trees are actually cooperating, they're not fighting.” So it's really interesting to hear you say, No, fungi are competing.

Giuliana  23:32

Well, no.  I mean, I don't think, there's nothing different. We're talking about a kingdom of life. I'm talking about fungi that are living in wood. So fungi that are living in a limited food system. In the case of what Suzanne Simard has done, she is showing that in the face of unlimited photosynthesis, a tree is giving another tree nutrients through the mycelium, and the fungus is feeding as well as that happens. But photosynthesis and the production of sugars in the foliage of a tree is unlimited versus the limited amount of wood that log might have, for example, so I don't think they're different things. I think  it's opening one's mind up to understand that it's a kingdom of life. And you cannot generalize what fungi do or don't, because they're so big, just like we can't generalize about animals. You know, we can't say all animals, you know, produce eggs. No, they don't. Some produce eggs, some don't.  Some have sex, some don't. And so all these things are really important from a behavioral point of view.

Samara  24:30

So why do you think that, non human or fungi power is something that most people don't recognize or don't see.

Giuliana  24:42

I don't know if they power something that most people don't - I mean, I think they are largely unseen, because most of their life, they're invisible, literally. But they power our life. So from bread, to wine, to chocolate, to beer, to coffee to tea, and we could go on all those foods directly use fungi in the fermentation process. And every single plant that we eat is assisted by a fungus to live in every single herbivore we consume, cannot decompose the cell wall of a plant. Without the fungi in their gut. I mean, fungi are fundamental to all the power systems inside food systems. They're just not visible. And I think this is really important, you know, and especially in today. We're in a world where, you know, young people tend to think that if they don't show something, and then it's not happening, and it's not real, and it's not valuable. Fungi teach you that actually, some of the most important things in life really are invisible. What sustains life does not have to be visible at all. And it doesn't mean that they they're not sustaining life.

Samara  25:44

And so what would need to shift for people to be able to see that more clearly?

Giuliana  25:49

I think that there are some very small things that might be able to shift. I mean, the fact that people talk about plant based diets when they're eating, mushrooms or drinking kombucha and then having that lovely bread with yeast, I think it's astonishing. I mean, just just language, you know, it's really not a plant based diet, folks, you're you're having you're eating loads of fungi. So that's something that's important. I think the acknowledgement through language through knowledge is fundamental. But on the other hand, the fact that people aren't sayng it doesn't mean they're not doing it anyway. And you can't separate fungi from the survival of human life or life in you know, in any claim really. So that on one hand, you can acknowledge it if you want to understand but even if you don't acknowledge it, fungi is still doing it.

Matthew  26:35

Real quick comment, which is that perhaps people if they read The Little Prince, or Le Petit Prince, there's a quote in the book that I really love, which is “what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Giuliana  26:47

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. But it really is true. So I think the acknowledgement of fungi in their role in, food systems in certain examples of power distribution, etc. You know that acknowledgement is useful, in my view for a broader ecosystem and habitat conservation or a broader understanding of how we live, a broader understanding of how to make sure that those organisms can continue to thrive and live. Also, in my point of view, the acknowledgement of their role is important. But if the acknowledgement doesn't happen, and if people don't know about it, it doesn't cease to happen now. In terms of conservation. It may well might. And I think that fungi really present themselves as one of the last opportunities we have for Habitat Conservation. Because we know that this vision of the components of nature and of saving, not just an individual, and basing a whole system of how to plan conservation efforts and biodiversity conservation doesn't work if you're just focusing on one or two species. You need to focus on the whole ecosystem and fungi do that just by excellence. Because that's how they live, you know, that's where they are. 

Zip  28:04

Yeah, just wanted to add a reflection on what you said about the work that fungi do being invisible, but still essential resonates so much with the language around gendered labor dynamics and gender wage gap that the domestic and care labor is invisibilized and invisible, but still props up everything. That is essential. And I think that's particularly true, and becoming more evident in the food system.

Giuliana  28:27

I mean Fungi also just questioned the whole gender issue. I mean, there's a species called schizophyllum commune, which is known as the split Gill fungus that has 23,000 mating types is like, you know, what are you talking about? All you find that throughout the day is just really, you know, the example of a non binary system. And we mustn't forget that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants, and therefore we are more closely related to fungi then to plants. So, you know, you can work through that.

Matthew  29:02

So we discussed this earlier that there's a growing body of evidence that's changing our understanding of fungi, its role in forest ecology. And I wonder where we are in understanding fungi’s role in farming systems? Can you give a sense of where the research or the evidence is that is informing our either our old or shifting understandings? 

Giuliana  29:25

Yeah, I think one of the most important things is that we're understanding that the fungal communities in soil are what drive the success of many of our crops. And, I think that some movements working with soil, even the movie Kiss the Ground really just missed that whole part really, really sadly. Soil, and the mycorrhizae in the soil are what allow or do not allow for a plant to establish and to grow and to thrive. On the other hand, fungi are the organisms together with bacteria that allow for energy to be recycled. And so decay and decomposition in food systems and crop systems is fundamental. The notion that we need to, pick everything up and take it away, you know, anything, any leaf that falls any branch that falls, I think it's been proved that is a big mistake, we need to let things rot, we need to really let things rot in the place, we need to not remove the nutrients that are produced. You know, in a plot from that plot, we don't have to be artificially fertilizing everything. Nitrogen enrichment is really detrimental to those microbial communities to those fungal communities. And the other thing that we're learning is that, there are these very heavy pathogenic fungi for several crops. And what what happens there is a very clear, it's very clear that monocultures are very dangerous and fragile. And I think that what fungi teach us through the pathogenic activity is that diversification and you know, healthy mixed crops is the best way to move forward to secure food for everybody.

Matthew  31:06

And you already laid out a picture of some practices that would encourage fungi 's role in a agroecosystem, in a farming system. I wonder how you would go about or would recommend going about taking a monoculture and trying to restore the microbial life.

Giuliana  31:25

So these communities are very resilient. If they're there, and they're not well, and they're left alone, they can thrive again. I think that, it gets to a point when you've removed these organisms from the soil, there has to be a deliberate effort to sort of re-populate. And it's been the case, you know, in efforts of rewilding, there is a clear case on Easter Island, Rapa Nui and we were they wanted to reintroduce the native tree and the tree wouldn't establish because there weren't any of the mycorrhizae in the soil. And so the mycorrhizae had to be taken back to the island. And then the tree would be established and it's working. But it took a long time to suss that out. There are points of no return, but there are also really resilient species and communities that when left be can rebuild to a very healthy level again.

Samara  32:15

So you talked a little bit about your ideal food system or how things would be better if they were more  diversified. And we had sort of a more ecosystems perspective. Can you talk a little bit about what aspects of power you think are getting in the way of realizing that kind of system?

Giuliana  32:32

I definitely think that fertilizer and pesticides and fungicides, big pharma companies are the primary driver, an impediment driver of the impediment I would say without a doubt. 

Matthew 32:49

I think that is a key specific actor, I wonder if you could point to any kind of structures or dynamics that also get in the way of realizing this future.

Giuliana  33:01

So I think, you know, the fact that we need to produce large amounts, larger yields of a single crop, or larger yields of maybe different crops, but at the same time makes it really difficult to have this diversification. Because in order to transport we're looking at having a minimum amount of, potatoes, for example. And the fact that we need to store those foods for quite a while also gets in the way of having a more natural and diversified system, I would say. And, you know, going back to the slow foods will probably make it a lot easier.

Matthew  33:37

Is that a system that can scale, given the 9 billion, 10 billion people that will be inhabiting this planet?

Giuliana  33:45

I am not one to respond that I think I mean, what we're seeing is that probably not. And what we're seeing is that the carrying capacity of the planet is well, at its limit, and I would definitely question whether there should be 9 billion of us in the first place.

Matthew  34:00

Yeah, just, I was thinking earlier about the kind of restoration of old systems and there's some some interesting examples that I've come across. One being in the Midwest, in the United States, there used to be two meters plus of topsoil, prior to the intensive tillage and growing the same type of crop in the same landscape. And one of the areas that was sort of untouched because this was such a big project was cemeteries, so they actually have been able to bring back some of the native microbial organisms and use that as a bit of an inoculant, which I find really, really fascinating.

Giuliana  34:34

Fascinating, yeah. Cemeteries are incredible, because they also they normally plant a lot of different trees. So the fungal diversity is incredible

Matthew  34:38

Also when thinking of cemeteries, I think of fungi kind of conceptualizing life and death and cycling processes.

Giuliana 34:55

It's funny because for humans, human bodies, corpses, it's mainly the bacteria, fungi sort of kick in later and do less. There's a lot of bacteria, but it’s that richness, the richness of the communities that allows for the fungi to really come in and mostly associated with plants and animals that are living there.

Zip  35:15

What you describe just now about taking that soil inoculation from the cemeteries in the Midwest to try and repopulate and reestablish the soil health in the farming areas. It’s just made me think of scaling back to a more conceptual level, this divide and perceived conflict between conservation goals and agricultural goals. And Giuliana a lot of your work seems to focus towards the endpoint of conservation but you in your mind they're clearly entangled.

Giuliana  35:42

There are two types of conflicts, I think, between the conservation and the agricultural. One is where the food is scarce. And the other is where food is abundant. And I don't think they are comparable. So if you're in a system, for example, in some places in Asia or Southeast Asia. Really there's not much discussion about what existed before the rice paddies that were there. It's not relevant, what's relevant is that there be enough rice for the people who live there. And then the discussion of conservation with regards to you know, native trees and, and forest, the little guides to food is more of an issue where that food, might be, optional, or it might be a commodity, you know, a commodity for the, for the country or for the place and not really nourishment for the locals or for others. So, this is like what happens with farmed salmon, so, here in Chile, we're one of the primary producers of farmed salmon in the world, but you need to give a farm salmon, at least seven kilos of a pelagic fish that's perfectly edible to produce one kilo of salmon, who eats the farmed salmon and who eats you know, the anchovy or the jack mackerel? The poor people eat the jack mackerel. They can't afford salmon, but we give from seven to 11 kilos of jack mackerel to the salmon to produce one kilo of salmon. And you find these also in land systems and, and I think something similar when we're discussing conservation versus agricultural use of land. In the face of scarcity, things look a lot different for conservation.

Matthew  37:13

Giuliana emphasizes that everything around fungus is based on context.

Giuliana  37:17

So fungi are specific to their substrate, if we are farming corn in a place where corn is not native. There will be no native fungi that live on that corn, because corn is not from there. But that doesn't mean that you can't have cosmopolitan species of fungi being cultivated on quote unquote, waste after harvesting, you know, corn, etc. So it's an efficient way to recycle the nutrients that are left over from the primary objective of that production. But at the same time, one has to be very careful about introducing new species but I think the most important thing to understand is that fungi are specific to their substrate. Therefore, a fungus that grows on pine wood probably doesn't grow, on an apple tree, that specificity is really a characteristic about the Kingdom of fungi about organisms in the kingdom, it’s like a sourdough starter, sourdough starter is basically just a cultivation of yeast, right. But you can't do it on any substrate, you need to have the flour in there. Otherwise, it's not going to work. And if we look at button mushrooms, we're using, pasteurized dung or pasteurized soil, if we're looking at oyster mushrooms, oysters are probably the most versatile, but we're looking at pasteurized hay, or we're looking at, a lot of agricultural waste is useful for oyster mushrooms. But you can't grow a morel on that. And you can't grow a shiitake on it necessarily, and you won't be able to grow a lion's mane on it. So they're very specific. So you choose the fungus you cultivate based on the plant matter that you have available. And it's what's possible to grow. That will be your choice. So yeah, that's why I like it a lot is because of the specificity, I think it's a good way to produce more food with the same plant matter.

Matthew  39:09

I recall in leading up this conversation, we talked about starting with some background and moving towards the end towards more philosophical discussion, but I feel like we kind of got off the ground running with that. I'm a little bit more at a loss of how to wrap this up. But I was thinking, you open with a more decentralized vision of power. And we have this incredibly centralized food supply chain where there are relatively few companies who have a lot of influence over different aspects of it. And I wonder how you would go about shifting towards a more decentralized food system.  

Giuliana  39:49

I think it has to do with the concentration of wealth. I mean, it's just directly related. Just the fact that there's such a grossly for profit view of the production of food is very disgusting to me. I can't really believe it, but holding food from people who need it based on the will to become richer than you are already is pretty unacceptable in my view.

Matthew 40:19

Thank you so much for speaking with us today. Giuliana.

Giuliana  40:23

Thank you very much.

Matthew  40:30

That wraps another episode of the Feed podcast. A big thank you to Giuliana Furci for joining us and to you for listening. 

Samara  40:37

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Matthew  40:45

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Samara 40:56

TABLE is a collaboration between the University of Oxford, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Wageningen University.

Matthew  41:04

This episode was edited and mixed by Matthew Kessler and TABLE intern, Alex Häuser.  Music in this episode by Blue dot Sessions. Stay tuned for a new episode on power in a couple weeks.