A Fungus Future?
The world is completely full of people. Technology is developing at an exponential rate. People are demanding the newest technology and buying the newest version of everything. Items that still function perfectly well are tossed into giant landfills just so we can have the next thing and the next. There are only a finite amount of resources and materials on earth and in its land. When we use them all up, there will be nothing left. The newest products will no longer be a reality.
Not only are we running out of the materials to make our shiny new products, but we must mine their ingredients from special places across the globe. Certain products will have their building blocks shipped in from a dozen or more different countries in North America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and then be sent to China to be built, then sent back to North America to be sold. The long process leaves gasoline trails, damages wildlife, and ecosystems during both the mining and transport. Then the next year the newest model comes out and this process begins again.
Photo showing packed cargo ship and offshore drilling, from Surfline.com Camera Huntington
There is no good way to escape this consumer dilemma at this moment in time. The majority of products are only available in this way. Giving up your car to ride a horse, or growing all your own food is too much to ask for most people. Even switching entirely to solar is difficult, since solar panels are expensive to install, and the parts needed to make them follow the same global shipping trend as everything else we are so used to. Thankfully there have been some people paying attention to this wasteful cycle and working on ways to fix it.
One of the more interesting ideas has been around for a long time. An old Hungarian tradition used a special mushroom to create hats and bags. This mushroom grew on trees in the winter and was originally used as a fire starter. The mushroom is Fomes fomentarius also known as the hoof fungus. Since it looks like a cow or horse hoof the way it grows with a flat overhang on the sides of trees. Traditionally mushrooms were only used after they had slowly grown for two or three winters, as these were very durable.
Image detailing Hoof shape, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/
To this day in Hungary, particularly the village of Corond, people still harvest these mushrooms to create hats and bags. They use the same original tools that were used in the 1850’s. The mushroom must be carefully removed from the tree with a special sickle, and then skinned. Next it is boiled and becomes softer so it can be sliced layer by layer with the special sickle. The cuts must be perfect and even, as any crossover will ruin the durability of the material. These cuts are pressed out by hand and then can be formed and molded into many shapes, sewn together, and act just like leather.
These fantastic mushrooms were made into hats, bags, and sometimes decorations, throughout the last 200 years in Hungary. They still make them to this day, as you can see in the images of hats brought from the village of Szentendre. In both world wars, these mushrooms were used to make bandages, as they were easy to wrap around a wound and could soak up blood effectively. They were also known to be used as oven mitts, to protect from the hot handle of an iron pot.
Traditional Mushroom hats from Hungary, photo by Alex Havasi
Interestingly, using mushrooms in clothing and personal apparel has come to the forefront of the fashion world recently. High class brands have begun incorporating, what they call “mushroom leather” into their products, and most notably is a very fancy handbag made of mushrooms. Using the mushroom as a leather material tackles these issues of global trade and waste of resources we highlighted before. Also, unlike the Hoof fungus, these new species of mushrooms can be grown in a few weeks right at the source of production.
Hermes mushroom leather bag, photo from theguardian.com, originally sourced from Hermes.
They can be grown in the shape they will be used in, which completely removes waste from the building process. They feel like leather, look like leather, and are more durable, just like the traditional Hungarian mushrooms. While this new mushroom leather has debuted as a handbag, we have seen that they can be used as hats, bandages, oven mitts, decorations, and more. So maybe the future is fungi.