Take a walk through an ancient, enchanted forest with Mushroom People for our latest It’s this one thing post
I’m not the first to note that, mushrooms—our previously mundane, even fearsome fungal neighbours—are enjoying something of a renaissance. With books like Merlin Sheldrake’s ‘Entangled Life’, Anna Tsing’s ‘The Mushroom at the End of the World’ and, at the overtly psychedelic end of the spectrum, Michael Pollan’s ‘How to Change Your Mind’ topping bestseller charts and winning esteemed scientific and literary prizes, it seems safe to say precisely this: the mushrooms are coming.
It’s no wonder then that the (notably women-fronted) team behind US cannabis mag Broccoli came out with a new magazine for 2022: the curious, wonderful, ethereal Mushroom People. (It’s worth mentioning that, since it arrived at the shop, there are at least three other magazines which mention mushrooms—including British publication The Mushroom).
Created by Stephanie Madewell, Anja Charbonneau, Jennifer James Wright and Alice May Du, Mushroom People, subtitled ‘A Magazine for Mycophiles’, first greets us with a fantastical cover by digital collage artist Adrienne Kammerer—a ‘slugs-eye-view’ of a moss-green, enchanted forest scene.
The welcomingly-thick, single-issue publication is composed of five sections: ‘What is a mushroom? What do mushrooms mean? What do mushrooms do? What do we want from mushrooms?’ and, perhaps most intriguingly, ‘What do mushrooms want?’
Beginning with a handful of advertisements for fungal paraphernalia, it’s the editor’s letter (presented gleefully in the shape of a mushroom) that welcomes us to the edge of this oddly familiar, forested landscape. While the editors ponder the questions above, each of which are explored in the content to come, some of the most immediate and endearing answers come from an interview with Madewell’s five-year-old son, Hugh, a budding mycologist, on page 18:
From Hugh’s Mycology 101, follow more in-depth, explorative pieces, including ‘Magic Mushroom: Delving into the lore of the red-capped, white-spotted Amanita muscaria’, ‘Shroom with a view: Your brain on psilocybin’, and ‘Fruition: The collective that’s making psychedelic therapy more inclusive’ to altogether unexpected features like ‘Mushroom Fashion Week: Everyone wants to look like a mushroom at the Telluride Mushroom Festival’ and an earth-hued visual piece titled ‘Exquisite bouquet’ presenting mushrooms as the 'new flowers'.
Throughout the magazine, quotes about fungi taken from popular culture are offered up as footnotes. One of the first, (a treat for a Tolkien nerd) is taken from J.R.R Tolkien’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’:
“Hobbits have a passion for mushrooms, surpassing even the greediest of likings of Big People. A fact which partly explains young Frodo’s long expeditions to the renowned fields of the Marish, and the wrath of the injured [Farmer] Maggot. On this occasion there was plenty for all, even according to hobbit standards.”
Mushrooms, as in nature, have permeated every available nook of this magazine—in fact, they even appear to escape the physical boundaries of its pages...
As Ellen Freeman writes on page 64, “Budding mycophiles often experience the mushroom effect: once you learn to go looking for mushrooms, you see them everywhere.” It’s true that, since reading (and re-reading) Mushroom People, I see mushrooms everywhere.
On a walk in London recently, I found myself kneeling down—almost uncontrollably—to inspect a cluster of pavement-dwelling fungi, holding my phone camera as close as I possibly could to capture their cracked golden caps and silver-striped stems (above).
Just days after that, I was listening to a podcast by The New York Times featuring the author Margaret Atwood and, as the interview came to a close, one of the last things she shared (during the otherwise entirely non-fungal conversation) was: “Keep your eye on the mushrooms, they may be entering your life sooner than you think.”
As an aside, the Broccoli Talk podcast recorded an episode dedicated to Mushroom People which makes for an excellent reading companion. In it, host Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey chats to Stephanie Madewell about how the issue explores ‘specimens of all kinds: the strange and familiar, beautiful and ugly, toxic and healing, ephemeral and enduring.’
They also delve into the design of the magazine, noting that where Broccoli is “sunny… full of flowers” Mushroom People is more like “a walk through a dark wood where there are gleams of light and strange brightnesses and these little unexpected clearings and openings where you come upon mossy, grassy, beauty and wonder.”
Madewell goes on to explain how, through Mushroom People, her and the team hoped to step away from the more functional view of fungi made popular by the, to paraphrase, largely “white, Boomer tech dudes” of the 90s and 00s. For her, it was more about creating a space of possibility where “people could tell the mushroom stories that they want to tell.”
Most profoundly—as explored in features like ‘Lost & Found’ (p.124) and ‘Infinite Jammies’ (p.186)—is the magazine’s ability to grapple with the darker reaches of the human experience, namely *whispers* death.
“Mushrooms exist out of death. Without mushrooms, the earth would become a terrible mess of decay,” muses Madewell. Where, certainly in the West, we still tend to largely ignore or at least distance ourselves from the idea of decomposition and death, instead, mushrooms offer a “blunt but gentle path” and a “strange comfort” as we learn that, instead of being pointless or useless, “out of death, comes the stuff of life.”
Once more, though the core subject of this niche title at once appears incredibly focused, the (mycelial) threads that grow from it are wide-reaching. What begins at first-encounter as something apparently contained grows wildly, embodying stories as fundamental as how to live in a world where everything (often feels) as if it were falling apart.
As Madewell poignantly notes, again during Broccoli Talk, we humans need “to find new ways to live in the world and mushrooms”—who not only survive, but arguably thrive in chaos—“are a potent representation of that.”
To quote Margaret Atwood once more: “Keep your eye on the mushrooms, they may be entering your life sooner than you think…”
Editor-in-chief and creative director Anja Charbonneau
Editor Stephanie Madewell
Design director Jennifer James Wright