In this wide, spectacular and beautiful world that gives us oceans, the Grand Canyon, wild asparagus, sunsets, tornadoes and dark chocolate, what's up with fungus?
Really. It's a bizarre set of microorganisms ... and not-so-micro organisms.
That athlete's foot fungus you've been scratching since high school? It's a kissing cousin to the mushrooms you buy at the grocery store, even the truffle mushroom that sells for $1,200 a pound at finer restaurants.
The mold on leftovers forgotten at the back of your refrigerator (or is that only my fridge?) is related to the mold used to make cheese. So, yes, that means all pizza, even straight from the oven, is essentially moldy, and that mold is totally related to the rust that infects house plants and crops.
The mildew in your shower, basement and favorite fishing boat is a fruit dangling from the same family tree as the key ingredient of bread ... and beer. That's right, mildew and yeast are types of fungus. That, of course, makes whiskey a distilled fungus — just thought I'd throw that out there to put the creepies into everyone's day.
In fact, Adam Rogers, writing for Wired.com, reports that there's an entire town in Canada inundated with a whiskey fungus. James Scott, a scientist who specializes in the study of the fungus among us, was contracted to identify the source of a mysterious black mold coating the town of Lakeshore, Ontario, where Canadian Club whiskey is stored during its aging process.
While the fungus in whiskey is essentially killed in the distillation process, the residents of Lakeshore, and Scott, suspected the mysterious black mold was linked somehow to the aging whiskey.
What Scott discovered is that this particular black mold actually lives off the 2 percent of whiskey that evaporates into the air each year through the porous wood of the whiskey barrels. Yes, out of the 1.5 million to 5 million fungus in the world — including all the ones used to make the various alcohols — only this one is addicted to whiskey vapor.
It takes all kinds of fungus to make the world go 'round, I thought when I read that. But isn't that what we say about people?
Maybe that's what we should take away from the mighty and prolific fungi of the world: It's a metaphor for humanity.
People and cultures develop in all forms. Some are annoying like athlete's foot, some are disgusting blobs combining to take over an area we'd rather be kept pristine, some are destructive, sometimes on a large scale, and some are toxic.
But some do wonderful things for others, like the fungi that we can eat or that help make foods and beverages, the ones that keep our digestive tracts and sewer systems functioning properly and the ones that help us medically by producing antibiotics like penicillin and cephalosporin.
Maybe humanity is like a box of fungus.
(I aspire to be a truffle at http://viewnorth40.wordpress.com.)