Frightening, fun fungi
Like many fellow pop-culture dorks, I’m really enjoying watching The Last of Us, HBO’s new twist on the zombie genre. Whereas previous entries in the horror subgenre have featured zombies formed either through dead humans supernaturally reanimated or living people transformed by a virus, the zombies in The Last of Us are transformed by a fungus.
That might sound strange to those who aren’t familiar with the Cordyceps fungus. But those who watched the 2006 nature documentary series Planet Earth likely remember (and perhaps were traumatized by) the segment showing an ant infected by Cordyceps, which has its mind and body taken over by the fungus.
In The Last of Us, it’s humans, not insects, who are hideously overtaken by Cordyceps. The show’s graphic vision of a global fungal pandemic is truly horrifying. But it’s having another unintended effect on me: it’s making me really hungry.
Let me explain. While watching the series, it occurred to me that I don’t know very much about fungi at all. My experience with them basically begins and ends with eating pidpenky on Ukrainian Christmas Eve and slicing up white button mushrooms for pizza. So, I’ve been doing deep dives on YouTube, social media and Netflix, trying to educate myself on the wide world of fungi. And while this kingdom of life is often weird and creepy, it’s also incredibly diverse, and a lot of it looks positively delicious.
So, while I’m now having nightmares about horrific mushroom zombies, I’m also spending all my free time compiling recipes for yellowfoot, chanterelles and red top boletes.
Published in Volume 77, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 2, 2023)