What a rare mushroom can teach us about sustaining life on a fragile planet
Matsutake is the most valuable mushroom in the world—and a weed that grows in human-disturbed forests across the northern hemisphere. Through its ability to nurture trees, matsutake helps forests to grow in daunting places. It is also an edible delicacy in Japan, where it sometimes commands astronomical prices. In all its contradictions, matsutake offers insights into areas far beyond just mushrooms and addresses a crucial question: what manages to live in the ruins we have made?
A tale of diversity within our damaged landscapes, The Mushroom at the End of the World follows one of the strangest commodity chains of our times to explore the unexpected corners of capitalism. Here, we witness the varied and peculiar worlds of matsutake commerce: the worlds of Japanese gourmets, capitalist traders, Hmong jungle fighters, industrial forests, Yi Chinese goat herders, Finnish nature guides, and more. These companions also lead us into fungal ecologies and forest histories to better understand the promise of cohabitation in a time of massive human destruction.
By investigating one of the world's most sought-after fungi, The Mushroom at the End of the World presents an original examination into the relation between capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes, the prerequisite for continuing life on earth.
In this ethnography of the global matsutake mushroom trade, Tsing (Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection) weaves an adventurous tale about the diverse forms of "collaborative survival" that living beings both human and non-human negotiate despite the "capitalist damage" of our times. The matsutake, a delicacy in Japan, grows there and in China, Finland, and the U.S. This comprehensive and hopeful book examines the varied "assemblages" (a word used by ecologists in preference to "communities") that affect the species, from the transnational commodity chain between off-the-grid pickers in Oregon and importers in Japan, to the different trees, nematodes (roundworms), and other forms of life that are necessary for matsutake to thrive. Tsing reveals lesser-known corners of global capitalism by following foragers in three countries: Vietnamese refugees and Vietnam War vets in Oregon, rural workers in China's Yunnan province, and intergenerational pickers in Japan. Her engrossing account of intersecting cultures and nature's resilience offers a fresh perspective on modernity and progress. 29 halftones.