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Now, bear with me because I know very little of mycology. I just know that mushrooms taste good, and that fungi is very complex with lots of different uses.


For my fantasy story, I want a society that knows the ins and outs of mycology. They grow food from mushrooms, make their medicines, from the them, and know which ones not to eat. I have said many times, if a society or civilization had the ability to do something that would benefit them, they would do it. So the question here is, how to make mushrooms a better and more reliable food source than wheat or other common crops used in Europe during this time?

I'm open to making up a new kind of mushroom, but within reason. I'm mainly focusing on how to have mushroom growers common in in one area, or small kingdom. That means I can't have some super awesome mushroom outcompeting traditional crops everywhere.

I understand that livestock mainly eat plants, so how do I make this a minimal factor? What setting would make it reasonable to have a medieval society whose main crop is mushrooms? How can I make it more effective than other crops?

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  • $\begingroup$ I kind of struggled when writing this question, so I'm completely open to editing. Also, I'm not quite sure what tags to use. $\endgroup$ Feb 8, 2016 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ A recent tidbit I read within the last 5 years is that fungi are more closely related to animals than plants are. It is part of what makes finding drugs to fight fungal infections so difficult. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Feb 8, 2016 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim2B I found that out in a question of mine, about what types of "plants" would be most likely to develop sentience. Of course, fungi aren't really plants, but I included them in my question anyway. $\endgroup$ Feb 8, 2016 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ I want to offer my favorite advice: play Dwarf Fortress ;) They use mushrooms (plump helmets) for eating, make cookies out of them and brew some booze of of it. And all they need is some kind of soil... but no light. $\endgroup$ Feb 8, 2016 at 6:36
  • $\begingroup$ The Drow of Forgotten Realms cultivate giant mushrooms, since they live in the Underdark - enormous caves where the sun don't shine. forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/… $\endgroup$ Feb 8, 2016 at 12:41

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Fungi are not autotrophs like plants. They don't just grow from nothing; they need something to eat themselves.

Perhaps your character’s land is not suitable for growing efficient human-consumable crops, or they have not domesticated things like grains.

Instead, they have rapidly growing plants that are inedible, like trees or fast-growing bamboo. That is domesticated as a feedstock for the fungi, which is essentially a way to transform the inedible wood into digestible food.

In fact, leafcutter ants harvest leaves but can't digest them, using fungus as a food source. They cultivate the fungi but they gather the leafs to feed them. You could have small communities gather wild inetable fast-growing plants and cultivate fungi, in exactly the same way.

why not other (direct) crops

Just as humans have grazed livestock on wild upen ranges, your characters can apply their direct efforts to the thing they eat and just use natural sources for food for that. But the next step, as populations get larger and populations move to new areas that don’t have such readily available fodder, is to apply efforts to cultivate the fodder as well. So now humans grow domesticated crops for staw to feed livestock, your characters can move toward cultivating fodder for the fungi. But originally they started by taking care of the fungi only.

The lack of cerial grains, fruit, etc. could simply be that there wern’t any available for domestication there. Or, the climate or geology is not good for such farming.

why not animals

Animals like ruminants use the same principle: they can eat plants that we can't, such as abundant prariegrass.

In fact, such animals probably go with the folage. So why not eat animals? The simple answer is that no suitable domesticatable animal was available. Sure, with the abundant primary fodder occurring naturally, we suppose that the rest of the food chain would follow. But maybe they are absent for other reasons, like being extinct from the area due to climactic events (the grass holed up as seeds for a prolonged drought; the animals dependant on the grass died; the grass came back with the rain), or the plant life developed a toxin or inetable structure recently and animals have yet to exploit it. I like turning the problem around: lack of large animals is why humans were able to settle there, while previous megafauna kept that niche closed to us.

Or, what animals exist there are simply not good for domestication. Now they are pests, not livestock.

what do you mean why not animals

We are looking from our own culture. They might look at us and say “why do they raise cattle instead of fungi?” The efficiency of conversion of feedstock to human-etable food is presumably much higher for fungi! So, it has real advantages.

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    $\begingroup$ Ants are definitely the correct model to look at. As for reason fungi replaced other crops and animals: Maybe they got sick of neighbours looting or burning their crops except the mushrooms cultivated under fortified locations. Then it might become religious or political imperative to cultivate mushrooms. Once eating other things comes rare enough people might develop allergies to common food crops or religious taboos against eating meat. $\endgroup$ Jul 6, 2016 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ It might also be more energetically efficient to raise fungi rather than cattle on the same fodder. Or there were no good animals to domesticate—like the book Guns, Germs, and Steel points out as one difference between peoples on different contenents. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 6, 2016 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe they'd say we're nuts since cattle have 1/5 the yeild of edible protein compared to portabella(numbers made up for example). Instead of replaced realize that we have a biased point of view. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 6, 2016 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ Definitely more efficient than cattle. Cattle and livestock in general are horribly inefficient. Heaps of energy and water wasted even if you assumed 100% edible. So we could get rid of meat simply by assuming high enough population density? $\endgroup$ Jul 6, 2016 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ the animals we farm are not actually fed with food we don't eat , the only reason farming ever started is because animals do actually eat our same food. $\endgroup$
    – user22398
    Jul 6, 2016 at 17:24

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