Michael Polan is a brilliant author, who writes in depth about the food system.
He has written five books, listed below and is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine.
In Defense of Food: An Eaters Manifesto (2008)
The Omnivores Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006),
The Botany of Desire: A Plants-Eye View of the World (2001),
A Place of My Own (1997),
Second Nature A Gardeners Education (1991).
Below is an excerpt from an The Omnivores Dilemma
MUSHROOMS ARE STILL A MYSTERY TO US
We dont know the most basic things about mushrooms.
Part of the problem is simply that fungi are very difficult to observe. What we call a mushroom is only the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger and essentially invisible organism that lives most of its life underground. The mushroom is the fruiting body of a subterranean network of microscopic hyphae, improbably long rootlike cells that thread themselves through the soil like neurons. Bunched like cables, the hyphae form webs of (still microscopic) mycelium. Mycologists cant dig up a mushroom like a plant to study its structure because its mycelium is too tiny and delicate to tease from the soil without disintegrating. To see the whole organism of which [the mushroom] is merely a component may simply be impossible. Fungi also lack the comprehensible syntax of plants, the orderly and visible chronology of seed and vegetative growth, flower, fruit, and seed again. The fungi surely have a syntax of their own, but we dont know all its rules, especially the ones that govern the creation of a mushroom, which can take three years or thirty, depending. On what? We dont really know.
Fungi, lacking chlorophyll, differ from plants in that they cant manufacture food energy from the sun. Like animals, they feed on organic matter made by plants, or by plant eaters. Most of the fungi we eat obtain their energy by one of two means: saprophytically, by decomposing dead vegetable matter, and mycorrhizally [like chanterelles and morels], by associating with the roots of living plants. Among the saprophytes, many of which can be cultivated by inoculating a suitable mass of dead organic matter (logs, manure, grain) with their spores, are the common white button mushrooms, shiitakes, cremini, Portobellos, and oyster mushrooms. Most of the choicest wild mushrooms are impossible to cultivate, or nearly so, since they need living and often very old trees in order to grow, and can take several decades to fruit. The mycelium can grow more or less indefinitely, in some cases for centuries, without necessarily fruiting. A single fungus recently found in Michigan covers an area of forty acres underground and is thought to be a few centuries old. So inoculating old oaks or pines is no guarantee of harvesting future mushrooms, at least not on a human time scale. Presumably, these fungi live and die on an arboreal time scale.
Mycorrhizal fungi have coevolved with trees, with whom theyve worked out a mutually beneficial relationship in which they trade the products of their very different metabolisms. If the special genius of plants is photosynthesis, the ability of chlorophyll to transform sunlight and water and soil minerals into carbohydrates, the special genius of fungi is the ability to break down organic molecules and minerals into simple molecules and atoms through the action of their powerful enzymes. The hyphae surround or penetrate the plants roots, providing them with a steady diet of elements in exchange for a drop of simple sugars that the plant synthesizes in its leaves. The network of hyphae vastly extends the effective reach and surface area of a plants root system, and while trees can survive without their fungal associates, they seldom thrive. It is thought that the fungi may also protect their plant hosts from bacterial and fungal diseases.
The talent of fungi for decomposing and recycling organic matter is what makes them indispensable, not only to trees but to all life on earth.
Author: Michael Pollan
Title: The Omnivores Dilemma
Visit Michaels Website http://michaelpollan.com/