They stood like enchanted children of the sun, their liliput golden bodies grouped under the beechwood shade. Emblems of a modest beauty, representatives of immortality— their seasonal stems and caps of tangerine. They rose with a warm flesh tone, situated at the center of death and decay.
They are the reason for regeneration.
I bent low, and identified the mushrooms as chanterelles—“ edibility, excellent,” my book read. I pulled out my knife, and cut the stem just below the surface of the soil, making sure not to draw out the entire body of the mushroom—a wild foraging ethic that allows the mushroom to bloom again. My bag was brimmed with various edibles—two large saffron milk caps, several wood blewits, and various kinds of boletes. I had spent the better half of the afternoon gathering mushrooms from the woods for the evening’ s meal, collecting from the limited selection provided each season.
I haven’ t foraged for food all that much. I have picked berries before, and perhaps found an apple or two growing in the wild, but have typically regarded the marketplace as the source of all food. I had accepted the seeming reality that food was a human good, cultivated entirely by the handiwork of man. In fact, I saw every product upon every store shelf as a product of human labor, rather than as a product of the land’ s labor. Land was not figured into the equation of supply and demand. The exchange of supply and demand began and ended within the marketplace walls; the package and label and price tag, these were the justified values of everyday needs.
Traditional understanding of economy is this: the marketplace is the entire scene of the supply and demand. Consumers buy products as the need—the continuity of demand— while the shelves are restocked with more of the same products—the continuity of supply. Whatever products are not demanded enough are eventually filtered out of the exchange, taken off the market altogether. Thus the market should naturally develop itself to provide the highest quality of goods at the best prices, or else they won’ t be demanded, and will then no longer exist. “ The market will sort itself out,” is the claim.
And it is by the labor of man that continues the exchange cycle. Perhaps we read that the product was made in China or Indonesia, or grown in Peru, but again, this is as far as the marketplace allows us to see. Our thought rarely travels beyond what that label reads—“ a product of Peru,” that is all. It fails to recognize not just the human labor that brings the product into its package and label, but primarily what makes that human labor possible.
It fails to recognize not just the human labor that brings the product into its package and label, but primarily what makes that human labor possible.
Behind every orderly exchange of supply and demand is the land that supplies the supply. Thus, every economy is a land-based economy, and is therefore not an inexhaustible exchange. There are now limits to what the source of supply (the land) may provide. The market won’ t just “ sort itself out,” because the land’ s own shelves are not restocked as quickly as the marketplace trains us to believe. I cut just the lower part of the mushroom stem because I knew it would “ restock” its supply more quickly, but I didn’ t convince myself that the supply of that mushroom was endless. It needs to regrow to do so—this takes time and labor by the land, which is to say that the economy is not land-based so much as it is labor-based. Its regeneration is the groundwork of economy.
Mushrooms are symbolic of such regeneration, transforming the death and decay of the woods back into nourishment for new growth. But there are countless examples of nature’ s immortal economy, none of which have an endless supply without allowance for regeneration. The wild foraging not only pulled back the curtain of the marketplace, revealing the land and the labor of the land to be the foundation of every product’ s “ excellent edibility,” it pulled back the marketplace altogether. It got entirely rid of the package and label and price tag, and exposed the true source of supply.
What all this points to is a necessary reconstruction of economy, a sufficient transparency of product and supply source, and a holistic allowance of the land’ s regeneration. The mushrooms situated in the beechwood shade promoted not only their own individual growth, but the growth of the entire woods.