A Study of Cultural Bias in Field Guide Determinations of Mushroom Edibility Using the Iconic Mushroom, Amanita muscaria, as an Example
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A Study of Cultural Bias in Field Guide Determinations of Mushroom Edibility Using the Iconic Mushroom,Amanita muscaria, as an Example. Mushroom field guides teach identification skills as well as provide information on the edible or toxic qualities of each species of wild mushroom. As such they function as modern-day village elders for an increasingly urban, nature-ignorant population. This paper identifies underlying cultural bias in the determination of mushroom edibility in English-language field guides, using the iconic mushroom, Amanita muscaria, as an example. We explore a selection of ethnographic and medical texts that report the use of A. muscaria as a food, and we accept parboiling as a safe method of detoxifying it for the dinner table. Mushroom field guides, however, almost universally label the mushroom as poisonous. We discuss the cultural underpinnings and literary form of mushroom field guides and demonstrate that they work within a mostly closed intellectual system that ironically shares many of the same limitations of cultural bias found in traditional folk cultures, but with the pretense of being modern and scientific.