faith based mycophagy

by Gary Lincoff

It was just after the re-election of President Bush...and just before the resignations of many people in his cabinet. Flushed with success, something not felt since he had landed the year before on that aircraft carrier and stood under the sign "Mission Accomplished," he felt really good about himself. He had now accomplished a personal mission, to be re-elected. He felt vindicated that his policies were supported by so many Americans. He knew the terrible events after 9/11 were a time of testing, and that he stayed the course. The horrible war was almost over. Freedom had become real for the people of Afghanistan, and now it was becoming a real possibility for the people of Iraq. Safety, he thought, that deep, satisfying sense that we are truly secure, started to spread across the land, once again. The stock market was experiencing a post-election rally, the price of oil had stabilized, and all seemed right with his world.

To celebrate his victory he invited a close group of friends and supporters to join him for a weekend at Camp David. He knew he owed those who stayed with him in his "coalition of the willing." He invited the prime ministers of Britain, Australia, Italy, and Poland to join him for a celebration dinner. If he had been willing to wait, other coalition members could have joined him, but it was to be a short party on short notice, and Micronesia, Palau and Tonga were just too far away.

Early Saturday morning armored limousines transported the dignitaries to Camp David. There, they were accorded all the perks of power, and all the privileges of being in that elite group, the "coalition of the willing." Several cabinet members came, as well. After an informal lunch, the President proposed an afternoon activity. Everyone would go on a mushroom hunt. His guests were amazed at the idea. Tony Blair, being British, and John Howard, the Aussie, knew what mushrooms were but had never hunted them. Silvio Berlusconi, of Italy, and Marek Belka of Poland, knew their mushrooms, as every Italian and Polish kid did, and they couldn't have been more pleased. They assembled on the parade ground, the prime ministers, the cabinet members, the staffers and go-fers, and the President and his family. The President's daughters were hoping to find some magic mushrooms to take back to share with their college friends. Berlusconi was hoping to find porcini, his favorite bolete. Belka was thinking about Polish honey mushrooms, the podpinki. The group, flanked by bodyguards, went through the gates of Camp David, and out into the late fall woods of the Catoctin Mountains.

It was a chilly but sunny afternoon. The leaves had all but fallen from the trees, and they were massed on the ground. The sound of feet pushing through piles of leaves was all that could be heard at times. Berlusconi found the first mushroom. It was a fruiting of Clitocybe clavipes. He called everyone to come see what he had found. The go-fers picked them and put them carefully in one of the collecting baskets. Berlusconi thought a Pinot Grigio would be best with these. The President asked if that was French. He was assured that it was Italian.

Tony Blair found a nice cluster of Coprinus atramentarius. The Polish prime minister knew it was some kind of inky cap. He said it was good for the table, and it was collected, also. Tony Blair also found some small white-capped Inocybes under oak trees, and he was assured these were edible by Berlusconi, who said he usually finds them in lawns. Marek Belka found a beautiful, large fruiting of Jack O'Lanterns. He didn't' know this mushroom in Poland, and thought it may have been some kind of chanterelle. President Bush knew the word "chanterelle." He liked the idea of the group finding a well-known edible. He instructed his National Security Advisor to see that it gets collected, too.

The dinner was shaping up nicely. The group had been out for nearly an hour and it seemed that they had more than enough for the White House chef to whip up something special for their dinner party that evening. The President's daughters were a little disappointed that they hadn't found any magic mushrooms, but they knew they could always buy what they needed back on campus. They had turned back in the direction of Camp David when John Howard gave out a real loud Aussie holler. What a find. Not one or two, but there must have been a couple of dozen mushrooms scattered about under some oaks. They all looked the same: greenish gray, convex caps, a white stem with a big skirt of tissue near the top and a big, loose saclike cup about the base.

Marek Belka was the first to say anything. He told everyone that this was the most poisonous mushroom in the world, that it was called the Death Cap, and that eating even a single mushroom could be lethal. The President came over and took a look at it. "Nonsense," he said. It will be our entrée this evening. Look how many there are!" "No, no, Mr. President," the Prime Minister of Poland interjected. A silence fell over the group.

"What did you say?," the President asked, not really expecting an answer. Nobody ever said "no" to this President, and no way would the Prime Minister of Poland be the first. The President looked about for his Secretary of State. He asked him to inform the Polish Prime Minister that the mushrooms were edible. Marek Belka, in his defense, said "but Mr. President, surely you are mistaken about this. I know these mushrooms; they grow in my country, too." The President looked about him and drew everyone there around him, and he said: "My good friend, the Prime Minister of Poland, forgets that he is on American soil now. These mushrooms are growing in the soil of freedom. This is the fruit of our freedom. I am sure something similar must grow in Poland, maybe even the same thing grows there, but however poisonous it might be in Poland, growing here in the soil of freedom, it's safe to eat. You can trust me on this one."

The Secretary of State thought at this point he had to intervene. He called the President away from the others so he could discuss this with him privately. He made his case. He pointed out that there were mushrooms that were poisonous, and that they could occur in America just as they do in other countries. He urged caution and consultation. He appealed to the President to call in a couple of experts to confirm the identity of the mushroom. The President thanked him for his thoughtful words. He put his arm around his Secretary's shoulders, and brought him back to the group. The President, then, said, "I wasn't just re-elected because I'm somebody who changes his mind. That was the other guy, remember? I don't know much about mushrooms, but I do know that my gut tells me this is good. I trust my gut feelings. I don't need to read books and rely on other peoples' opinions. I see what's what and I make up my own mind. I believe in God. I pray every day. You are all here because you share this faith with me. You know that, if nothing else, this election has shown that God is on our side. What more proof do you need? We are in the most secure place in the safest country in the best of all possible worlds. Now, let's get our butts back to Camp David and get dressed for dinner."

The rest, as they say, is history. Who ate what, and how much, and what happened afterwards, is classified information, not to be released to the public for 50 years. Stay tuned.