The Parable of Mushrooms

posted on Flickr with Creative Commons license

posted on Flickr with Creative Commons license

I hated mushrooms…

When I was four and I wrote in my journal, “I lik all food excip mushroms.”

Family members would say, “But, they’re really good in this dish.” Or, “Maybe you’ll like them this year.”

Every year or so, I’d try them, and I’d gag, reaffirming my decision that I hated mushrooms.

But, then, about eight years ago, I decided to give mushrooms another try. My oldest kid had a lot of food allergies and after seeing all the foods that would make him sick, I decided it was silly that I was holding out on one food because of a decision I made when I was four.

And, I still hated them. Slimy, tasting of dirt, with a smell that just epitomized everything yucky.

I tried them mixed in with my favorite foods—drenched in butter and garlic on toast, mixed in a Russian fresh mushroom soup, eating them in hot and sour soup instead of digging them out and pushing them to the side.

I felt a little better about mushrooms over time. They stopped making me want to gag. It got to a point after a few years when I could say that while I didn’t really I like mushrooms, I could appreciate them for their “mushroomness.” I didn’t hate them anymore and I could appreciate why, maybe, some people liked them, but I wasn’t one of them.

I pushed forward on this path when our family cut back on meat, and I saw that mushrooms are a filling, versatile, and healthy meat substitute. I realized that portobellos aren’t bad at all, especially marinated in teriyaki sauce and grilled. And, they were always safe if you left them on the kitchen counter for a couple hours unlike a forgotten marinating pork tenderloin.

I realized about a year ago that I quite enjoy mushroom dishes. Some of my very favorite dishes have mushrooms. All the flavors of “Beef in a Costume” are enhanced when mushrooms are present in this pumpkin dish. I’m not sure there’s anything more comforting or nourshing than the Barefoot Contessa’s Mushroom Lasagna. And, is it blasphemous to say that I actually prefer Smitten Kitchen’s Mushroom Bourguignon to Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon?

I love their earthiness. They’re also mysterious…did you know that mushrooms the only food we eat that are neither plant nor animal? With their own unique classification of fungus, mushrooms are special. Don’t you want to read, “9 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Mushrooms”? Well, here you go!

I have reflected on my new-found appreciation of mushrooms and my relationships with people.

As a teenager (who leaned a bit towards the pious and liberal side), I had a stake president who I put in the same category as mushrooms. He was a far right-wing conservative with a military background and a fondness for sports analogies that I couldn’t relate to and a propensity to go 15-20 minutes over when he spoke at any church meeting. I felt like he was full of bravado and arrogance. I neither liked him nor thought to appreciate him for his mushroomness.

But, when I was sick in the hospital for six weeks, he made sure to visit me often. He was tender and kind. He gave me heartfelt blessings. He organized a stake-wide fast on my behalf (my mom knew not to tell me until after I was doing better—a brilliant move on her part because I pretty much thought that meant I was dying). He was humble and gently helped our family through a hard time.

Though, to this day, we do not see eye-to-eye on many political and cultural matters, we both have a love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I not only appreciate his mushroomness, but I love that he was willing to share it with me as I got to know him better.

This is one of my favorite things about my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I come across a lot of people I might think of as mushrooms, but over time, I learn from them and come to love them. Their views on doctrine and application can be radically different from mine but enrich my understanding and help me to develop a more nuanced view of the Gospel. And, their life experiences are often very different than mine. I love glimpses into the mundane lives of my sisters and brothers that I wouldn’t get to glimpse if not for my membership in this church.

It’s still not always easy…it took me over 25 years to love mushrooms after all, and there are people who I suspect will take me that long to at least appreciate their mushroomness (as I hope they work to appreciate mine). But, I gain so much when I take the time to try.

How have you learned to appreciate the “mushroomness” in others?

One more…I can’t leave off without my favorite recipe using mushrooms:

Portobello Salad with Spicy Mustard Dressing


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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12 Responses

  1. Patty says:

    I have a friend whose husband went to France to play golf and visit Eurodisney. He went to the Japanese Disneyland and tried to get the Japanese to be more outgoing and smiley. He seemed definitively clueless to me. Until he saw my daughter and I in our mushed up car stranded by the side of the freeway. He stopped, put my daughter in his van, called Triple A for us, and waited with us until they arrived. A Saint indeed. I appreciate him to this day.

  2. Juliathepoet says:

    I have had some relationships that became better with time and more intimate knowledge, but I have also experienced the opposite. You never know which.

  3. Ryan says:

    I don’t say this often on this site and in fact I don’t think I’ve ever said it here, but good article.

  4. Caroline says:

    Love this, Emily. I’ve had a similar relationship with mushrooms, and some similar realizations about people that I am polar opposite to politically and ideologically. Your thoughts here remind of Eugene England’s classic essay, “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel.” In it, he argues, if I remember correctly, that our geographically based wards force us to interact with people we would not choose to be around. Thus we learn to work with and respect people with whom we have major differences.

    Thanks for all the mushroom recipes!

  5. Emily U says:

    Great analogy.

    I think a big reason I didn’t like mushrooms growing up is because I was only exposed to one kind – the boring white button mushroom. It wasn’t until I recklessly ordered a risotto with some fancy mushroom in it (maybe Chanterelles?) that I had the revelation that mushrooms could be good! I still don’t love button mushrooms, but Criminis, Portabellos, and Shiitakes are great. I’m not sure if that relates to your analogy, except to say that diversity is so important. And it’s critical that we not label people as “mushrooms” before we get to know them. They might be a Chanterelle!

  6. Amelia says:

    I love this way of approaching the world. Of refusing to just dismiss people out of hand as undesirable. Of persisting to interact with them until you can appreciate their mushroomness, as you put it. And maybe even come to love them. It’s one reason why I sometimes find myself so fully agreeing w/Gene England in the essay Caroline pointed to.

    But then I get tired. And I wonder where the limit is. And I am frustrated with the fact that the church has cultivated a culture and attitude where this approach is required of the minority, but far too often so easily ignored by the majority. And I do believe that the church has some responsibility in helping all of its membership understand how vital this approach is. And I believe the church, as an institution, too often shirks that responsibility and instead chooses to circle the wagons using fear to reinforce its base. And as a result, I might appreciate more conventional Mormons’ mushroomness, but more often than not they not only don’t appreciate mine but see no reason to try to do so.

    In the end, after years of trying just this approach, it tired me out. And I left. Because when we’re talking about people, this has to go both ways. And too often it just doesn’t. I think that maybe if my life had conformed to the normal life structure of a Mormon life sooner, maybe it would have been easier to stay and keep trying. Because I would have had a refuge within that world to buoy me up. But I didn’t.

    Sorry to be a bit of a downer. Because the idealist in me loves this and believes it is vital. But the living breathing me cannot keep subjecting myself to the kind of negativity I kept encountering at church.

    Now I crave this kind of reciprocal relationship in a church community. But the Mormon church has been tainted for me by my past experience there. I sincerely doubt I can find this experience there, not without significant institutional and structural changes. But I don’t know how to find it elsewhere, either. And not in a church where my peculiarly Mormon interpretations of God and Jesus and Christian doctrine would be accepted. So I make do without. Maybe someday that will change…

  7. Ziff says:

    I like this analogy, Emily, and I really like the idea of giving people who I disagree with on a lot of things more chances so I can learn to appreciate their mushroomness. I also sympathize with your point, Amelia, that in a majority/minority situation like this is, the more orthodox people really don’t have any need to appreciate us less orthodox people for our mushrooomness. FWIW, and I realize this isn’t generalizable necessarily, I find it easier to live with other Mormons whose opinions I disagree with because I know there are lots of other people like me even if we’re spread thin. At least we can commiserate online. 🙂

    • Patty says:

      Yes! Facebook has allowed me see that several LDS friends have a wider view of things than I would have thought they had. And then there are the people on Exponent II… It’s good to feel that you’re not alone.

    • Amelia says:

      For a while, it helped. But confronting the always-present, and sometimes open, judgment and condemnation of people like me (occasionally actually of me) during church meetings just got to be too much. I don’t think attending church should feel more like a penance than a refuge. I understand and agree with the idea that church sometimes requires us to do some work in making it a refuge, that we shouldn’t expect to just go and have it be nothing but lollipops and flowers. On the other hand, I think it’s just as wrong-headed to believe that it’s okay for anyone to have a majority negative experience at church.

      So yes. The Bloggernacle and my mofem support network helped mitigate the challenges. But in the end it wasn’t enough for me. The in-person experience was negative enough, and did so little work in creating peace and providing a spiritual home for me, that it just wasn’t worth the cost anymore.

      I once saw an episode of a TV show where they cooked with some truffles and were looking forward to deliciousness. Only to taste them and discover the truffles had absorbed arsenic from the water supply and it tasted nasty. When the mushrooms have been tainted, I don’t think we have an obligation to appreciate those particular mushrooms’ mushroomness.

      • Ziff says:

        I’m sorry, Amelia. That totally makes sense. I’m glad the online support has been some help, but it makes sense that it’s difficult for that to stand against all the in-person negativity.

        And to add more data on my experience, I’ve typically had a sympathetic friend or two in my wards, and that has helped me to be spared from the worst of the negativity.

  8. Meg Hansen says:

    I love this analogy. It is really hard to appreciate others, especially when you can’t set them aside like mushrooms, but actually need to work with them. 🙂 Thank you for your thoughtful post.

  9. Jenny says:

    Great Analogy Emily! When I was reading your post I was thinking about how mofem gatherings feel like dessert for me. But you can’t have dessert all the time. Sometimes you have to eat things you don’t like. I understand where Amelia is coming from too. Some mushrooms are poisonous and best avoided. My brother asked me the other day if the reason I was having such a hard time where I live is because it’s so conservative here. As I answered him, it occurred to me that it’s not so much that I’m surrounded by people who have differing beliefs and ideologies from my own. It’s their hostility toward my beliefs and ideologies that makes life so hard for me here. I can definitely palette and even love other people’s mushroomness if it isn’t toxic to me.

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