Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Giuliana Furci (@giulifungi), the foundress and executive director of the Fungi Foundation (est. 2012), the world’s first nonprofit dedicated solely to fungi. Giuliana is a Harvard University associate, Dame of the Order of the Star of Italy, co-chair of the IUCN Fungal Conservation Committee, mother, author of several titles—including a series of field guides to Chilean fungi—and contributor to numerous publications on the environment, such as the first State of the World’s Fungi report (Kew, 2018), Biodiversidad de Chile: Patrimonio y Desafíos (Ministry of the Environment, Chile, 2008) and the IBPA Award-winning book Fantastic Fungi.
Giuliana has worked for the fungi since 1999 and in the nonprofit sector for the last 17 years. She has held consulting positions in US philanthropic foundations as well as full-time positions in international marine conservation NGOs and Chilean environmental NGOs.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS: Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.
WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO: You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED: No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on tim.blog or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.
This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss. And welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. I’m thrilled to have our guest today, Giuliana Furci. On Instagram, @giulifungi. That’s G-I-U-L-I-F-U-N-G-I.
Giuliana is founder and executive director of the Fungi Foundation, established in 2012, the world’s first nonprofit dedicated solely to fungi. She is a Harvard University Associate. Dame of the Order of the Star of Italy, which is one of the best honorary titles I’ve ever heard in my life. Co-chair of the IUCN Fungal Conservation Committee, mother, author of several titles, including a series of field guides to Chilean fungi, and contributor to numerous publications on the environment, such as the first State of the World’s Fungi report, Biodiversidad de Chile, Patrimonio y Desafíos, and the IBPA award-winning book, Fantastic Fungi.
Giuliana has worked for the fungi since 1999 and in the nonprofit sector for the last 17 years. She has held consulting positions in US philanthropic foundations, as well as full-time positions in international marine conservation, NGOs, and Chilean-environmental NGOs. You can find her on Instagram, @giulifungi. Again, that’s spelled G-I-U-L-I fungi. And @fungifoundation. The website is ffungi.org. Giuliana, welcome to the show.
Giuliana Furci: Thank you very much, Tim. It’s an honor and a pleasure.
Tim Ferriss: I thought we would start at the beginning because you represent quite an international cocktail. You’re born in the UK of a Chilean mother and an Italian father. How does that all come together? How does that happen?
Giuliana Furci: Well, the short and unsweet answer to that is that dictatorship and exile leads to that. So my mother was a victim of the coup in 1973 here in Chile. She was a political prisoner for a year, incarcerated and tortured, and then made to leave. And she left Chile, arrived in Italy where she met my father, and then moved to London with a scholarship to study a master’s degree. So I am a product of exile.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. I have many follow-up questions. So we’re going to work in reverse order. What did your mother study for her master’s?
Giuliana Furci: My mother is a geographer and an economist, so she has always studied things that have to do with decentralization.
Tim Ferriss: Why was she persecuted under the regime after the coup in Chile?
Giuliana Furci: Because first of all, she thought differently, and that’s one of the biggest sins in these regimes. She was a student and she, from a very young age, was active in politics in student fora and really in just creating discussion.
Tim Ferriss: When she fled or when she left, how did she choose where to go?
Giuliana Furci: No, there’s no choice. She was incarcerated for 365 days, and then given two weeks to leave, so that all boils down to where you can get to. And she jumped over to Argentina, jumped over the Andes. She didn’t jump, but she flew over to Argentina. But Argentina was also under really unstable political regimes, various dictatorships. And from there, she was able to travel to Italy, where she stayed for two years, and then to England. So really there’s no choosing.
Tim Ferriss: Now, did Italy come out of a contact in Argentina? I’m just wondering why Italy, specifically that country. I know that in places like Buenos Aires, of course, you have a very long history of immigration from Italy, from Spain, from Germany. Is that how the country Italy itself as a destination came up?
Giuliana Furci: No, it wasn’t through Argentina. It was because her mother, my grandmother, and aunt had already left Chile and had established in Italy. The reason is Italy was open to receiving refugees. Italy had a policy of welcoming people who were fleeing the regime here. And so did other countries like Sweden and other places around the world. So it’s more to do with how Italy was open to receiving people.
Tim Ferriss: This may not seem germane to much of what we’ll explore later, but it is germane because it relates to how you became who you are. How did your parents meet?
Giuliana Furci: My father was a student in Rome. I come from a very small village in Calabria, my father’s family. My grandparents didn’t know how to read or write. They were contadini, so producers of olive oil, wine, salami — subsistence living. And my father left his village and went to study by day and work by night. And was studying when the Italian Communist Party and Socialist Party were welcoming all these Chilean refugees. And he met my mother during a welcome party for Chilean refugees. And they fell in love.
Tim Ferriss: And that was it.
Giuliana Furci: And that was it.
Tim Ferriss: In your life, you were born in the UK. How did you end up being born in the UK?
Giuliana Furci: Because my mother was offered this scholarship to study in London, she left with my father and that’s where the magic happened, in council housing in North London.
Tim Ferriss: And for you then, just geographically, because, of course, you’re back in Chile now —
Giuliana Furci: Tim, sorry, we have to say this. So my mother came back, but I didn’t come back here. I was born and I came, so we’re another generation of uprooted people. I didn’t come back.
Tim Ferriss: How did you end up, then, where you are now?
Giuliana Furci: I was born in England and grew up in England. And when my mother came back, I came with her. But I never left Chile to come back here. I was born outside during her exile.
Tim Ferriss: That’s right. That’s right. Fair enough. Fair enough.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah. So there’s an untold story there of many of the offspring, children of refugees and exiles, who also have their life sort of truncated in some paths because their parents can return to their homeland. And you come with them because who are you to stop them from coming back to where they never chose to leave from?
Tim Ferriss: How old were you when you not returned to, but traveled to Chile?
Giuliana Furci: Almost 15.
Tim Ferriss: What was that like going from the UK to Chile? Because I’m no cosmopolitan connoisseur of all cultures, but I happen to have been to both countries. They’re not identical.
Giuliana Furci: They are definitely not identical. It was a challenge, but I was always very conscious that I was in no place to be an impediment for my mother to come back to the country she never chose to leave. So I came in total humble respect of making her return smooth.
Tim Ferriss: And was it smooth?
Giuliana Furci: It wasn’t smooth. It was very difficult. She came back to a country she didn’t recognize. She came back to parents that were old and in the case of my grandfather, ill. And she came back to a country that was disjunct. So a country that was looking for this sort of neo-capitalist development, way of doing politics and commerce, but not quite getting there. So it was hard.
Tim Ferriss: And did you then study in Chile? Or did you study and do your undergraduate and so on elsewhere?
Giuliana Furci: So I stayed in school here with very difficult stories. My mother had never told me that there were people who liked the dictator. So I got to school here and people would ask me, “Where are you from?” I’d say, “I’m from London.” “And why were you there?” “Well, my mom was a refugee.” And I remember a classmate saying, “Oh, your mother was a terrorist. She should have been killed,” and having a go at me in the classroom. And I remember running back home and saying to my mother, “How did you not warn me that there were people who liked him?” I had never, ever in my life encountered people who liked the dictator, so that was challenging.
I stuck in school, and then at the end of my schooling and it was time to choose undergraduate studies, all I knew was that I wanted to give back. In some way, I wanted to give back. And at first, I thought that it was through humans and I went to university to study social working. And about a year into that, I was really, really clear that it wasn’t humans. Humans weren’t my thing. And so I then realized that it was nature. It had to do with giving back in some sort of way. And I thought, “Okay, let’s get humans into green spaces.”
So I tried a second career, an undergraduate career at landscaping and ecology. And it was still so many humans. It was like planning parks in urban areas. There are a lot of homo sapiens involved. And I was like, “No, this isn’t it.” And finally, I said, “Okay, I’m just going to try plants in the water. There will be no humans there underwater.” And I studied aquaculture and that’s where I finished my undergraduate studies in Southern Chile and Northern Patagonia. I went to a university in a city where I knew nobody and I managed to finish it. And it was on that journey that I got to where I am now.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let me ask first. Is aquaculture a vibrant and widespread endeavor in Chile? Because I have very little familiarity. I know, for instance, in New Zealand, it’s a huge focal point. But in Chile, I would imagine with the coastline, perhaps that’s also the case.
Giuliana Furci: Unfortunately, Chile is a country that has housed open net-pen salmon farming in its waters. So for your audience and our audience today to understand, aquaculture is basically the cultivation of aquatic resources, aquatic species. So it could be algae, it can be shellfish, mollusks, or finned fish. And Chile is one of the largest producers of farmed salmon in the world.
Salmon aren’t native to the Southern hemisphere. And therefore, the aquaculture industry of salmon in Chile comes with tremendous environmental and social impact. But it means also that there is a vibrant aquaculture industry. And so there were university careers. And I studied aquaculture and got into algae, seaweed farming. And that was really what I did my thesis on and what I graduated doing and ended up curiously working in NGOs against the salmon farming industry and its negative impacts. Not against the labor opportunities, but against their environmental practices.
Tim Ferriss: And I should really know this by now. Usually, I blame it on my audience. And I say, “For those of my audience who may not know, could you define NGO?” I’ve long thought that I’ve understood what NGO means. But perhaps just to confirm that, could you define what an NGO is?
Giuliana Furci: NGO is the acronym for a nongovernmental organization, so a nonprofit. It’s an organization that represents civil society and that has a place at tables recognized as where people organize and find a voice that represents them.
Tim Ferriss: So can you give me an example — or maybe they’re one and the same? Is it fair to say that not all nonprofits are NGOs, but all NGOs are nonprofits? Or are there for-profit NGOs?
Giuliana Furci: No, there’s never a for-profit NGO. NGOs, we measure our success not in revenue of money in the bank, but of durable change. That’s our measure of success, the change we can make.
Tim Ferriss: So where did you go or how did you go from aquaculture to fungi? How does that happen?
Giuliana Furci: Oh, it’s a funny one, Tim. So I was in university and I remember one morning walking along the corridors. And there was a poster stuck on the car door that said, “Volunteers needed to look for fox poop in forests,” And I was like, “Oh, that sounds amazing. Fox poop.” I really love scat and poop and we can get into that afterwards. So much grows out of it. So, of course, I volunteered. And, of course, I was the only one who volunteered. And I ended up getting the volunteer position. And traveling with my professor, Jaime Jiménez, who studies foxes and no other animals.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a great name, also.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah. We traveled to Chiloé Island in Southern Chile. And what we had to do was we had to put these big cages out to capture — nonviolently, but to capture and trap the foxes. We would put radio transmitter collars on them. And then we would free them and walk around the forest, collecting poop and also with a huge antenna, trying to find a signal to triangulate their position using radio telemetry. So this is really old-school technology. Today, you would just put a GPS chip on them, on the collar, but this was 20-something years ago.
And we’re walking around bushwhacking with a huge antenna and trying to get some sound in to see where their position is. And at the same time, picking up all the poop we could find. And then I would go back to the laboratory and dry the poop. And then sort of open it up and see what they had eaten. That was my job. But it was on that trip that I was walking along a path with this antenna. And I saw a huge mushroom on a tree trunk. And I wanted to know who it was. And there were no books on Chilean fungi. And it was a lightning bolt. It was like, “I’m going to do this.”
And something happened that I have never been able to stop, even if I’ve tried. But I got home and online shopping had just begun. And Barnes & Noble had the opportunity to ship books to the US and then I’d have somebody ship them to Chile. And then, Amazon was a thing too. And I bought every book I could find on fungi. Of course, Paul Stamets’ books were the first ones I found and I would devour everything I could read. It was that one mushroom who I wanted to know that triggered it all.
Tim Ferriss: I love that you use “who” with the fungi. I really, really like that. And I must ask because I just need to know, it’ll bother me if I don’t, what was the objective of the research with the fox scat and radio telemetry?
Giuliana Furci: We were measuring how the foxes were being displaced due to logging of native forests. So as the forest was being lost, habitats destroyed, where were the foxes going? And they were going uphill, up the mountain, trying to get into more and more remote places. But then you get to the tree line and there’s not much more food for them. So we wanted to know what they were eating as they were moving. And there were a lot of rodents they were eating. And a lot of really beautiful beetle exoskeletons. You find rainbows in fox scat. I have to say that.
Tim Ferriss: Sounds like an art opportunity for some aspiring graphic artists out there. As you tell the story of seeing this mushroom on the tree trunk, being unable to find a book that covers, that describes or catalogs Chilean fungi, for me, that begs the question in general, why does it seem that mushrooms and fungi have been so understudied?
Giuliana Furci: Yeah, there are two main reasons. And the first one is because fungi have always been associated to the pagan, to paganism, right? They are organisms that are associated with rot, with decomposition. They often have textures and odors that aren’t pleasant to all. They grow associated to humid and sometimes dark places, so that’s one reason. And of course, their fantastical properties at altering states of consciousness, which for the Catholic church was something very scary and very dangerous.
And on the other hand, they were thought to be plants and they were thought to be inferior plants, which is even worse. They were treated as this group of organisms with moss and with ferns that were just very minorly important with respect to vascular plants that formed trees and beautiful flowers. And so they were discarded.
Tim Ferriss: So you mentioned Paul. Paul is a huge fan of yours as we both know. You have, certainly from that first encounter with that mushroom on the tree, learned a lot. And I’d love to hear within Chile, what you found that strikes you as unique or interesting with respect to mycology.
Giuliana Furci: There are two ways to answer this question. First of all, my journey is forged on the absence of opportunity in Chile. So when I discovered fungi and discovered that I couldn’t really find much more about them, there was no way to study here in Chile. Nowhere at all. I had a choice. My choice was I could leave Chile and I could go back to England. I could study mycology. I could become a researcher and really, really enrich my knowledge. Or I could use my life’s effort to make sure that nobody else would ever be faced with that decision again, and use my life’s effort so that nobody would ever, ever have to feel that they had to leave their country if they loved mycology. And that was my choice. And that’s where I found I could give back.
So really, what startled me about Chile, first of all, was the absence of opportunity and the opportunity to create opportunity. And in terms of the fungal diversity of Chile, everything is fantastic. Every encounter is sublime, the colors, the textures, the possibility to walk in a forest in fall and in an hour, encounter over a hundred different species, different sizes, different contextures, textures, smells, different functions. And ultimately, just this opportunity to coincide with these most amazing organisms in the world. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Have you discovered any new species of fungi?
Giuliana Furci: Yes, I have. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of coinciding for the first time as a human with a fungus. I’ve named two formally. One is a very special fungus called Amanita galactica. It’s an Amanita that grows in mixed monkey puzzle trees with southern beech, so Araucaria with Nothofagus. And it’s a very, very old species, Tim. It’s an elder species. It’s a species that was around when the supercontinent Gondwana existed, when the continents still hadn’t drifted apart. So we know that it’s a species that originates when the huge landmass that created the Southern hemisphere was still stuck together.
Tim Ferriss: How do you know that in the sense that you could take a snuff tray in Atacama and do carbon dating? But with fungi, that is not the tool that you would use. Is it looking at — this is a term I only recently learned, the phylogeny and somehow mapping it to the span of humankind? I would just love to know how humans have confidence that that is the case.
Giuliana Furci: We’ve convened as humans that we organize life based on common ancestry. So we know, for example, that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants because we have a more recent ancestor. And curiously — this is a small parenthesis to what we’re talking about — but that common ancestor between fungi and animals are the opisthokonts.
So it’s a cell that has a posterior flagellum. Namely, a sperm, for example. A sperm cell is an opisthokont. Now there are some fungi that have that same type of cell. There’s this one cell with a posterior flagellum. So that’s how we know that we’re more closely related because both fungi and animals have that type of cell that’s like a sperm.
Now with Amanita galactica, we know how old she is or he is because the most recent common ancestor that we have discovered is extremely old. So we build relationships and timing of these relationships based on common ancestry and the closest relation.
Tim Ferriss: What was the term you used for the supercontinent?
Giuliana Furci: Gondwana.
Tim Ferriss: One more time?
Giuliana Furci: Gondwana.
Tim Ferriss: Gondwana. Is that the same as Pangaea or they’re the same?
Giuliana Furci: No, they’re not the same. So Pangaea was one big supercontinent that first split into two. Laurasia, that then divided to form the Northern hemisphere, and Gondwana, that then divided to form the Southern hemisphere.
Tim Ferriss: I see. Thank you. Learning so much. I’m learning so much. And I’m going to dig further. So Amanita galactica, you mentioned he or she. Now, is that just a personal preference as to which pronoun you choose or are fungi gendered? I don’t know.
Giuliana Furci: They are not gendered, but they’re not ‘its,’ either. They’re not objects. So if we’re talking about an animal, we wouldn’t really call it an ‘it.’ When we’re talking about plants, we wouldn’t either. And I honestly cannot and I’m very uncomfortable with objectifying any species of living organisms. I just can’t call them “it.” Really, that’s it. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Of course this is a very sensitive subject in a lot of places now, but in English, this is where we fail in a sense, because we have to choose a pronoun. We could use ‘they,’ of course.
Giuliana Furci: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: But then you have something like Chinese where it’s like the pronunciation at least, the writing is different. But you have, ta ta ta, it’s the same pronoun, regardless of who or what you’re talking about, effectively, so it’s a lot easier to navigate. How did you choose the name? And also I’m not familiar with many Amanita, I’m only familiar with Amanita muscaria. And pretty much everyone is familiar visually with that because it is the most commonly depicted red cap with white dots. What does Amanita galactica look like and how did you name it?
Giuliana Furci: So Amanita galactica is a little smaller than Amanita muscaria, which is the fly agaric. Some people know it as the Smurf mushroom, some people call it.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. The Santa Claus mushroom.
Giuliana Furci: The Santa Claus mushroom. Actually Soma, Amanita muscaria is the God Soma in Vedic cultures. It’s a very, very divine fungus. And it’s the oldest known hallucinogen to humanity. Huge respect to Amanita muscaria. Amanita galactica has a black cap with white scales. And I can let you in on a funny story. People think that it’s really romantic to find a new species. I was actually in the car driving and of course, one’s eye is pretty used to catching that fungal fuzz. There’s a vibe in fungi that’s different from soil, it’s different from plants. That visual vibe came through and I stopped the car. It was snowing, it was freezing cold.
And I saw this black mushroom cap with white dots. And it was like looking into a starry night. And I immediately said, “This is Amanita galactica.” It was instant. It was looking into the galaxy. And I was in the car with two other people and nobody would get out because it was snowing and raining and literally freezing. And I was like, “Oh, I’m getting out. Of course I’m getting out!” And I spent quite a while with the mushrooms there. And had the sense that it was something new. It was in an old habitat, and a very pristine habitat. And so, yeah, it was called Amanita galactica.
And then the journey begins of finding out if somebody else has ever coincided. And that’s a long journey. You have to look at records of people finding Amanitas. And if they did, what were those Amanita, what did they look like microscopically, what was their DNA? And over time it became evident that it was a species nobody had ever coincided with before.
Tim Ferriss: So what is the protocol? I’m just imagining you’re in winter clothing, you’re driving along, you hop out, your friends were like, “Oh, God, how long is this going to take? We’re freezing our asses off.”
Giuliana Furci: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Because I’ve been to Portillo and some places in Chile and it gets cold. And do you pluck the mushroom, the fruiting body, and then go back to the lab and I’m not sure if it would be spore prints or what the current process is.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: How do you go about determining if it is a new species?
Giuliana Furci: So the first thing to do, I have a particular method, which is, I like to spend time with every species I encounter. So I get to their level. So I’m one of those people who lie on the floor and I will lie down. I will — first, you have to feel, Tim. Because if you’re going to describe, you have to feel. So there’s a lot of looking without touching. There’s a lot of smelling without touching, observing the surroundings. Who is it growing with? What trees are close? Because fungi are specific to their substrate. They never grow and live separate from a symbiont. So what trees are around? Are there more? And then clearing begins. Clearing around the mushroom. Observing what happens. If I touch it, does it change? Does it change in color? Does it stain? Does it break?
There’s a lot of that. There’s a lot of very detailed feeling with the senses of touch, of seeing, of smelling. Observing if animals come out of it or don’t. And we don’t pluck them. We will, when you’re doing scientific collecting, you will try to pop it out, making sure that nothing remains in the soil. So you will dig a bit with your fingers and you will make sure you get to the bottom of this sporom of this macroscopic body and pick it up, observing every single step. Because there are some mushrooms that you touch and they change color. That you touch and that you lose a texture. That you pick up and it breaks. And whether it’s hollow, whether it’s stuffed, whether it’s solid, are really important features. Whether when you pick it up and it starts going dry, it changes color is a really important feature.
Everything is important. So there’s a lot of sensuality in that first encounter. And then you carefully wrap it in something that doesn’t scratch it or sometimes you can just hold it in a basket, making a little bed. And we go back to, if you’re lucky, you’re in a place with electricity. I am a field mycologist that explores pristine areas of the world. So sometimes it’s just going back to camp. We go back and another process of observation begins, but now opening that mushroom up. Cutting it. Again, what’s inside? Is it solid inside? Did it change? Does it smell? It’s really a sensual process. And after you write down all these notes, you take photographs with size references. You proceed to dry it. Now you have to dry it in a very specific way in which DNA isn’t degraded.
Now we can’t cook them. 80 to 90 percent of a mushroom is water. So it’s a process that’s really important, otherwise it will rot. And if you have electricity, you’ll use a food dehydrator. Now, traditionally, because I explore pristine places for fungi and there’s no electricity, the drying part is the biggest challenge. And believe it or not, nobody has invented a really efficient field dehydrator yet.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Giuliana Furci: So I put them in my sleeping bag. And I normally share a tent with my fungi, my collected fungi, and use body heat to dry them or silica gel. And then once they’re stored dry, you look at the microscope for microscopic features and you extract DNA for sequencing. Now, before it used to be the microscopic features that would determine the relationships between species. Today we know that those microscopic characteristics aren’t enough to determine relatedness. And we use DNA. So based on those DNA sequences and databases that exist of all these sequences, you know whether it’s been discovered or not. And then you proceed to describe.
Tim Ferriss: I see. So you have the equivalent of an Interpol DNA database for fungi.
Giuliana Furci: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Are you drinking mate?
Giuliana Furci: Yes. I am drinking mate! I wish I could share.
Tim Ferriss: I am so jealous. So jealous. Do you call that straw? Okay. For people who can’t see the visual, you’re holding a gourd. It has, I don’t know if it’s covered in carved leather.
Giuliana Furci: No, it’s pumpkin. Carved pumpkin. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Calabasa. With some ornamentation on the outside. Has a metal top. So it looks kind of like a baseball that has the very top cut off. And then it’s hollowed out. You have yerba mate in there, which looks kind of like chopped spinach to the untrained eye. Which you then, what is the word in English? Steep? Cebar, right? Cebar.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And then you have the straw. Do you call that a bombilla? Bombilla?
Giuliana Furci: Una bombilla. Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Una bombilla.
Giuliana Furci: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: So you stick a straw into this and the straw has holes in it. It’s a metal straw. So the straw does the filtering. That really brings back the memories. I used to live in Argentina. So I drank mate almost every day, whether it was [foreign language].
Giuliana Furci: Oh yeah? Oh, wow, you lived in Argentina, Tim?
Tim Ferriss: I did. Don’t hold it against me. Don’t hold it against me.
Giuliana Furci: I won’t. I won’t. But I’m really curious as to why.
Tim Ferriss: I was spending time in Panama in 2005, I think it was 2005. Might’ve been 2004. And I became friends with someone who is half Panamanian and half Argentine in Panama City. And his family had been there a very long time living in Panama. And he had spent a lot of time in Argentina. And I had no plans for my next step. I was letting the wind to carry me at the time. And he said, “You need to visit Argentina.” I said, “Why do I need to visit Argentina?” And he said, “They have the best wine in the world, the best steak in the world, the most beautiful women in the world, and you can live for pennies on the dollar.” And I said, “Well, that’s a pretty good pitch.”
And went to Argentina planning to be there for four weeks. And I was just dying one day in the middle of summer, it was so humid. And I was walking down this pedestrian walkway called The Avenida Florida, which is a peatonal. And I’m walking down this pedestrian walkway, which is like an arcade. Like the Santa Monica Promenade for people who’ve ever been to that. Walking down and there was a tango shop blaring music, but I could feel the air conditioning coming out of the tango shop. And so I walked in and I’m just loitering. I’m waiting for a friend to get out of a class, a Spanish class. And ultimately the woman who was working there, this chain smoking older woman, was very upset. She wasn’t upset, she was annoyed that I was clearly not going to buy anything. And she was like, “Hey, pibe.” ‘Pibe’ is like ‘kid.’ “Pibe, pibe.”
She said, “If you’re going to sit here, you might as well buy a ticket to a tango class upstairs.” And so I did for I think it was 10 pesos. And I became obsessed with tango and I danced and stayed there for nine months.
Giuliana Furci: Tango.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Giuliana Furci: That’s incredible.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Ended up competing and doing all this stuff.
Giuliana Furci: Oh, wow.
Tim Ferriss: It’s great. It’s great. So I haven’t danced tango in probably 10 plus years. But that is what took me to Argentina. And I drank mate all the time.
Giuliana Furci: That’s amazing.
Tim Ferriss: And I actually had something called Matte Leão from Brazil this morning, which I had the instantized mate. But I was thinking to myself this morning, I’m like, “This just isn’t the same.” The instant mate is not the same.
Giuliana Furci: No, I have to send you a mate. I’m going to the US next month, so I’m going to take you a mate gourd.
Tim Ferriss: Amazing.
Giuliana Furci: I’m going to take —
Tim Ferriss: Amazing.
Giuliana Furci: No. I gifted Pablo — Paul — on this one, too. I wonder if he uses it. I have to get back to that one.
Tim Ferriss: Well, if he doesn’t, he could just mail me his.
Giuliana Furci: No, no. I’m sending you a mate. You have to, it’s so good for your health.
Tim Ferriss: I love mate. People ask me all the time, we’re getting off topic here, but “What is your favorite smart drug?” And the brain is a very sensitive instrument, so I don’t, I try not to bludgeon it too often. But for me, yerba mate is absolutely my favorite stimulant. I mean, the Argentines will say that there’s mateina, which is different from cafeina. I don’t think that’s true. But my understanding is that mate has not just caffeine, but also theobromine, as found in dark chocolate.
Giuliana Furci: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: And theophylline, as found in green tea. So you get the pharmacokinetics of it are very, very interesting in the sense that you don’t just get this one peak and then tail. You get seemingly at least three peaks and tails, which for me, allows me to write for several hours. Whereas in contrast drinking a cup of coffee, and I love coffee, I’m a fast metabolizer, and I will have this very rapid peak within maybe 20, 25 minutes. And then I’ll feel tired.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah. No, mate keeps you going. And I think it’s worth mentioning that there is also an amazing ritual around drinking mate.
Tim Ferriss: Yes.
Giuliana Furci: Which obliges you to share your mate and really creates kinship, brotherhood, sisterhoods.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Giuliana Furci: It’s important to our cultures. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And also, side note, at least in Argentina at the time, there was a line you could ask someone if they wanted to, “Tu maro mate.” Is mate, I’m forgetting, is it masculine or feminine?
Giuliana Furci: El mate. El.
Tim Ferriss: El mate. “Tu maro mate.” So you could ask if somebody asks you if you wanted to take a mate in their apartment, that was like, “Hey, come upstairs for a drink” kind of thing.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So, it’s a very deep culture of mate with the gauchos and everything. And it’s different in, you go to Argentina, if you go to Uruguay, it’s slightly different. The gourds.
Giuliana Furci: And the gourds, the gourds are different too. So I’m drinking, this is a Uruguayan mate that has a wide mouth. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. Brings back the memories. Really brings back memories. So you mentioned I think two species, was it two species?
Giuliana Furci: Two. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: What is the other?
Giuliana Furci: So the second species is called Cortinarius chlorosplendidus. Chloro is green and splendidus is splendid. It’s a beautiful green mushroom that has a great story to it. And this is, I have not only found new species to science, but I found some new species to Chile. And there is a way of finding them that’s quite amusing to many. And this is how I found Cortinarius chlorosplendidus. And of course, you’re in the forest, you’re hiking with mycologists and you have to go have a pee, of course. When nature calls, and you go behind a tree, and there you go, you’re there. Like, “Oh, look, there’s a green mushroom! Oh, it’s new to science.” And so I found Cortinarius chlorosplendidus while taking the pee break in the forest with a mycologist from Kew Gardens, Tuula Niskanen. So I’m like, “Tuula, wait for me, I’ll be right back.” And then I’m coming back, I’m like, “Tuula, look, this is a green mushroom!” “Where did you find that?” I said, “I was having a pee behind the tree and it was there.”
Tim Ferriss: Do you have colleagues who have spent decades going on the expeditions to find new species and they’re like, “God damn it, Giuliana, what next? She’s going to go to find a sandwich and look behind the hotdog vendor and find a new species.” I can imagine. Or maybe you’re just a good luck charm they keep with them.
Giuliana Furci: It’s the mate. It’s the mate. You drink enough mate, you have to stop more often.
Tim Ferriss: You have to stop and pee. And it definitely sharpens your visual senses. Where is Kew Gardens? That’s K-E-W?
Giuliana Furci: Yep. K-E-W. Kew Gardens, it’s a royal botanic garden in England in Richmond, and it houses the world’s largest fungarium. The largest collection of dried fungi in the world. And it has the largest collection of holotypes, which are the actual physical dried mushroom from which a species was described. So Amanita galactica has a holotype, which is the exact mushroom I got out of the car to feel when I first encountered and to collect. And so Kew is very important in mycology.
Tim Ferriss: Holo type. Like H-O-L-O, like wholeness.
Giuliana Furci: Wholeness, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Like holistic, holotropic.
Giuliana Furci: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Holotype.
Giuliana Furci: You can split a holotype to form an isotype, which is part of that holotype.
Tim Ferriss: So the isotype would be like taking an arm or a leg off of a human.
Giuliana Furci: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Is that the equivalent?
Giuliana Furci: Yeah. It’s like taking — so that this brings us to something really interesting. And it’s the fact that the mushroom isn’t the entire fungus.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Giuliana Furci: Now, we’re all talking a lot about mycelium lately, right? And so mycelium would be like the body. If we do a parallel with a tree, the mycelium is the tree and the mushroom is like the apple of the apple tree.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Giuliana Furci: So when we see mushrooms on the forest floor, we may be seeing 20 mushrooms spread out, but they may be from one same individual, one mycelium. So it might be like seeing 20 apples, it comes from one tree. The problem is we never see the tree. So if we walk into a forest and it’s full of Amanita muscaria, all this red mushroom with white dots, we have no way of knowing how many individuals are there.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Giuliana Furci: It might be one individual. And that’s why we know that the largest living organism on Earth is a fungus, is the Humongous Fungus that’s in Oregon. It’s one mycelium, one genetic body, that covers 900 acres and produces thousands of mushrooms every year. Right. But it’s one mycelium.
Tim Ferriss: That’s also true, I want to say, I don’t know if the location is Colorado, but for certain aspen groves, I want to say are also one gigantic biomass.
Giuliana Furci: Yes. Absolutely right.
Tim Ferriss: It’s so incredible to try to wrap your head around.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Question for you, as we think about, or just hold as a bookmark, this description of the mushrooms being the apples on the tree. The fruiting bodies. Okay. So, various animals are attracted to fruits. They eat these fruits, they spread the seeds, they help propagate the lives of these species, right? So we are symbiance in that way. How would you explain why mushrooms as fruiting bodies, the equivalent of apples, might have hallucinogenic properties? Since if we look at serotonin, it’s a very old neurotransmitter. And the serotonin receptors are very old. And so you’d certainly, many animals, if not all, I don’t know, above my pay grade, but would experience some of these hallucinogenic effects. Like the reindeer in Lapland who eat Amanita and so on.
How do you explain that? Because it is it, well, I’m not even going to hazard a guess. I would just love to know, because there are people who have hypothesized or speculated that the hallucinogenic effects of some plants are a, basically an insecticide or a pesticide. But that seems to contradict the purpose of a fruiting body.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Now putting aside, or maybe not putting aside, also, there are many, many fungi that are extremely toxic if ingested. But how should one think about the analogy of the apple and the mushroom and factor in the fact that you have hallucinogenic mushrooms, you have poisonous mushrooms, and so on?
Giuliana Furci: One thing that we’re learning, and at the Fungi Foundation, we are participating in a phylogenomics study of the genus Psilocybe with the Natural History Museum of Utah. And what we’re learning, so we’re not looking at the hallucinogenic compounds and the chemistry of the fungi in detail, we’re looking at the whole genus. So if we look at the genus Psilocybe, we are discovering, because this is all very new research, we are discovering that it’s very old. That it precedes humanity. That it originates most probably in Africa over 25 million years ago. And that it has radiated across the world because of animal vectors, because plants have moved as well. Now the relationship of a species with a compound isn’t necessarily direct. There is Psilocybe in species that aren’t — sorry, there is psilocybin in species that aren’t Psilocybe. There is psilocybin in general, like Inocybe, Gymnopilus, and others.
So the relationship of how a species is, or a genus is propagated even if it houses these compounds, doesn’t tell the story by itself. So these compounds are found in other genera as well, that have the same mechanism of propagation. So it’s not that simple to talk just about that one genus housing the species. We know that some of these hallucinogenic compounds are related to reactions that have nothing to do with propagation. There’s no evidence of a direct relationship to inhibit ingestion from an animal. Animals eat Psilocybe containing psilocybin and propagate them. And it doesn’t seem to be something that deters them.
Tim Ferriss: Do you think it’s something that attracts them? I mean, there are certain animals do seem to, I mean, they seem to —
Giuliana Furci: Homo sapiens are really attracted to them.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure. For sure. Just for, so we can cover our bases here with sort of taxonomy 101, since this is not an area I know much about. But you mentioned genera. Can you just walk us through the basics of what that stack looks like, please?
Giuliana Furci: So humans have convened to name species in a binomial system. So two names. And this was coined by Linnaeus, by Carl Linnaeus. And we still use that system in which we call a species with a first name, which is the genus and a second name, which is the specific name. So the genus Psilocybe and the species Psilocybe cubensis, for example. And that binomial, those two names compose the way we talk about all species on Earth. And we can go back up that system, that’s the taxonomical system, and that’s how we get to a kingdom. So we talk about kingdom of the fungi, kingdom of animals, kingdom of plants. And we break that down based on shared characteristics, and finally, ultimately get to the species name composed of genera and species name.
Tim Ferriss: What is between kingdom and then species?
Giuliana Furci: Well, let’s talk about fungi. So, because we have kingdom of the fungi, then we have phyla. The phyla, in the case of plants, we talk about division, not phyla, but animals and fungi talk about phyla. Then class, order, family, genus, species.
Tim Ferriss: I need to brush up.
Giuliana Furci: It’s a language. It’s a language. Language matters, but it’s a language in itself. And it’s a language that not everybody should have to speak because it’s a language that you can learn.
Tim Ferriss: Now, when you talk about the world’s largest fungarium, Kew Gardens, and you mentioned the holotype, if I’m remembering correctly. Is a holotype different from a — what is the term? It just shot out of my head. Hold on one second. Is a holotype the same as a voucher specimen for plants, or is it different?
Giuliana Furci: A holotype is the first voucher. It’s the voucher from which the species was described. It’s the physical specimen that was the first to give the name to a species.
Tim Ferriss: I see. It’s the first field sample.
Giuliana Furci: It’s the first one. It’s the one that was used to give the name. And then you can voucher many more of the species and deposit them in a fungarium. So, for example, I’m curator of the FFCL Fungarium; we house over 2,000 specimens, vouchers, but we only have, I think, three holotypes.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about Jane Goodall. She’s a friend and supporter of yours, and she’s also been on the podcast. Tremendous woman, of course, incredible human being. How did she come into your life?
Giuliana Furci: Jane Goodall visited Chile, and I was invited to a dinner. It was a small dinner that was held to welcome her. And I took her my books as a gift. I think it was actually only one book I had published at that moment. And I greeted her, listening to her in awe of this tremendous force of nature. And when I gave her the books, she said, “This is incredible, the fungi, you’re absolutely right, they’re different from plants and animals, and I’m trying to make a point of acknowledging them as who they are.” And it was a very simple conversation, but the next day I went to one of her talks again, and she came up to me and she said, “Giuliana, I’ve been thinking, and I’ve been looking at your work and your book, and you are with fungi where I once was with the chimps. Don’t stop.”
She said, “Don’t stop.” I’ll never forget her words. This feeling of being a voice for the voiceless, she was, at the beginning of her career, a voice for chimpanzees when nobody was talking for them or about them. And what she had seen from that first encounter with me to the next day where we met again, she had found out that I was working to voice for fungal justice, justice for the fungi and she acknowledged that. And that was the first encounter. And about a month later, I received a handwritten letter from Jane to my home in the post that said how much she had loved meeting me, how much she’d been thinking about it, and for me to please excuse her, because she had just written a book and she hadn’t been in time to deliberately include the fungi, so it still only referred to plants and animals and that she was sorry, and that she would make sure in her next book to acknowledge the fungi.
Of course, I have that letter very well kept. That was my story with her. And then over time because of her support and her encouragement to not stop on my mission, there was something very acute in that bonding and that looking at each other. We’re both field scientists, both mothers, and being a mother field scientist takes some extra energy, let’s put it that way. In her case, she had put her son in a cage to protect him from harm. I’ve had to leave my son for long times to go on expeditions. And it takes that a higher understanding of your determination. And we saw that in each other. She saw it in me and she acknowledged that, and so she’s been fundamental. And from then on has supported, with reviews, for books I’ve published afterwards and with endorsing the proposal to include fungi in language in conservation frameworks. She’s amazing.
Tim Ferriss: She is amazing. And I am going to ask you in a moment about the Chilean constitution, which is going to seem like a non-sequitur to people who don’t know what I’m talking about. We’ll get there. Before we do get there, I’ve only met Jane via Zoom or via teleconference, and she has a uniquely powerful presence even on a screen. What is it like? Could you describe what it is like to spend time with her or to meet her in person?
Giuliana Furci: Okay, so I’m Italian, right? So she’s like a mother. She is sensorial. She hugs you. She will touch you. She will greet you. And because I’m also British, it’s uncharacteristic of Brits. She’s very physical, which is amazing. And she’s very easy to reach. I think what Jane has that is of course something to admire and something I strive to achieve is really, really leaving yourself out of the picture and focusing on what your mission is for these organisms that you dedicate your life to.
Tim Ferriss: So how did you get fungi recognized in the Chilean constitution? And why is that meaningful? Why is that a mission worth dedicating yourself to?
Giuliana Furci: They’re recognized in a constitutional law. So it’s not the actual text of the constitution. It’s the law that is called the General Law for the Basis of the Environment. So it’s the highest legislative level. And really there’s an MO, there’s a modus operandi on how to work for policy change. I learned that way of working while I worked in Oceana, a Chilean office of the US organization, Oceana. And I worked in a Chilean foundation called Terram Foundation. And I was working around issues related to the negative environmental impacts of salmon farming. And so I learned a way of getting environmental issues recognized in regulation and legislation. And in 2010 there was an opening to modify the Chilean law. And when a law is open to comment, anything can happen. And that’s why legislators are so reticent to even modifying a small word in legislation or regulation because it opens the opportunity for a lot more to change.
And when that happened in 2010 I started driving the issue that fungi needed to be recognized on par as plants and animals. Really, we cannot talk about an ecosystem if we don’t acknowledge the fungi. A lot of international agencies had been pushing the world to adopt an ecosystemic view of nature. Now, what is an ecosystemic view of nature? It basically is the fact that nothing is independent from another, that everything is connected. The organisms that connect everything are the fungi. If we look at a forest, the plants, the animals, they don’t connect unless the fungi are there. The fungi are like the egg in a cake. If you’re going to make a cake and you have flour and you have sugar and you have butter, if you don’t put egg in it, those ingredients don’t stick together and you can’t make the cake.
And the fungi are like that egg, if they’re not in the mix, all these ingredients and components don’t stick together. So we went forward to Congress with a group of NGOs and made the case using the fungi’s astonishing attributes and charismatic data, and said, “Chile is a country that has a poor environmental performance. There’s international recommendation from different agencies to adopt an ecosystemic view of nature. The only way to do that is to recognize the fungi.” We’re a country that houses the first NGO on Earth, the first nonprofit on Earth that works for the fungi. So there was somebody pushing with the know-how of the environmental sector. And after two years, Tim, of talking to senators, talking to members of parliament, producing briefs that really made the case of why this was important, how it would be done, Chile became the first country in the world to recognize fungi in its law and then its regulation. So honestly, the country has an ecosystemic view of nature. It doesn’t look at plants and animals as separate from each other. It considers the organisms that unites it all.
Tim Ferriss: What are your hopes for the implications or consequences of that? Where do you hope it to go? Might be a better way to put it.
Giuliana Furci: I’m happy to see that it’s going towards global recognition of fungi in policy, on an international level today. I am very proud to say that large conservation bodies have adopted mycologically inclusive language in how they communicate nature. So Re:wild, the organization that was co-founded by Leo DiCaprio in a rebrand it had from Global Wildlife Conservation, has adopted the use of fungi in its language, acknowledgement of fungi in its language. The IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is talking about plants, animals, and fungi, and flora, fauna, and fungus. They are acknowledging the existence of the kingdom of the fungi in policy and regulations and legislation recommendations. And so my hope is that we leave the obsolete term of fauna and flora behind, that we start talking about fauna, flora, and funga. Funga is the word that delimits fungal diversity of a given place, that we stop talking about animals and plants as microscopic life on Earth only, that we talk about animals, fungi, and plants.
Because language creates reality, and if we are still constantly discarding their existence through language or not acknowledging their existence and their role in language, we will never be able to create funding streams for their research. We will never be able to create policy for their inclusion in education. We will never be able to really create the pipelines and the systems by which the nature-based solutions that fungi hold can be brought to light. So my hope for the future is that in at least my lifetime’s effort, people will acknowledge in language their importance and their existence and that they will be considered in policy for education and conservation everywhere.
Tim Ferriss: It’s so important to underscore what you said about language creating reality. If you want to effect change in policy or regulation, the language that is used is so important and the labels we use determine what we see and don’t see. I can’t remember, I think it was either Wittgenstein or Goethe who said “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” And I think that’s very true.
Let me ask you, if we step back for a second to come back to an earlier comment, if fungi and animals have this common ancestor, this fork in the road that might be represented by this posterior flagellum and so on, what are, if there are, any implications of that? Or if we think about fungi being closer to animals or humans than to plants, if that’s a defensible statement, what does that mean? Does it mean more than just the academic understanding or agreement that there is this common ancestor? What does that represent or mean to you? For people listening I’d imagine that’s a question that comes to mind.
Giuliana Furci: It means a lot. First of all, it’s a fact, we are more closely related to fungi than fungi are to plants. So fungi really are more closely related to animals. It’s hugely important because if we look at, I’m going to use an example, penicillin. Penicillin is an antibiotic that has changed the fate of humanity, because let’s convene that before the first World War, you could have died from an infection from a paper cut, and it’s thanks to penicillin and these antibiotics, especially penicillin, that we can cure infection. Now, penicillin is an antibiotic produced by fungi to protect themselves from bacteria. Now, the fact that we’re so closely related to fungi implies that it works for us too.
Tim Ferriss: That’s wild. I’ve never heard anyone put it that way.
Giuliana Furci: It works for us too. We have the sensitivity to be able to use it because we defend ourselves from infection the same way that fungi do. And it’s because we’re related.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Giuliana Furci: So, that’s a huge implication and that’s probably the best way, the most graphic way to say it.
Tim Ferriss: So if we were to make a list of reasons or give a few reasons why it’s important to protect fungi, I would love to hear your take. I mean, one that comes to mind, which you alluded to earlier with a comment about touching the mushroom or picking up the mushroom and seeing if any animals come out. So you could have worms, insects come out of a mushroom. In which case, this is your wording so I don’t want to make any claim to this wording, but if you lose a species you’re not just losing an individual, you’re losing an ecosystem. So there’s that.
There is the fact that given our shared origins or biological overlap, something like penicillin and future discoveries could be made that could have enormous medical or therapeutic implications for humans. What are some other reasons why it is important to pay attention to this? And part of the reason I bring it up is that with deforestation or replacement of bio-diverse forests with, say, pine farms and things of this type, you can dramatically reduce whatever it is — 50-, 100-fold reduce the biodiversity of fungi in a given area. Why is it important to preserve fungi and to really pay attention to this? What are some other reasons?
Giuliana Furci: Plants can’t live out of water without fungi that live on or in their roots. So we can go as essential as the fact that without the fungi, life on Earth wouldn’t be as we know it. Plants, trees are incapable of living in soil without their symbiotic fungi. They can’t synthesize the nutrients of the soil by themselves. Herbivores can’t break down the cellulose cell wall of the grass they eat, or the plants they eat, without the fungi in their gut that do it for them. So we know that energy is not lost, energy is transformed. The organisms that transform energy in nature are the decomposers, the fungi, the bacteria. Without the fungi, nothing would decompose, nothing would regenerate because nothing would degenerate. And so fungi are essential to life on Earth as we know it in terms of symbiosis and helping plants and animals live, and in terms of decomposing, which is really the start of the life cycle.
It’s arguable here, depending on where you stand in the cycle is where that cycle begins. For mycologists, the cycle begins when things start to rot. The death of a life form isn’t the end of life, it’s the beginning of other life forms. And that’s what fungi teach you, that the process of decomposition and rotting is the start of a cycle and the start of the creation of the conditions for life to compose. So ultimately without the fungi, plants couldn’t live out of water, nothing would decompose, animals wouldn’t be able to nourish themselves from plants. And in terms of humanity, nothing would ferment and therefore we wouldn’t be able to preserve anything. And so many fundamental food and medicine functions wouldn’t be available without the fungi. Fungi are essential to life as we know it. We cannot live without them. There is no life without them on Earth.
Tim Ferriss: So why don’t you tell us more about the Fungi Foundation? What is the charter, the objective or the mission, or all the above of the Fungi Foundation?
Giuliana Furci: The Fungi Foundation is the mycological platform that I founded to ensure that anybody who wants to know more about fungi, wants to work for the fungi, has a place to go to and find an answer. Which is what I didn’t have when I started. It’s an organization that was born in Chile, founded here in Chile, that has had important policy success that has now opened in the US. We are a global organization we’re a 501(c)(3) in the United States of America. We are an organization that enables people to understand the wonder and the awe of kingdom of the fungi. And we are extremely ambitious in what we want to achieve as durable change. We have five overarching programs. One is the expeditions program, in which we go to places where nobody’s ever been before to see what fungi there are.
The last wild places on Earth, those habitats you were talking about that are being destroyed at rates that we’ve never seen before on Earth, because fungi have so many of these nature-based solutions like medicine, food, textiles, we want to document those species before they’re lost forever. And tied to that, we have a conservation program that takes action for them not to be lost forever. So we work in the proposal of public policy for their protection. We work to assess their threat of extinction through red listing.
Tim Ferriss: What is red listing?
Giuliana Furci: Red listing is estimating the probability of extinction of a fungus or a species. So not only animals and plants can go extinct, fungi can too. And the process of red listing determines how close or how far we are to extinction for a species. So, through the tool of red listing, we can make the case of policies and management plans to protect those species in those last wild places.
We also have an elders program, it’s a line of work that is very dear to me as is expeditions. And what we’ve taken on is to map every known ancestral and traditional use of fungi by humanity. And that map is very well advanced. We have collected both published information and oral history from different parts of the world that talk of how humanity has culturally co-evolved with fungi to weave baskets, to make sunblock, to dye fibers, to be used as symbols of power, to treat infertility, to treat wounds. And so that program really is a reservoir. It’s like the Noah’s Ark of fungal solutions for the world. And it’s a huge responsibility we have. It’s never been done before. And last but not least, I would say, our work in education. We believe that in schools around the world, children should be taught as much about fungi as they are taught about plants and animals.
And to do that, fungi have to be included in school curriculum. We have developed a curriculum and we have co-created part of that curriculum with Fantastic Fungi. And I’m happy to say that the Fungi Foundation will be implementing a school curriculum paired to US standards. We’ll be implementing in the US and in other parts of the world so that children can learn about fungi in school. Now that’s a huge task, but if you think about it, Tim, 50 years ago when people studied in school and they studied the cell, nobody knew the cell had a mitochondria. A mitochondria, which is this structure inside a cell that has its own DNA, it has its own information. My mother didn’t study the cell with the mitochondria. Today, you wouldn’t think about teaching the cell without teaching about the mitochondria.
My hope is that in 30 years, 40 years, you would never dare teach about nature without fungi having their own explicit modules and curriculum. So we’re building that. So those are some of the things we’re doing. The organization is blessed to have Paul Stamets on its board, to have Nathalie Kelley on its board, Joanna Foster, who is a winemaker in Argentina and other places with amazing natural wines, and Antonio Bacigalupo and José Mingo Marinetti, who are founding members. So we’re a pioneering organization, and we’ve been faced with the challenge of bringing justice to fungi through formal inclusion and everything I’ve mentioned, but at the same time of being trailblazers and trying to find a way for this to happen for the fungi.
Tim Ferriss: And people can learn more at ffungi.org. Is that right?
Giuliana Furci: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: All right. Wonderful. And we will mention that again. I will mention that again, and we will also include it in the show notes. What other sources of inspiration and knowledge have greatly influenced you? Let’s start with books. Are there any particular books that have greatly influenced you with respect to mushrooms, mycology, fungi, nature? And are there any books that you would most recommend to others? Perhaps they’re the same, perhaps they’re different.
Giuliana Furci: So books that have greatly inspired me recently is Merlin Sheldrake’s book, Entangled Life. I love it. I’ve read it several times. Entangled Life is a must read. And if I look back, there are different titles of Chilean authors that have really inspired me — Luis Sepúlveda has written some amazing books that — short stories, but that really talk about the complexity of life and the simplicity also with which you can face complexity.
Tim Ferriss: I love that.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah. I have drawn inspiration from authors like Luis Sepúlveda who — and even if you read deep into complex authors, like Milan Kundera or others, you can always, from these huge complexities, find simplicity. What has inspired me from everything I read is finding simplicity from complexities. I would say that authors like Gabriela Mistral have been important. Eduardo Galeano, also very important author. So a lot of Latin American books, I really enjoy that.
Tim Ferriss: I just pulled up Luis Sepúlveda and it seems like quite a bit of his work has also been translated. And in addition to Spanish, he speaks English, French, and Italian. Or spoke, I should say, he passed away in 2020. “And in the late ’80s, he conquered the literary scene.” This is from Wikipedia. I’m impressed with the wording. “With his first novel, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories.” So very well known.
Giuliana Furci: And I would definitely recommend one of his titles, which I will translate directly from the Spanish, but it’s The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, there it is.
Giuliana Furci: I highly recommend that book. It’s very short. And then, another one of his titles that is extraordinary is The World at the End of the World, and it talks about the Southern Cone. There is a lot of beauty and a lot of life learning in his novels that can take complexities and show you sometimes how simple something complex can be.
Tim Ferriss: The World at the End of the World, that’s from 1989. Mundo del fin del mundo. Sounds so good in Spanish. And then The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly in 1996 —
Giuliana Furci: That’s a fantastic book.
Tim Ferriss: — which seems like it was originally published in Portuguese. I’m not going to hazard to try to pronounce that! I’ll get 40 percent of it right.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: In your own life — or looking forward, it could be related to your mission, it could be in life in general. Can you think of any examples of facing complexity with simplicity or finding the elegant or simple way to look at or contend with something that appears complex?
Giuliana Furci: Absolutely. I mean, positioning yourself as a 19-year-old, 20-year-old faced with an overwhelming fungal passion, fungal duty, an ineludible responsibility towards the kingdom of the fungi in a world where they are associated to rot, to death, to paganism — founding the world’s first NGO in a world where absolutely no funding existed at all, and still hardly exists for anything fungal in terms of policy. No, we’re talking about before the film Fantastic Fungi, before Psilocybe was recognized as medicine in the Western world. That is the most complex scenario I’ve ever been faced with. In that huge complexity and adversity, I found the simplicity of belief in yourself, first thing. I mean, it couldn’t be that this thing that just wouldn’t stop and would only grow inside me and this vision that I could see possible, it couldn’t be that it didn’t exist.
As complex and as adverse as the environment was, the simple looking inside and giving yourself permission to try and to do it has been the most fundamental thing. And it still is that way. When you talk to people and you say, “I work for mushrooms and I work looking for mushrooms, protecting mushrooms, making sure that everybody knows about mushrooms.” Most people look at you and think, “What are you doing? Why? Why would you do that? How can you live like that? How can you feed your son from doing that?” And the answer is inside and the answer is in hard work. So that’s what I’ve learned from complexity. Simplicity of looking in.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I certainly hope you’re right. That in, maybe not 30, maybe 20, maybe 10 years, that people will look back and the answer will be very obvious as to why you would dedicate yourself to fungi in the same way that if someone were to say today, “I dedicate myself to plants in X, Y, and Z capacity.” Or, “I dedicate myself to preservation and conservation of animals in X, Y, and Z capacity.” They would not have that surprised response.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And if you look at the importance of fungi, mycelium, mushrooms, as not just the egg in the cake, I think, as you put it, the connective tissue that binds plants and animals together, but also as close cousins of ours, from which so many discoveries are waiting to be found or within which so many discoveries are waiting to be found. I think it’s a real imperative to study, but you can only study that which you preserve, in a sense, and it’s incredibly important. It’s incredibly important.
Giuliana Furci: I think also, Tim, in this hyperconnected world, I have learned — and I’m very grateful to be of a generation that wasn’t as hyperconnected in our teens. I have learned that it’s important to be more with yourself than with others all day. I mean, I see people today constantly looking at what others are doing and constantly looking and trying to reflect themselves in what others choose to share. And how important it is when you believe in something, when you have an idea to take the time with yourself, to develop it, to investigate what you’re thinking about.
We all can make a contribution, if we give ourselves the time and space to develop our contribution. And not be constantly looking for everybody else’s contribution, in a way. So this hyperconnectivity, I think, is not helping us to be able to take on these paths of in-depth study. Results aren’t always immediate. It takes a long time and it’s okay for it to take a long time. You don’t present an idea and then the next day, have a result. It takes a long time. It takes hard work and you can’t do that if you’re constantly looking at everybody else’s life.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Agreed. I can’t remember the attribution, but if music is the space between the notes, in some respects, thinking and discovery are the spaces between the interactions sometimes.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And if the density is such that you’re saturated with communication, saturated with stimulation, there just isn’t the space for that germination. I’m going to make an awkward segue, but I have to ask you before we go, because I’ve heard so much about the Telluride Mushroom Festival and I’ve never been. I have friends who have spent lots of time in Telluride and love Telluride quite in and of itself. I’ve also never been to Telluride and you will be going there very soon. I think in mid August or mid to late August, August 19th, something like that?
Giuliana Furci: Yes. I will be giving a keynote on August 19th. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So can you describe the Telluride Mushroom Festival? What it is, why it’s interesting and also what you will be presenting on, what you’ll be doing your keynote about.
Giuliana Furci: Telluride Mushroom Festival is a must. Tim, you have to go to the Telluride Mushroom Festival. It is a safe place to express fungal love and adoration. That’s one thing I have to say. It’s the oldest festival in the US dedicated to fungi. It’s in its 41st edition. It was founded by four extraordinary men. Paul Stamets, Andy Weil, Emanuel Salzman, and Gary Lincoff. Now, this festival was the first place in the US where people could get together and talk about psychedelics and entheogens. It has had some of the world’s most renowned mycologists talking about the science of these species. It has the world’s most renowned psychiatrists talking about the psychedelic renaissance. And even before the renaissance, let’s face it, it’s been a house to talk about, to research, to think about, and to celebrate psychedelic mushrooms and anything mushroom in general.
I have had the honor of participating for about six years now, so a very small portion of its existence. And my first feeling there was, “There are more of us.” That was the first thing.
Tim Ferriss: “I’m not the only one.”
Giuliana Furci: “I’m not the only one.” I found my tribe there. And for the last five years, I’ve had the honor of moderating the final panel with important people talking and thinking about fungi and psychedelic fungi. Like Dennis McKenna, Dave Nichols, and many others, where we can sit down and have a candid conversation and talk about things nobody really wants to talk about in a scientific paper, and that maybe they won’t say in the press. So it’s a very safe and candid space to talk and to ask about psychedelics and really anything fungal.
There’s a lot of cooking with fungi, a lot of information about foraging. There’s a lot of practical workshops on how to cultivate or decompose toxic substances with fungi. So it’s an extraordinary space. This year, Paul Stamets will also be going and giving a keynote. It’s a great year, just saying. My keynote will be on our global policy work for conservation frameworks. The Fungi Foundation is known for making political change in Chile, but we have now taken that to the world and we have had some important international policy wins that I will be presenting and showing at the festival.
Tim Ferriss: That is very exciting. Congratulations.
Giuliana Furci: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: Just a few more questions. Dame of the Order of the Star. I did not look this up deliberately because I wanted to ask you about it. That is the coolest title I think I’ve ever heard in my life. What does it mean to be a Dame of the Order of the Star?
Giuliana Furci: Okay. So the Order of the Star — first of all, I was — how does one say? I was honored with the title of being Dame of Italy. And there are different orders of Damehood. The Order of the Star is a house of celebrated Italian citizens that weren’t born on Italian soil. So if I were born on Italian soil, I wouldn’t be part of the Order of the Star. So the Order of the Star is exclusive to Italians who have made a contribution to the country from somewhere else. And I was named Dame of the Order of the Star of Italy because of my work in mycology and for the fungi. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Man, I’m so sad that business cards are no longer really a thing, because if you print new business cards — if that ever happens, maybe there’s still a thing in some places. I really hope that that is somewhere on that business card. It was just spectacular. Giuliana. Giuliana Furci. Furci with a trill.
Giuliana Furci: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: F-U-R-C-I. I am so impressed by you and the work that you do, and I would like to heavily encourage people to go to ffungi.org. And I would like to also contribute to your work in a small way. I’d like to donate $50,000 from my foundation to your foundation, to the Fungi Foundation. And I would like to encourage other people to take a close look at the work that you do and consider supporting it.
I think what you’re doing is very important and I’ll say the website one more time because I would really encourage people to take a look. You’ve been very dedicated. You’ve taken the true and the hard path. You’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I know it hasn’t been easy. You’ve been incredibly strong. And, like you said, you’ve had wins and the Fungi Foundation is pursuing an important mission. I’m very excited to support with my own foundation and I encourage people to take a look and consider doing the same.
Giuliana Furci: Thank you very much, Tim. Thank you very much on behalf of the team and the board. That’s emotion coming through the microphone, which isn’t — thank you very much. We’ve never had support like that before. Thank you very, very much.
Tim Ferriss: It’s my pleasure.
Giuliana Furci: I hope to make you proud and we will make durable change for the fungi.
Tim Ferriss: Someday we’ll have to share some mate together.
Giuliana Furci: Hopefully in Telluride, we’re in a forest.
Tim Ferriss: That’s right, that’s right. So if I make it to Telluride, and I also would encourage people to check out the festival and to hear your keynote in person. I have heard tremendous things about the festival. I mean, tremendous, 10 out of 10 recommendations from multiple people I deeply respect. And also multiple friends who know me really well. It’s really just a matter of time before I get there myself.
Giuliana Furci: I have to say that this year, for those listening, Paul Stamets is also known as Pablo. Pablo doesn’t go every year. He doesn’t go every year. He’s going this year and it’s going to be an extraordinary festival. He is going to be giving a keynote as well. And I encourage you to consider popping in. It’s not very long, it’s a few days. And the community that exists there is extraordinary. And the opportunity to talk to people who are trailblazing, thinking, and debating, and creation around access to use of psychedelic medicine, through access to cultivating your own foods and medicines, through access to foraging, and access to talking to people who are dedicating their lives to bringing justice to the fungi. I highly recommend it. No year is better than this year.
Tim Ferriss: All right. Well, I’m going to have to take a close look at my calendar in that case. Giuliana, is there anything else you would like to say? Any call to action? [crosstalk 01:40:34]
Giuliana Furci: That was off site. I’m just calming myself down. Thank you very much. We’re not used to any help like this, so thank you. I’m just saying, give me a moment. I can’t continue as if nothing’s happened.
Tim Ferriss: Take a minute. No problem.
Giuliana Furci: Thank you so much. It’s only been 10 years. I’m trying to recover! Our work is — thank you. There’s nothing to say. I don’t want to explain anything, I just want to say thank you. And I wish I could give you a hug and give you — I wouldn’t give you this mate lavado, I’d make you a new mate. Okay. Let me gather myself. Oh, gosh. Can I just add — also, when I received your email saying that you had seen some of the videos, I was like, “Oh, shit. I wonder what he’s seen.” And then, I actually misleadingly thought, “Oh, let me think of what’s been done in English.” And now I know that you might’ve seen what was in Spanish. Now I’m feeling even worse. Like, “Oh, no. What is he seeing?”
Tim Ferriss: Well, I was impressed and not turned away. I was not discouraged in any way. And I’m so happy that we were able to connect and to do this and I’ve really learned so much. I have tons of notes, tons of things to follow up on. I’m going to check out Luis Sepúlveda.
Giuliana Furci: Okay, so your question!
Tim Ferriss: No, my question is not a mandatory question. It’s very simple. Is there anything else you would like to say before we wrap up, any requests of the audience? Anything you’d like to share? Anything at all, really, before we close this conversation.
Giuliana Furci: I would really like to invite people to think about how important it is to let things rot. It’s really not about rock and roll anymore, it’s about rotten mold and we have to let things rot. Rotten mold, baby, all the time. If we don’t let things rot, then cycles don’t start, don’t flow. We can’t fix carbon. We can’t decompose to be able to recompose. We can’t degenerate to be able to regenerate. I would really like to invite people to think about how even the most glorious moment of an old tree’s life is when that tree falls to the ground and starts decomposing and turns back into soil. Let’s not be afraid about decomposition. There’s a lot of hype around regeneration, and that can’t happen if things don’t rot. You’ve got to let it rot.
Tim Ferriss: Got to let it rot.
Giuliana Furci: Let it rot.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to cheat and ask one more question. We gave a few, or you give a few, book recommendations. Entangled Life and other novels and so on. If someone wanted to take their first steps into learning more about fungi, about — could be mushrooms. I mean, pick your term. Are there one or two books that you might suggest people take a look at?
Giuliana Furci: I suggest a film and then a book. So watch Fantastic Fungi and then read Entangled Life. Another fun, really fun way, is to read The Triumph of the Fungi by Nicholas P. Money. Now, Nik Money has several books about fungi. There’s a book called The Rise of the Yeast as well, and it’s about the story of how yeast has shaped humanity. Nicholas P. Money is a must-read to learn in a lighter way, in a less scientific way, but in a really well-informed and referenced and real way about how fungi have shaped the planet.
Tim Ferriss: Beautiful. And may they continue to —
Giuliana Furci: Forever.
Tim Ferriss: — to support and shape the planet, and hopefully with our help, and, in part, vis-a-vis the Fungi Foundation. And people can find the Fungi Foundation at ffungi.org. You can find Giuliana Furci — I love just — I’m trying to get it right. @giulifungi. G-I-U-L-I-F-U-N-G-I. Also @fungifoundation on Instagram. And we will include links to everything we discussed, in addition to all of that, at tim.blog/podcast. What a tremendous pleasure, and hope to meet you in person very soon, indeed. Thank you for taking the time.
Giuliana Furci: Thank you very much. And thank you very much for the space.
Tim Ferriss: Absolutely. My pleasure. And to everyone listening, let things rot, learn more about fungi, your close cousins. And, until next time, thank you for tuning in.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 700 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.