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The Bizarre The Last Of Us Question Redditors Have About The Infected

Reddit can be an amazing resource for those who seek answers to kinds of questions that are rarely addressed in mainstream media, especially when it comes to the stranger and more bizarre aspects of their favorite fandoms. This sometimes take's those interacting with the site to some pretty dark places. One Reddit user recently turned to the platform to ask something that might not have occurred to most fans of "The Last of Us:" Can people eat the mushrooms that grow off certain types of infected?

The world of "The Last of Us" is a dark and desperate place. Some people have managed to survive by giving up their freedom and living in the totalitarian government-controlled quarantine zones while others have formed bands of marauders who gather resources by killing and robbing those who are unfortunate enough to cross their path. Food scarcity is a constant concern, and characters in both the Naughty Dog games and the HBO TV show are often seen scavenging for what preserved food remains or else hunting wild game whenever they can. Even the notion of resorting to cannibalism isn't entirely unfamiliar in the story. People often do desperate things in the name of survival, but might any of them have been hungry enough to be tempted by the forbidden fungus?

Other Reddit users didn't think it was a great idea

The original post was created by Reddit user weedmaster6669 asking if any of the survivors in the world of "The Last of Us" had ever tried eating the infected. They wrote, "people eat mushrooms all the time, think about it — cannibalism aside, imagine trimming off the juicy mushroom bits from a clicker, marinading [sic] it and roasting it over an open flame." They went on to claim that because it was an apocalypse, "there's no way hundreds of people haven't tried it, right?"

To the shock of few, most of those in the replies didn't agree with the OP's idea. Aside from the obvious danger that would come with keeping a live Clicker around to harvest the mushrooms, many users had concerns about whether eating said mushrooms could be a vector for spreading the infection. User BananaBladeOfDoom wrote, "The cordyceps first spread through people who used the infected flour for baking. I doubt cooking is gonna do much to make it safe to consume." The cordyceps fungus was only spread through flour in the TV show, but the question of whether cooking the fungus would be enough to neutralize it is something that isn't really answered in either version of the property. Meanwhile, user supership79 wrote, "[I] doubt anyone eats any mushrooms at all in this universe."

Arguments in OP's defense

While most of the arguments against eating the fungus seem pretty sound, weedmaster6669 didn't end things there. They updated their post to offer counterarguments to many of the problems suggested by the commenters. They posited that cordyceps can only be infectious if it's alive, suggesting that making it safe to eat is simply a matter of cooking it to the appropriate temperature. "[Cordyceps is] transmitted through spores within flour[,] yes? Meaning cooking it, at least at the temperatures common for baking, will not kill it. Maybe it's like chicken[,] and you gotta cook it hotter than most other foods to make sure it's safe to eat." They went on, "[M]aybe you could salt cure it and make jerky? It all depends on how hardy the spores are."

They also went on to argue that the show claimed that the rising temperatures due to climate change were the reason the spores were now able to infect humans — and that freezing the fungus might make it sterile.

Of course, all of this is operating under the presumption that the fungus is edible in the first place, but there is actually some evidence that might back that idea up.

People eat cordyceps in real life

The parasitic mycelia that turns people into infected in "The Last of Us" is actually based on a real life genus of fungus. There are thousands of recorded species of cordyceps in the world, and each of them survives and propagates by infecting a different species of host, (primarily ants, caterpillars, or other insects.) They infect the brains of these creatures and take control of them, forcing them to climb to the highest point they can find before the fungus fruits from the corpse of their host. This makes it so that their spores can spread as far as possible, potentially infecting the rest of the colony. But people across the globe actually do eat some of them.

Alan Bergo of Forager Chef claims that one variety of cordyceps he found in a mushroom store in San Francisco has a mild flavor, but that it finishes with a sweetness that makes it ideal for use in desserts. In fact, some varieties of cordyceps are used for their alleged medicinal properties. According to Web MD, "Cordyceps might improve immunity by stimulating cells and specific chemicals in the immune system. It might also help fight cancer cells and shrink tumor size, particularly with lung or skin cancers." The site notes that medicinal uses are for lab-grown cordyceps, which isn't technically in mushroom form.

So while the concept of eating cordyceps isn't a novel one, it's probably best not to eat the kind from "The Last of Us" except as an absolute last resort.