Death: It’s bad for us.
People who are actually dead have to deal with that whole not-being-alive thing, which is less than awesome. But those people probably aren’t reading this right now. (And if you are, please tell me your secret!)
For the rest of us, losing a loved one can be tough on our emotional state. Every loss is different, and I can tell you from experience that they all suck in their own special way.
But death is also bad for our wallets.
Between the coffin, the service, and everything else, the average funeral costs a whopping $7,000.
On top of that, death is even killing the environment.
According to Scientific American, it takes more than 30 million board feet of wood annually to produce enough caskets. There’s also the issue of those 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid used each year, which contain toxic carcinogens like formaldehyde that seep into the soil once the body decomposes. (And also turns embalming into a risky career.)
Cremation isn’t much better either. More than 500 pounds of carbon dioxide get released into the atmosphere every time a corpse gets put through the furnace. Based on the average cremation rate of 38%, that’s nearly 250,000 tons of CO2 every year, or the equivalent annual output of 50,000 cars.
What else can we do with our bodies? One option is to feed our corpses to carnivorous mushrooms that will nourish the soil with our decomposing flesh. Seriously.
Here’s how they describe it on the official website:
“[The Infinity Burial Suit] is embroidered with a special type of thread infused with infinity mushroom spores. When buried, the mushroom spores act to cleanse the body of many toxins and gently return the it to the earth. The end result: our bodies are transformed into vital nutrients that enrich the earth and foster new life.“
It’s basically a bodysuit made from biodegradable netting that’s woven with specially cultivated mushrooms that help breakdown the cadaver into clean compost. Lee jokingly described this suit as “ninja pajamas,” which you’d think would have more mass appeal than “sustainable mushroom death suit.”
More importantly, it retails for a scant $999, which is waaaaaay less than you’d pay for a standard funeral with a fancy casket. Did I mention it’s also available for pets?
But wait: It gets even weirder.
Apparently it’s difficult to breed a special hybrid mushroom strain in a laboratory. So Lee has been growing standard shiitake and oyster mushrooms by … um … feeding them toenail clippings, loose hairs, skin cells, and whatever else naturally sheds from her body. Over time, this trains the mushrooms to, well, develop a taste for people.
OK, so it might not sound like the most conventional way to go about it. But when you start to think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
“I realize this is not the kind of relationship that we usually aspire to have with our food,” Lee said with a laugh. “We want to eat, not be eaten by, our food. But as I watch the mushrooms grow and digest my body, I imagine the Infinity Mushroom as a symbol of a new way of thinking about death and the relationship between my body and the environment.”
Are you grossed out but intrigued? You’re not alone. Lee’s TED Talk has more than a million views … which means she’s onto something.
No matter how much we try to talk around it or avoid the subject all together, death is part of our lives. And while it can be sad, it doesn’t have to be bleak — in fact, it can be kind of beautiful in a bittersweet way. Because it’s all part of the wondrous cycle of life.
As Lee says at the end of her TED Talk, “Accepting death means accepting that we are physical beings who are intimately connected to the environment. […] We came from dust and will return to dust. And once we understand that we’re connected to the environment, we see that the survival of our species depends on the survival of the planet. I believe this is the beginning of true environmental responsibility.“
The Infinity Burial Suit helps us confront some uncomfortable truths about mortality.
Death might be inevitable, but we shouldn’t have to pay extra for it while also poisoning the Earth.
Besides, what better legacy is there to leave behind than a better, brighter world for the next generation to enjoy with the knowledge that you literally gave your life to help the planet thrive?
Watch Jae Rhim Lee’s full TED Talk below. You might find yourself surprisingly inspired.