With Infinity Burial Suit by Jae Rhim Lee, now you can embark on your next great adventure as a mushroom!
Death, an inevitable truth that no matter how we choose to overlook, is going to catch up to us sooner or later. Every individual, no matter what their religious beliefs and opinion about life after death, has to go on, leaving behind fond (or otherwise) memories for their loved ones. But memories are not the only thing that stay long after we are gone. Among other impressions, we leave behind our dead bodies, which our loved ones would hopefully want to dispose of in a respectable fashion instead of just letting them be where they may. Different cultures adopt different means for disposal of the dead, ranging from the most common traditional burial to increasingly popular cremation. Other techniques including mummification, plastination, and cryonics have been (and are) used for preservation of bodies for long after death.
From an environmentalist’s perspective, the choice of how you have your dead body dealt with may be the determining factor of how greener or not an impression you make on Earth’s environment. No matter how cautious you’ve been in life about hygiene, and how you have recycled and reused resources to minimize waste and keep the planet clean, you could still undo much of your effort in death. Much as death, it is also a fact that human body is full of toxins. And the choice of how this toxic wonderland, that your body is, is disposed of matters!
Burial vs. Cremation Debate
Neil Young, a Canadian musician in one of his songs wrote, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”, a line which gained fame partly due to being quoted in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note. While maybe not what Young may have originally intended, this infamous line has become part of the burial vs. cremation debate and is occasionally used in defense of cremation. But for many environmentalists who think natural way of decomposing into compost is a better way to go, it is actually better to fade away than to burn out. The bitter fact though is, neither burial nor cremation is the best way to go, each having its own effect on the already fragile environment of our home planet.
Cremation, which needs huge amount of energy to fuel the combustion, contributes to the greenhouse effect. It also causes mercury pollution and global warming. This, however, does not automatically mean that burial is any better. The dead bodies are pumped with embalming chemicals such as formaldehydes, which along with other toxins in the body, enter into the ground if burial is the preferred method of disposal. In fact, most cemeteries around the world have high levels of arsenic pollutants which leak into water table and poison the ground water.
A Better Proposal – The Infinity Burial
Jae Rhim Lee, an artist and a TED fellow, came up with the idea of using the potential of fungus to consume the industrial toxins in deceased bodies and break them down into fundamental nutrients before releasing them back to soil to help combat pollution. To achieve this end, Lee has been working on the Infinity Burial Project for the past couple of years which has conceived what is essentially a jumpsuit that you clothe the deceased in before burial, and which turns into mushrooms that ‘eat’ the body.
Mushrooms are known as one of the world’s greatest decomposers. According to mycologist Paul Stamets, fungi can clean up everything from oil spills to nuclear meltdowns. He thinks mushrooms can come close to saving the planet. Jae Rhim Lee, capitalizing on what was already known about mushrooms’ decomposing prowess, took it upon herself to engineer a breed that would feed on dead body cells. During development of what she called the Infinity Mushroom, she used her own nail clippings, hair, blood, and skin to teach the mushrooms to recognize and consume her body tissue, with the aim of breaking down industrial waste stored in her body. This led to her, along with her project partner Mike Ma, engineering what they call the Infinity Burial Suit. It is a jumpsuit embroidered with threads of these specifically engineered mushroom spores. The deceased is buried in this suit which remediates body toxins and helps break down the body. The mushroom spores in the embroidery ‘consume’ the dead cells and sprout into mushrooms.
The idea at first sounds creepy, for indeed we expect to eat our food, and not the other way around. Something which Lee pointed out in her 2011 TED Talk:
“WE WANT TO EAT–NOT BE EATEN–BY OUR FOOD, RIGHT? 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.”
Expecting to start shipping this summer, Lee’s company Coeio offers the ultimate green funeral for both people and pets in form of Infinity Burial Suit and Infinity Burial Pod respectively. Dennis White, a 63-year-old suffering from a rare neurological disease, is expected to become the first person to be buried in the mushroom suit (see the documentary ‘Suiting Dennis’ for his complete story).
The company is now offering early access to the Infinite Burial Suit and is getting names for the waiting list.