For those interested in natural cemeteries but not so fond of being buried, allow me to introduce you to the Mushroom Death Suit.
The concept is the brainchild of artist and MIT research fellow Jae Rhim Lee, who became inspired to research natural methods to assist decomposition after learning more about the modern funeral industry.
"I am interested in cultural death denial, and why we are so distanced from our bodies, and especially how death denial leads to funeral practices that harm the environment, using formaldehyde and pink makeup and all that to make your loved one look vibrant and alive, so that you can imagine they're just sleeping rather than actually dead," she told New Scientist.
Lee's first design as part of her Infinity Burial Project is an organic cotton suit lined with a crocheted netting containing mushroom spores. Lee chose mushrooms because of their ability to not only quickly break down organic matter, but also because they're excellent at cleaning up environment toxins in soil. She's currently developing unique strain(s) of fungi (called Infinity Mushrooms) trained to not only quickly break down our bodies, but also dispel the toxins they contain.
"What also started it was the mycologist Paul Stamets who I studied with. He is kind of the grandfather of people who work with mushrooms," she adds. "He talks about the mushroom as being the interface organism between life and death, that mushrooms are the master decomposers. So what better organism to work with?"
With Lee's current design, here's how the mushroom suit would work:
- The fluids of the recently deceased are replaced with an eco-friendly alternative embalming fluid containing a "liquid spore slurry."
- The outside of the body is applied with a "Decompiculture Makeup" containing "dry mineral makeup and dried mushroom spores and a separate liquid culture medium."
- Combined with the suit, the spores are activated to grow and start breaking down the body.
Lee says she imagines her suit being used above ground, but covered. Presently, she's still conducting tests on meat but already has a few people who have offered to donate their bodies to be consumed by mushrooms.
Check out her TED Talk on the Infinity Burial Project below.
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