Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On the Subject of Death

I was thinking about death yesterday. It's not that I'm depressed or dealing with the loss of the loved one. Instead, it's just that I saw a crudely illustrated interpretation of Capulet's crypt from Romeo and Juliet on a colleague's dry erase board during lunch. This scene sent me off on a reverie about traditional methods for disposing of dead bodies. While I munched on my pepper and lime seasoned beef fajitas, reheated in a microwave, I thought about that group in India, I think, who feed their dead to vultures. Then I thought about how the Civil War and the job of getting multitudes of corpses long distances without refrigeration for burial helped take embalming from a curiosity to commonplace.

Personally, I kind of like the vulture idea. It seems a shame that something so full of meat (people) should go to waste when they die. American practices have our worthless bodies hermetically sealed from our surroundings. Our stored calories and nutrients are locked away with us instead of going back into the natural cycle. It seems like our pampered lives and high-calorie diets should go for something other than just diabetes and heart disease. I mean, Kobe beef is a highly sought-after delicacy precisely for those reasons. The only problem is that I'm not sure that Americans could get used to the idea of vultures, or any other large scavenger, ripping chunks from their loved ones. It's just too gruesome, too obvious.

Instead, I have an idea that would enable us to move this process out of sight and out of mind, all the while while making an annoying invasive species useful. Where I live, fire ants are a huge pest. However, with their large numbers and voracity, they make efficient work of dead things. They can clean a skull in a couple of days, so I propose that we start fire ant farms in the US precisely for this purpose. When someone dies, we ship their bodies off to these places where their soft parts are devoured by gigantic colonies of ants, leaving only the bones. Heck, if we're smart and handle the marketing right, we could even turn the fire ant into a new source of protein for the world, although that might be a little too Soylent Green for some.

I'm sure we could work a green angle in there somewhere as well. After all, feeding you to ants or other scavengers has to be better for the environment than burning or burying you.


Courtney said...

Sure, because people might be averse to idea of vultures eating our flesh, but fire ants? No problem.

Actually, you could skip a step there. I've heard of dead bodies being freeze-dried and then blasted apart to make a soil-enriching powder. Or you could become a Life Gem, which takes cremains and turns them into diamonds and other jewelry. Personally I wouldn't want a ring that used to be my dead relative, but some people like that sort of thing.

Julie said...

Jacob, this is why I will be cremated.

Chris said...

Hm, I do despise the fire ant, probably more so than vultures. So I'm gonna say no to that idea.

How about processing the dead bodies into a food product with a long shelf life that can be shipped to starving populations in impoverished countries?

A Free Man said...

1. Fire ants are cool. Everyone moans about them, but we used to have all sorts of fun with fire ants as kids.

2. There's a big movement toward green burials in Oz (and presumably elsewhere). No chemicals and ultimately you become compost. I like that idea.

But if I were still in Okeefenokeestan I'd totally be behind your fire ant idea.