Death & The Vegan

Becoming a vegetarian was easy because it only affected my eating habits. I didn’t have to change my wardrobe, I didn’t have to switch to a different toothpaste or moisturizer, and honestly, I didn’t have to change my diet that much. (I could live happily on nothing but ice cream, tomato sandwiches, and mac and cheese.)

Becoming a vegan was a different story. The thing that scares and irritates so many people about veganism is the fact that it’s not just a diet, it’s a worldview, a way of living. As a (highly imperfect) vegan, I now read every label on every product I buy. I can’t just walk into a store and pick up a new pair of shoes, I have to scour the internet for vegan varieties. It’s the same with luggage, books, cell phone cases — hell, I recently found myself scanning a box of Band-Aids to make sure they were vegan. (Spoiler: they were.)

At the same time, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought increasingly about death — not only who should get which of my few worldly possessions, but also what should happen to me, my body. And just as I try to live in a way that has the least possible impact on other animals and on the planet, that’s the way I’d like to die, too.

The last thing I’d want is to be embalmed and locked in a heavy, wooden casket, as everyone in my family has done. I don’t like the idea of embalming fluids, and the caskets I’ve seen at funerals have been (a) appallingly elaborate for housing a dead body and (b) ridiculously expensive. I’m also not a fan of cremation, which seems like an excuse to toss more pollutants in the atmosphere.

I might consider donating my body to science, but that usually has to be done very quickly after death. If I’m preparing for the final curtain and find myself all alone in the world, donation would be fine, but if I still have friends and family members, I’m not so sure. In my experience, saying goodbye to a body, burying a body — an actual body — has been crucial to the grieving process. If my husband were to pass away, for example, I wouldn’t get the same closure giving his body to science as I would burying him. I know that seems selfish, but that’s the nature of grief: we don’t weep for the dead, we weep for ourselves, our loss. (FWIW, my husband has asked to be cremated, so it’s kind of a non-issue.)

Really, I just want to rot in the ground and become food for worms. In the best of all possible worlds, I’d be buried in something biodegradable, like one of the pods designed by Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel: the containers and the corpse break down over time, providing nourishment for a tree that’s planted above. The tree serves as both a grave marker and a way of remembering the dead.

Failing that, I’d like something more conventional but equally environmentally friendly. Ecopods are nice — and slightly more satisfying than coffins woven from seagrass and willow — but honestly, a wooden box would be fine.

Of course, the most important part of organizing a vegan/eco-friendly funeral is planning ahead. Funeral homes and cemeteries are in the business of making money, and unfortunately, they have an advantage in that they often deal with people who are going through serious emotional distress. When you’re grieving over the loss of a husband or wife or parent or child, you don’t want to be arguing with funeral directors about upending the status quo: “Wouldn’t you rather put him to rest in something nicer?”

I want to spare my loved ones that burden — especially since I live in Louisiana, which has some VERY frustrating laws that govern how and when funerals can be conducted. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist or an old crank, but America’s funeral industry is just as grubby a racket as its factory farming industry. Hell, if I’d had more coffee this morning, I’d be inclined to rattle off the ways that they overlap. Will someone draw that Venn diagram, please?

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