Community Columns

Composting corpses is creepy and wrong

In my last Modesto Bee column — “No one out-greens a farmer” — I whimsically joked about Soylent Green. I was referencing a 1973 futuristic sci-fi whereby NY detective Charlton Heston discovers that the Soylent Corporation was manufacturing green food from dead bodies. Heston bellows the memorable horrifying line: “Soylent Green is people!”

How could I know my wisecrack was timely, and more fact than fiction? Could people really be made into food, or more precisely, could corpses literally be made into human compost to grow food?

Well, yes.

Katrina Spade, creator and CEO of the entrepreneurial public-benefit corporation Recompose, intends on making agricultural compost from dead bodies. Spade’s Washington-based start-up is a soil-based alternative to burial and cremation, claiming to be good for the environment. They put the deceased within a mixture of wood chips, straw and other ingredients for about four weeks, and voila, “organic reduction” takes place and human composting is achieved. It’s been calculated that there’s a carbon savings of over a metric ton per person.

According to Recompose, this process “gently converts human remains into soil, so that we can nourish new life after we die.” It will “return our bodies to the earth, sequestering carbon and improving soil health.”

This creepy outside-the-box thinking is endorsed by government, not surprisingly, as they’re just as morally defunct and worm-ridden as Recompose. On May 22, Washington became the first state to legalize human composting, even beating out crazy California.

This flashes me back to a local Farm Bureau directors’ meeting many years ago. The topic of sewer sludge as a fertilizer-soil amendment on farms was being considered for a policy decision. It was debated that perhaps we should tread carefully because of the many unknowns with sludge, as it may carry heavy metals, toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pathogens and whatever else can be flushed down toilets. Even if sludge is treated and deemed safe, there’s still long-term concerns for the soil. And the public might one day be repulsed by the idea, not wanting human waste put into the food chain.

Oh my, how times have changed!

The green environmental movement now believes human composting is ecologically responsible, even morally superior to traditional religious burial. Many ultra-greens have recently applauded the actor Luke Perry for choosing to be buried in an eco-friendly mushroom suit.

Human composting supposedly eats away those nasty 219 toxic chemicals that reside in the human body; alkaline hydrolysis or “liquid cremation” is another touted method. An emissions study claims that 46 different pollutants are released into the atmosphere with regular cremation.

As a dirt farmer, I can always appreciate good soil. But human composting is more than preposterous, or some ghoulish, get-rich scheme. It’s an abomination to God and an insult to humanity who is made in his image and likeness.

Is nothing in our culture sacred?

Is one human life, and death, no more valuable than two wheelbarrows of fluffy composted soil?

Soylent Green has arrived, people. It’s real people.

John Michelena is a West Side grower and community columnist. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.

This story was originally published June 7, 2019 2:59 PM.

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