Here's one crunchy idea I can give it up for: green burials. Greensprings Natural Cemetery, the first burial place of its kind in New York State and one of a handful around the nation, opened in May and has been doing stiff business since. Associated Press gives the details:
At Greensprings, where a plot costs $500 plus a $350 fee to dig the grave, bodies cannot be embalmed or otherwise chemically preserved. They must be buried in biodegradable caskets without linings or metal ornamentation. The cemetery suggests locally harvested woods, wicker or cloth shrouds. Concrete or steel burial vaults are not allowed. Nor are standing monuments, upright tombstones or statues.
Only flat, natural fieldstones are permitted as grave markers (they can be engraved). Shrubs or trees are preferred.
Plenty of greeny sanctimony at work here, including one woman who chides her fellow Americans for refusing to admit that "death is about change" (which seems to me like criticizing people for using the euphemism "used cars" when they're really talking about "pre-owned vehicles"). But Greensprings does more than just beat the average cost of a funeral in the USA, which the Federal Trade Commission estimates at about $6,000. I don't need James Earl Jones to convince me I'd rather have my lifeless husk providing some useful fertilizer than gassing up in an airtight compartment. (Not that I'll care when it happens.) Greensprings' site says there aren't any serious health risks involved in having non-embalmed bodies decomposing in the ground: Was that just an urban myth?
It's strange that there hasn't historically been a feasible choice between cremation and having your corpse dolled up and rejuiced in the most unheimlich manner imaginable. Maybe you're an aficionado of the incorrupt bodies of the saints. (If so, you'll definitely want to take a trip to the Saint Charbel monastery; I can attest that the celebrated "sweat and blood secretion phenomenon" is exactly as savory as it sounds.) But think about it: After Christ has returned to harrow hell and your glorified body is rejoined with your eternal soul, are you really going to miss the embalming fluid? Beyond the obvious fiscal, environmental, and spiritual issues, embalming gives the zombies one more advantage over us: Slowing the rate of decomposition just means more undead cannibals we'll have to fight when the time comes.
Read about how the Institute for Justice and the Funeral Consumers Alliance helped an independent casket maker beat the Missouri State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.
Enjoy the details of 17th-century burial practices in John Donne's great poem "The Relique."
And if you've never read The Loved One, do yourself a favor.