Every year, millions of people spend billions of dollars on funerals. While much of this money goes toward overpriced caskets and sprays of flowers, a large part goes toward the embalming of corpses.
This process, which many states legally require as a prerequisite for open-casket funerals, uses pricey, toxic fluids, various artificial foams, heavy cosmetics, and non bio-degradable plastics, to maintain a look of freshness and health. The end result is a corpse that is preserved, not for millennia, as in the case of King Tut, and not for decades, as in the case of Vladimir Lenin, but rather for a few days, just long enough to organize a funeral.
Considering the high price and questionable returns on embalming, I was particularly interested in the case of Karen Hanrahan. An Illinois food educator, Hanrahan has kept a McDonald's hamburger in a cabinet for 12 years, occasionally taking it out to show classes as an exemplar of the incredible amount of preservatives that are used in American food. While the burger has gotten a little cracked and shriveled, it hasn't decomposed, and the bun is completely free of mold.
Critics of Ms. Hanrahan, including McDonald's, have cited her lack of data and apparent inability to prove that she has, in fact, kept the same burger around since Bill Clinton's first term. To the extent that Hanrahan's opponents are willing to accept that it's the same burger, they cite McDonalds' impressive sanitation and outstanding cooking practices, arguing that the fast food restaurant's management techniques have rendered the burger sterile and thus unable to grow bacteria.
Regardless of the reason, however, Hanrahan's burger would suggest that Mickey D's has discovered the secret to perfectly (and cheaply) preserving flesh. With that in mind, I might have to reconsider my burial preferences. Forget embalming -- I'm eating at McDonald's!
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He briefly explored DIY embalming, but ultimately decided that it was worth it to hire a professional.
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