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People are eating their deceased loved ones’ ashes

MDlinx Jun 08, 2024

Another peculiar food trend has entered the news cycle, and this time, it involves people cooking and eating their deceased loved ones’ ashes. Some reports show people publicly mixing ashes into meals as a way to connect with the deceased, while others show people tricking other family members into eating a relative’s remains.

The practice of eating a loved one’s ashes may have a range of emotional health impacts on the grieving process. One performance artist who cooked and ate her father’s ashes in 2020—at a public event during which she shared the meal with others—said the process felt “comforting.”

Feldman A. This performance artist is cooking and eating her father’s cremated remains. Time Out New York. September 21, 2020.

Others, like the brother who was reportedly unknowingly fed his grandmother’s ashes in spaghetti sauce by his sister, may have felt less comforted than deceived—or creeped out.

Walcott E. Woman Confesses to Pranking Brother by Using Grandmother’s Ashes in Pasta Sauce: ‘I Ate My Nan.’ People. May 28, 2024.


In addition to emotional impacts, eating ashes may have physical health implications—but perhaps not as many as you may have thought. According to a Live Science interview with a microbiologist—following an incident in which a high school student baked her grandfather’s ashes into sugar cookies and then fed them to several members of her class—there is no medical reason against eating a loved one's ashes following cremation.

 Letzter R. There’s No Medical Reason Not to Bake Your Grandpa’s Ashes into a Sugar Cookie and Eat It. Live Science. October 19, 2018.

(There may be legal consequences, however, depending on local laws. At the time of publication, police were still investigating the sugar cookie incident.)


Proper cremation will typically eliminate toxins and infection risks from the ashes, the scientist explained. However, ashes may contain high levels of carbon and some heavy metals, which can have negative health impacts if consumed in excess.

Health impacts or risks could also vary based on the cremation process and any embalming processes used prior to cremation. Jana Abelovska, a pharmacist and medical expert at Click Pharmacy in the United Kingdom, says that when it comes to potential health risks associated with ingesting ashes, “the presence of toxins such as carcinogenic formaldehyde, which is used in the embalming process prior to cremation, is particularly concerning.”

Abelovska adds that it’s also “important to consider the chemical composition of the cremated remains, which are mostly composed of dry calcium phosphates with traces of minor minerals like sodium and potassium salts,” and how “the potential inclusion of heavy metals like lead, iron, and copper” can impact health.

She adds that some risks may increase depending on how often a person consumes ashes—and how much ash they consume. For instance, regularly consuming cremated remains can pose higher risks than participating in a standalone ritual.

If you’re worried about patients eating, or overeating, ashes after cremation, it may be smart to talk to them about their symptoms first. If they are experiencing any physical symptoms, you could conduct a physical exam or order tests to help understand if they are in need of any treatment. If they are experiencing negative psychological impacts, you could help refer them to a mental health or grief counselor.

Rather than jump to judgment or criticism of your patients’ actions, it can be important to approach conversations from a culturally sensitive point of view.

Lepinskie B. Endocannibalism: The Mortuary Ritual of Consuming the Dead. TalkDeath. February 28, 2022.

While the act of eating ashes may seem odd to Westernized medicine, different people and cultures have different ways of dealing with death—and some rituals may have ancestral significance.


What this means for you

Some people are eating cremated ashes as a mourning ritual. Intent, and frequency, of consumption may determine to what extent this impacts their health.


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