When did turning a wholesome food resource into a temporary artistic lantern become an appropriate way to celebrate the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day? Can such gastronomical wastage ever be justified by creative purpose? With Halloween on our doorstep, it’s time to shed light on the truth of the Pumpkin tradition.
The problem lies in the fact that the United Kingdom imported the pumpkin-carving tradition from America, but without their enthusiasm for the process as a whole and their love for all things orange. Whilst those across the pond enjoy turning their pumpkin innards into a tasty pie, we have been far more reluctant to cook the scooped-out insides, with only a third of us choosing to do so. As a result, 18000 tonnes of pumpkins are thrown away each year.
Essentially, people don’t see pumpkins as food, which is both baffling and worrying. With online recipe sites and magazines awash with uses for the scooped out flesh and seeds at this time of year, there’s no excuse for not trying. Sipping a pumpkin-spiced latté as you walk past rotting orange flesh on the streets is an alarming contradiction, and reveals an acute ignorance for this issue.
Indeed, it is an issue that is disguised year on year by the glossy publications that, proclaiming ingenious and delicious ways to use the pumpkin innards, present the image of a country that is an expert in Halloween sustainability.
The truth, however, is far more unsavoury: The pumpkins on the shelves are in fact largely Howden pumpkins, a variety which has been specifically been bred for size, shape, colour and having a handle-like stem for easy carrying and carving, rather than for taste. These pumpkins, grown to an unnatural size of up to 6kg, wouldn’t be the choice of any cook.
Whilst suggestions of turning disregarded squash into livestock feed is partly helpful, this ‘solution’ goes nowhere to confront the truth that breeding these vegetables with a sole, aesthetic purpose in mind is essentially immoral, when so many people in the world are starving.
The pumpkin trade has more dark secrets; our demand is pushing down prices and farmers are rarely paid fairly for their labour-intensive harvesting, with their produce and profit subject to our expectations and supermarket’s specifications for making the perfect spooky lantern. There is no market for pumpkins after October 31st, creating an intense and last minute industry which doesn’t provide stable employment to communities.
Unfortunately, pumpkins represent just one aspect of our immoral Halloween habits; buying plastic decorations and garish nylon costumes are all synonymous with our disposable culture and the wider sustainability problem. As lanterns rot away on doorsteps and the fake cobwebs are torn down, Christmas lingers, bringing with it the far-from-merry prospect of yet more waste.
Image: Yang Yifei