The Problem With a Plethora of Pumpkins

CC BY 2.0. James Saunders

After Halloween, most of these tasty, edible gourds go to landfill.

Every autumn, millions of pumpkins are purchased by people who want to add seasonal decor to their homes. Many pumpkins are carved into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, while others are left whole and arranged artistically. But the sad reality is that most are never eaten, despite being a nutritious, delicious, and affordable food. They go straight to landfill in early November after serving their decorative purpose – 1.3 billion pounds of methane-spewing, rotting pumpkin in the United States and an additional 40 million pounds in the U.K.

It's an odd industry, when you stop to think about it. No other kind of produce comes to my mind as being grown in such enormous quantities, with so few intentions of eating, while generating such tremendous income. Canadian pumpkin farmer Rob Galey experiences this firsthand. He has multiple pumpkin patches that attract thousands of paying visitors each year:

"We have hayrides going down to the pumpkin patch [where] you can pick your own. We got the petting farm. We got the train with a mile of track [that] takes you around the farm [and] shows you all the crops. We got the corn maze."

Galey says he and his staff have to restock the pumpkin field each night so that visitors are happy with the sight of the bright orange globes among the vines. Galey told CBC,

"We don't want to get picked down where there is very little selection. We have many other pumpkin patches. If we're short a certain kind or size, we'll bring some down here to keep a great selection going."

As Galey points out, people are buying a metaphor, rather than food. He doesn't mind the lack of consumption, since he says pumpkins get people out to the farm and into contact with farming and local food production in a way that potatoes and corn never do. But for anyone concerned about food waste – and we all should be, considering the growing issues with food security – our relationship with pumpkins needs a serious overhaul.

The solution? Start eating more pumpkin. Delve into this seasonal fruit in the same way that you do asparagus in spring, lettuce and tomatoes in summer, and carrots in fall. Make November your pumpkin season, when you cook everything from curried pumpkin soup to pumpkin waffles to pumpkin mac'n'cheese to pumpkin cheesecake. Any pumpkins that are whole and unspoiled, that were used to decorate your home, can be safely consumed.

To be clear, you should NOT eat a carved jack-o-lantern, as its interior has been exposed to air and bacteria for days or weeks, as well as candle wax and smoke. Be sure to roast the seeds as soon as you carve it, but after Halloween all jack-o-lanterns should be cut or broken up and composted. (Read: How to host a pumpkin smash – and compost jack-o-lanterns.)

Here are some ideas for introducing more pumpkin into your diet:

10 inventive pumpkin recipes

7 squashes to use for pumpkin pie

How to eat a whole pumpkin