What’s the issue?

Sweets, pumpkins…consumers are bombarded with Halloween ‘essentials’. Halloween is the UK’s 3rd biggest

pumpkin waste
Journey of a carved pumpkin-             (source-photo A) (source-photo B) (source- photo C) other photos, authors own

commercial holiday.

The carved ‘Jack-o’-lantern’- is iconic to the Halloween celebration.

According to Hubub, 2 in 5 British households carve at least 1 pumpkin. Yet 7 out of 10 carved pumpkins aren’t eaten! 64% of carved pumpkins are ‘binned’ either as rubbish (25%) or, if available, in a local council food-waste bin (20%) or composted (19%). Only 33% cook their pumpkin!

The 15 million pumpkins that are bought and uneaten annually, could be classified as avoidable food-waste. According to WRAP food-waste includes:

  • Avoidable food-waste– food edible at some point prior to it’s disposal. (e.g. uneaten pumpkins)
  • Possibly avoidable food-waste -that some eat but others don’t (e.g. pumpkin skin).
  • Unavoidable food-waste– which isn’t edible ‘normally.’ (e.g. pumpkin stalk)

Avoidable food-waste is influenced by individual behaviour, e.g. whether we choose to eat or bin pumpkin.

But, why should we care?

Nationally and globally there’s a paradox between food-waste and food insecurity. (Although UK government may deny this with no official figures). Food insecurity can vary in severity:

what is food insecurity
(source)

Food insecurity exists when people don’t have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”

In the UK in 2014, 8.4 million people lived in households with insufficient food, whilst there was 4.5 million tonnes of avoidable household food-waste. (This includes drink-waste, but still highlights the disparity)

We must rethink the human/food relationship, if we’re to tackle food insecurity and the scale of avoidable food-waste, to create a just foodscape. How we value food underpins this.

How does something ‘become’ and ‘unbecome’ food? When and why does food lose/gain value?

This blog uses a pumpkin to give ‘food-for-thought’ about food’s value in relation to avoidable food waste.

Why are pumpkins wasted at a household level?

Before writing this, I recalled the last time I ate pumpkin… in a restaurant years ago. Perhaps pumpkins feature reguarly in your diet? Or perhaps you’re thinking, pumpkins are food? Over half the respondents in a Consensus wide survey didn’t think pumpkin was food! Is this understandable when marketing focuses on carving?

Despite pumpkins being part of the popular cucurbitaceae family, which includes: squash, it appears we associate pumpkins with flavoured products, not the vegetable.

spiced pumpkin latte
Starbuck’s spiced pumpkin latte (source)

The pumpkin is a prime example that avoidable food-waste is about how individuals value ‘food’. A reconsideration of which is necessary to create a just system.

Individual actions influence what food is wasted. Unlike mouldy bread, where people may consider it inedible and no longer valuable (compared to ‘non-mouldy’ bread), many never associate pumpkin as food. Therefore the decomposition process doesn’t result in pumpkin unbecoming food if it’s not valued (as edible food) in the first place.

Pumpkin must become food, before people recognise they’re disposing of avoidable food-waste. How does something ‘become’ food? Culture matters. What we understand as food and how we relate to food is context and place specific, e.g. cooking practices. Middle Eastern and North African cuisine includes pumpkin. Eating, preparing and cooking pumpkin displays a culture where pumpkin is valued as food. Associations influence food preferences and values e.g. if a relative you’re fond of, uses that ingredient.

Other cultural practices hide food value. For example, social media trends photographing uneaten pumpkins at pumpkin farms- ‘the insta-pumpkin’.

pumpkin farm
Pumpkin farm- source: friend’s instagram, with permission

Or disposal of carved pumpkins in food waste bins or compost.

These practices don’t value pumpkin as food, but as a commodity (to purchase and photograph or a compostable component of the food chain).

How can we reduce avoidable household food-waste?

So, we need to reconsider what we value as a food to establish a just food system.

EAT PUMPKIN!

It’s that simple! Pumpkin = nutritious food!

 

carved cooked pumpkin
(source)– with permission

Before this blog I’d never cooked pumpkin. Now I’ve cooked: risotto, soup and tagine. Yes, preparation is time-consuming and carving pumpkins can be watery. But that doesn’t stop people eating other watery food e.g. courgettes. They should still be valued as a food.

risotto
Pumpkin risotto- authors own

Food safety advice concerning eating carved pumpkins is blurred, but carving a pumpkin and eating it immediately or using alternative decorations ensures edibility.

ALTERNATIVE DECORATIONS

Carving exposes the interior to oxygen, resulting in decomposition. Alternative decorations allow you to utlisie and acknowledge pumpkin’s food value e.g. washi tape or edible paint. You may argue this doesn’t follow tradition. But traditionally turnips were carved instead of pumpkins- tradition evolves. If we’re to reconsider the value of food and inequality inherent in the food system, we must constantly question our relationship to food and what is valuable.

GIVE THE PUMPKIN AWAY

You don’t like pumpkin’s taste? OLIO, a food sharing app, allows you to share edible food with others in your locality, reducing avoidable food-waste and valuing the pumpkin as a food.

PUMPKIN FARM TO FORK

How does your farm visit connect to your plate? It’s the perfect opportunity to understand the food source and what’s required to grow a pumpkin. Recognsing that not eating pumpkin wastes resources (water, nutrients, time…) Harvest it, eat it – reconsider its food value.

Conclusion

  • Although Halloween is over this year, the pumpkin season is October- December. Use this time to reconsider pumpkins as valuable food.
  • Multiple factors influence food-waste and food insecurity, which simply eating pumpkins won’t resolve.
  • But, I have illustrated that rethinking how and what we value in our food system is important. Recognsing the value of food, especially before it becomes avoidable food-waste, is a step to altering behaviour at individual, national and global scales.
  • Just because pumpkin makes it onto a plate doesn’t mean it will be eaten, but recognsing it’s a food is a necessary shift.
  • Pumpkins are just one product in our global food system. But they epitomise the scale of avoidable food-waste. We have the means to alter our behaviour and practices, by valuing and eating a nutritious meal from an otherwise wasted item.