Did we just waste a lot of pumpkin?
Thursday, November 03, 2016
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the majority of the 1.91 billion pounds of pumpkins grown in the U.S. in 2014 went uneaten — used during Halloween and then tossed away.
There's no Halloween without creating some jack-o'-lanterns, yet most of these are perfectly edible specimens of food that we just throw away. Pumpkin flesh is full of fiber and high in beta carotene, while the seeds are rich in potassium and protein. Of course, seeds are used more — toasted, roasted or baked.
Did you know Halloween pumpkins also generate greenhouse gas emissions when they end up in the landfill? While the U.S. Department of Energy harbors hope to convert these greenhouse gas emissions into energy and fuel, the USDA is worried about the food waste.
About one-fifth of the pumpkins grown in the U.S. are processed for various food products. Of the rest, some are used as fresh produce. But most of these fresh, nutritious fruits are wasted — amounting to more than 254 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) every year.
Most food experts and chefs do agree that the "carving" pumpkins aren't exactly delicious, but they are full of nutritious value. Even if they cannot be used directly in dishes, it is easy to use them in soups and purees.
While eating pumpkins that have been sitting out there for days is not a good idea, putting them in landfills is not helping the planet either. One way to make use of them is as livestock feed in farms. Veterinarians offer easy, green advice for recycling pumpkins: donate them to a local animal shelter or farm.
Concern for pumpkin waste can be seen across the Atlantic Ocean as well. Consumers are urged to rethink their Halloween decorations and prevent the millions of tons of pumpkin wastage across the U.K., where 15 million pumpkins are carved and not eaten each year.
In 2015, 21.4 percent of U.K. consumers purchased pumpkins, and not surprisingly, many of these ended up in the landfill. While 45 percent are disposed of properly in trash, and about 28 percent composted, 5 million pumpkins still end up in the landfill.
The food waste horror has even had big brands sit up, take notice and combat the issue. Companies like Unilever are working with food waste charity Hubbub to spread the message about turning Halloween pumpkin into scrumptious seasonal recipes rather than waste.
Tesco, U.K.'s largest retailer, has set up "pumpkin rescue stations." These will discard the pumpkins via anaerobic digestion, a process that helps convert them into energy via an environmentally-friendly method. The hashtag #PumpkinRescue is definitely helping in all these efforts.
Sarah Frey, who has been crowned America's "pumpkin queen" has a similar message for her fellow Americans. She wants us to think beyond the jack-o'-lanterns, urging us to cook and not carve. And she expects the upcoming generation to take notice.
"Those same young people who are going to take over the world and make it better are the ones who are going to cook with pumpkin," Frey told The New York Times.
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