Bev Sedley, Chair of Cambridge Sustainable Food
Everyone loves pumpkins and at this time of year pumpkins are the belle of the ball – Halloween is the UK’s second largest retail festival after Christmas –so why on earth do pumpkins need rescuing? Here are some facts that perhaps you didn’t know:
- Two-in-five (42%) people buy Halloween pumpkins (and that number is growing every year)
- Only one-third (34%) of those who buy a pumpkin cook with the insides
- 25% of edible pumpkin (18,000 tonnes – the same weight as 1,500 double-decker buses) gets sent to landfill every year, where, like all food, it gives off methane, a very potent greenhouse gas (over 5 times more potent than carbon dioxide)
Eat pumpkins! Don’t just carve them!
So pumpkins are no longer seen as food by many people – just something to carve at Halloween and throw away. You see piles of pumpkins in the supermarkets labelled “for carving”. This is because they are grown for size not taste, but they are still edible, even if the large ones are not as tasty – you can make delicious soup out of them if you jazz them up with other veg and spices. Mark Cornell, farm manager at Prospects Trust, told me that the best pumpkin for both carving and eating is Jack o’ Lantern, which they grow – it’s a good size and colour and carves easily, but also keeps that firm texture for eating.
2014 research by Populus shows that nearly two thirds (64%) of people throw their pumpkins away once Halloween is over. A quarter
(25%) of those people throw edible pumpkin flesh straight in the rubbish bin. However, when asked the most useful way of getting more from a Halloween pumpkin, more than half (52%) of those who buy pumpkins say tasty recipes would help decrease waste. So we have a load of great pumpkin recipes on our Cambridge Sustainable Food website ready for the festival, soups, snacks and starters, mains and desserts – do have a look!
Supermarket collection points for waste pumpkins were the second most popular incentive, supported by almost a quarter (23%) of shoppers. If we have collection points for Christmas trees, why not for pumpkin shells….?
And it’s not just about pumpkins! In the UK we throw away over 7 million tonnes of edible food and drink from our homes each year. As well as costing money – the average UK family could save £60 a month by not throwing away edible food – when food is sent to landfill it emits harmful greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change (overall between 30% and 50% of greenhouse gases are related to food and agriculture). You can find out more on the Love Food Hate Waste website.
Over 25 great events during the 2 weeks
So what have we got in store for the Pumpkin Festival? Fabulous feasts, pumpkin picnics also with campfires, Kids’ Disco Soup (yes, you do make soup while listening to a DJ – eat to the beat!), and Pay-As-You-Feel Pumpkin Pop-ups . There are also local eateries providing pumpkin specials during the festival – foodPark, the gourmet street food collective, is participating and there are fabulous pumpkin menus at the Tickell Arms in Whittlesford, and The Cock in Hemingford Grey.
You can see the full list events here – some are free, some not, some are just drop in while for others you have to book (the pop-ups are filling fast!).
What can we do?
Of course it’s not just individuals and families who waste food – an enormous amount of waste happens in supermarkets and restaurants, as well as on farms (often because supermarkets don’t take farmers’ crops at the last minute, forcing them to leave them in the ground). You can join Feedback’s campaign to stop this here or you can get involved with local projects which collect unwanted food, such as the Gleaning Network, and turn it into delicious community meals, such as FoodCycle (a major partner in the Pumpkin Festival). But if you want ideas for the home, have a look at the Pumpkin Festival web pages, where you can also find out where to buy locally-grown pumpkins.
By the way, I must confess that the #PumpkinRescue Festival isn’t our idea! Oxford thought of it first and collaborated with Hubbub on a festival in 2015. This year there are around 15 #PumpkinRescue festivals around the country.