There was a $70 pumpkin sitting outside my local supermarket last week.
That may seem like a lot of money to get in the mood for the season, but it’s no ordinary pumpkin. It’s one of those specialty heritage pumpkins that, while probably not weighing as much as the 100-plus pounders that win prizes at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival, it was up there.
It wasn’t alone. It was surrounded by hundreds of pumpkins of all colors, sizes and shapes — a scene replicated at just about every grocery store, garden center and big-box store in Marin and across the country. That’s a lot of pumpkins.
And the vast majority of them won’t get eaten. And they may not even get composted. Of the nearly 2 billion pounds of pumpkin grown in the United States in 2014, about 1.3 billion pounds were trashed, according to the Department of Energy.
Each one took precious resources to grow — water, soil, compost, land. Resources that could have gone toward growing vegetables that would actually be eaten, which matters at a time when Marin is still experiencing huge food insecurity as well as across the country and globe.
And, the DOE notes, as pumpkins decompose in landfill, they release methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
After watching the devastation Hurricane Ian wreaked on Florida — the kind of hurricane that scientists say we should expect to see more of, thanks to climate change — it’s hard not to think about pumpkins.
In fact, it’s hard not to think about many of our holiday traditions. Maybe we need to reconsider them in this new world of ours.
OK, it’s easy for me to say — I don’t have little ones at home anymore and I haven’t even had trick-or-treaters knocking on my door for many years. So there’s no one to disappoint if I nix the pumpkins and the bag of mini Twizzlers or Junior Mints (you do your Halloween candy and I’ll do mine). And I’m happy to be rid of the candy because all those tiny wrappers are a nightmare. Yeah, they end up as landfill, too. Most are made of multiple materials — plastic, aluminum and paper — making them nearly impossible to recycle. Unless you want to spend from $86 or more to buy a Zero Waste Box just for candy and snack wrappers. That’s not a bad idea, but you do have to factor in the carbon costs of shipping it to the company.
Next up is Christmas and the iconic Christmas tree. But it’s more than just killing trees to enjoy for a few weeks. I know, I know — the smell of a fresh tree scenting our home is awesome, and they’re magical when decorated. And, yes, Marin’s pretty good at recycling our trees. Yet they, too, use precious water, soil and land, and many are grown with harmful fertilizers and pesticides. If you don’t cut them down yourself at a local tree farm, most are brought here by gas-powered trucks from states far, far away. Plus, trees capture carbon dioxide and store it in their branches, needles and roots; we could use more of that, not less. Plastic trees aren’t much better, and in some cases, much worse.
We also go through tons of wrapping paper and cards — about 50,000 trees’ worth. Shopping bags, packaging, bows and ribbons all ending up in landfills. Between that and food waste that doesn’t get recycled, household waste increases by more than 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
If you aren’t feeling depressed by now, I am.
So I hate to continue on, but we’re not done.
Consider Easter. As a child I loved dying hard-boiled eggs and hunting for them. I can’t remember if we actually ate them, but given that my parents were products of the Depression and the Holocaust, I’m pretty sure we did — food was never to be wasted. I continued the tradition with my own kids, but for the egg hunts I relied those colorful fillable plastic Easter eggs. Yes, they are reusable, but many crack or break after a while, or are never found, and we all know how good plastic is for the environment. Not.
Don’t even get me started on environmental impacts of all those chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies (throw in all the chocolates for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, too).
These are not things I thought about when I was a mom with young children, despite considering myself an environmentalist. I was at the first Earth Day! I was studying to be an ecologist in college! I recycle, reuse, repurpose! But things feel different now. Just ask anyone who lost a home or loved one in Puerto Rico, or in Florida, or in Kentucky, or in Pakistan this year, whose lives were upended and may never be the same.
I walked by my local supermarket last week. The $70 specialty heritage pumpkin was gone, most likely at home somewhere in Marin. It will no doubt delight trick-or-treaters and — if it lasts —Thanksgiving guests. It will probably not, however, end up as Thanksgiving dessert.
Perhaps it’s time to ask if a day or even a few weeks of holiday delight is worth the devastation to our planet, use of precious resources and trashing what could be edible. Saving our Earth just might be the best celebration of all.
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