It's time for a new Halloween tradition
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
It's Halloween and our supermarkets shelves are filled with seasonal products: macabre make up, fiendish food and paranormal paraphanalia. My social media feed is filled up too and not only with pictures of kids disguised as zombies. Some are bemoaning the huge amounts of money being spent with Halloween now challenging Easter for profitability and consumer spending. Others are worried about the normalisation of the occult and yet others see Halloween as an indicator that our nation still has a healthy ongoing interest in the spiritual.
But this year sensitivities have been joined by the reaction to the huge amount of waste generated by the carving of pumpkins. It seems that 60% of us who carve up a pumpkin to make a lantern do not make any culinary use of the leftovers whatsoever. That’s 18 000 tonnes of unused food. And in the wake of recent Extinction Rebellion Protests and the Greta Thunberg factor, this environmental impact is hitting home.
While I agree that all of us should do our bit to save the planet – including roasting up those vegetables, within the wider context of our nation’s approach to waste, this is just a drop in the ocean.
One report from the Waste and Resources Action Programme estimated that the UK throws away 10 million tonnes of food waste a year. Considering around 41 million tonnes of food are purchased by households each year, that means we are throwing away a quarter of what we purchase. This waste has a value of over £20 billion a year, and can be linked to more than 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s a lot of waste. Meanwhile foodbanks have seen a 73% increase in usage, with 1.6 million food supplies given last year to people in crisis, and half a million of those given to children. Furthermore charities are having to provide lunch during half term this week for children who are living in poverty and who rely on the nutrition they would normally get from free school meals. When a billion children around the world go to bed hungry each night, food waste is a big deal.
There is a strong tradition of both environmental responsibility and radical hospitality to the poor built into the Christian faith. The Bible teaches not only are we to care for our planet but care for our neighbours. When confronted by a crowd of hungry strangers Jesus miraculously fed all 5000 of them and did not forget to collect up the leftovers – 12 baskets full.
Despite popular opinion Halloween is a Christian festival. As far back as 945 AD Christians celebrated on the 31st of October Jesus’ victory over death. It would be tragic if this Christian festival continued to exacerbate both our food waste problem and the gap between the wasteful and the hungry.
In the spirit of tradition, perhaps I could suggest a new one: imagine steaming hot cups of pumpkin soup being offered to anyone who knocked on our door this week. In a small way, this would symbolise an intention not to waste food, but to share it with others.