Break out the sweaters and boots, it’s Texas’ turn for the change of seasons. The heat reprieve is celebrated along with every other American fall tradition. But how many “Fall Fakes” are there that we don’t question or think about? A few…
Let’s start simple with the beloved pumpkin spice latte introduced a short 13 years ago by Starbucks. It wasn’t until 2015 that Starbucks actually put pumpkin puree in the drink. After years of questioning from consumers and posts from influential food bloggers, Starbucks refined their recipe to include actual pumpkin. Today, the drink contains a “pumpkin spice sauce,” which is made from sugar, condensed skim milk, pumpkin puree, natural flavors, salt, annatto and potassium sorbate. But is it real pumpkin?
Here’s where things get a bit confusing. Pumpkins belong to the squash group, otherwise known as the Cucurbita genus. Pumpkin, squash and gourds are common names for several types of species in the group. The pumpkin we traditionally think of as round, ribbed and bright orange is actually a few species in a list of many. What makes a good jack-o’-lantern pumpkin, doesn’t necessarily make a good baking pumpkin, and farmers have modified squash to meet the public demand. Most of the canned “pumpkin” on the market is actually a different type of squash. Yes, even the cans with the label 100 percent pumpkin are more than likely a tan colored elongated squash. Since the term pumpkin is a common name, there are no regulations to calling any type of squash a pumpkin. The squash varieties we consume, such as butternut squash, have a finer texture, less stringy flesh, and sweeter than a traditional Halloween pumpkin, making them more desirable for human consumption. This means, you are more accurately eating “squash pie” rather than pumpkin pie (unless you bake with the full real pumpkin)!
Where are these pumpkins coming from? Most pumpkin patches in the DFW area do not grow their own pumpkins. Instead, traditional pumpkins are shipped from other states including the top three: Illinois, California and Ohio, as well as imported from Mexico. Transported pumpkins are then scattered around fields, parking lots or in boxes at local stores. Thousands of pumpkins are grown every year for the sole use of fulfilling our pumpkin carving tradition. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates about 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced every year, but most end up in the trash. When organic materials, such as jack-o’-lanterns, end up in a landfill, they decompose and produce methane gas, a harmful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Reduce your environmental impact by composting your pumpkin waste. The seeds can be roasted in a low oven, and with a little bit of salt are a delicious healthy treat.
The last fall fake is perhaps the most perplexing. This time of year we demonize bats, spiders and snakes in Halloween celebrations. In the midst of scary portrayals of these species, we forget their environmental importance and instead pass down feelings of fear to children. These species are not the scary monsters we culturally associate them with, but instead are members of the community we should celebrate. Bats and spiders keep insect populations under control without the use of environmentally harmful pesticides, while snakes (both venomous and non venomous) control our rodent populations. The balance of the ecosystem can keep diseases at a minimum and maintain healthy environments for all living beings, including us. Most tall tales or myths about these species drive our thoughts. Vampire bats are a real species of bat, but they live in Africa and harvest nutrition to survive very similarly to how mosquitoes in our own backyards do. A bite from a vampire bat does not make you Team Edward.
This fall, use your curious mind to find out what’s in your favorite “pumpkin flavored” food and compost your jack-o’-lanterns. Resist the urge to demonize animals, or use them as an opportunity to educate others on the benefits of these species. There are more than 30 different species of bats in Texas (largest has a wingspan of about 21 inches) and all eat either insects or nectar, are not blind and navigate and communicate through echolocation.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.