The pumpkin is closely affiliated with Halloween both as a food item and as the iconic jack-o’-lantern. The term “jack-o’-lantern” has a few different origins, one of them being an old Irish religious legend, where a turnip was carved rather than the traditional pumpkin. In the story, a man named Jack is unable to enter hell because of a cunning deal he made with the Devil, but he is unable to enter heaven because of his manipulative ways. Instead, his soul wanders around the earth with a lantern made from a turnip, and this is where the name comes from.
For Halloween in the 1700s, people used turnips, beets, and potatoes as jack-o’-lanterns to ward off evil spirits. However, the Irish potato famine sparked widespread Irish immigration to the United States and created a demand for a new vegetable. The pumpkin was discovered to be the ideal shape and size for jack-o’-lanterns since they’re much easier to carve.
But a pumpkin can be used for more than a Halloween scare!
The Medium spoke with Dr. David Jenkins from the Department Of Nutritional Sciences at U of T about the nutritional benefits of pumpkins. Dr. Jenkins researches plant-based diets and plant proteins and has worked with the food industry to encourage consumers to increase their intake of plant-based foods.
While Dr. Jenkins doesn’t think that the pumpkin “has tremendously secret health benefits that aren’t common to a lot of other plant foods,” he states that “it is low fat and it’s a plant-based food—so it will have a certain amount of vitamins and minerals that would be useful. It’s a traditional food that people eat at this time of year […] along with other squashes and foods that are similar in nature. These have been part of a healthy human diet for probably thousands of years.” He adds, “It’s not uncommon in most tuber-like foods to have a mixture of nutrients [and] starchy fibres [which] benefit […] human metabolism.”The pumpkin is classified as a fruit due to having flesh, seeds, and a peel, and Dr. Jenkins appreciates the fact that this plant food attracts extra attention around Halloween. “I think the fact that it’s now being put on the front porch […] and carved into all sorts of different facial shapes has […] been part of its appeal,” he states, adding, “[It is fortunate] that people have taken a plant food and made it the object of this particular feast. And the seeds do contain some protein [similarly to] the seeds of other [similar plant] foods.” With the cultural significance and nutritional benefits, we now have two reasons to run to the nearest pumpkin patch this Halloween.
Staff Writer (Volume 49 & 50) — Yusuf is in his fourth year completing a double major in English and Cinema Studies and a minor in History of Religions. He first joined The Medium in 2022 when he sought to get involved in the on-campus community. He has developed strong writing skills throughout the experience and enjoys learning about new topics he wouldn’t know about otherwise. You can connect with Yusuf on LinkedIn.