• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Title

The Pumpkin Seed Principle

During October, November and December each year I tend to serve stuffed pumpkin four or five times. That means I end up with quite a few pumpkin seeds.

Now, pumpkin seeds -- salted and roasted -- have always been a favorite snack. When I was a kid, I looked forward to eating the seeds even more than I did to eating my Halloween candy. Of course, when I was a little kid, I didn't have to separate and wash those seeds, I just had to eat them.

December 5, 2010
 

During October, November and December each year I tend to serve stuffed pumpkin four or five times. That means I end up with quite a few pumpkin seeds.

Now, pumpkin seeds -- salted and roasted -- have always been a favorite snack. When I was a kid, I looked forward to eating the seeds even more than I did to eating my Halloween candy. Of course, when I was a little kid, I didn't have to separate and wash those seeds, I just had to eat them.

Nowadays, I still love salted roast pumpkin seeds. In fact, I may love them even more. I certainly appreciate them more, because now I'm the one who has to do the separating and washing.

The salting and roasting is pretty easy. You just make sure the seeds are clean and dry, then spread them on a non-stick baking sheet, salt liberally, and roast at 350 F for about 15 minutes. It's the "make sure the seeds are clean" part where the work comes in.

First off, pumpkin seeds come naturally entangled in the stringy mass (mess) of pumpkin pulp. That means they start out wet, and you have to keep them that way because if the pulp dries onto the seeds it's really difficult to get off. But wet pumpkin seeds are slippery, and inconveniently shaped -- the more you try to hold on to them, the quicker they squirt out of your grip.

Questions of technique aside, let's just say that preparing the seeds for roasting is a whole lot like work. Not strenuous, but tedious and time-consuming and potentially frustrating.

That's why I appreciate the roasted seeds now more than I did in my childhood. These days, I have way more effort invested. If time really is money, each batch of seeds is now worth something on the order of fifty bucks to me. Which makes it a pretty expensive snack. (I like to think of it as a rare and exclusive pleasure.)

In a sense, the pumpkin seed principle is just a restatement of what my Dad told me when I first wanted a car. "You'll appreciate it more if you have to work for it yourself." At the time, I thought the old SOB was just being cheap, and I was probably right. But his cheapness had a sort of wisdom to it. And it's the sort of wisdom that, if Western consumer society still appreciated it, we wouldn't all be so deep in this sustainability mess. (Not that there still wouldn't be a problem, but there wouldn't be nearly so large a problem.)

See, the problem with consumerism isn't that we all consume what we need, it's that we consume so much stuff that we don't need. And part of what makes us want what we don't need is that it seems so relatively inexpensive (especially if you buy it on credit and have no specific idea of ever paying the bill). We don't have to work (much) for it, so we don't value it. And part of why we always want more is because, since we don't have much invested in the stuff we've got, we don't get much pleasure from it. We keep hoping we'll get real pleasure from the next thing we buy. Or the thing after that. But we never do.

So part of what makes pumpkin seeds more satisfying than, say, potato chips is that they just flat taste better. But a larger part is that they're seasonal (when they're gone, they're gone for many months), and that they take some time and effort, and that there's no way to get them on credit.

And part of what makes eating them a sustainable behavior is that it converts what might otherwise be a waste product (compost, at best) into a resource. A feedstock. Indeed, one of my favorite feedstocks. But the timer is going off and I have a batch to take out of the oven.

Enjoy.

Read more by

Back to Top