My first crush was Jason. Jason was way too cool for school, and way too impressed with boy toys to notice my bouncing blonde curls. An example: in second grade I brought in one of those glitter wands filled with purple sparkles and twirled it like a baton during show-and-tell. Jason fell asleep at his desk. When Mrs. Barraclough snapped him back to attention and told him he was next to present, he came bounding up to the front of the class and pulled a pet snake (yes, I said snake!) out of his knapsack. I screamed, turned bright red, and ran back to my seat in harrowing heartbreak. Jason and the rest of the class were laughing at me. Mrs. Barraclough seemed equally shaken. It took her several minutes to regain control of her students and send Jason down to the principal’s office, snake in tow. But not before someone asked what that bulge was in the middle of the snake, and Jason said, “lunch.”
It was the gross out of gross outs! Not only was there a snake in school, but there was a mouse in the middle of the snake. Everyone was abuzz with questions:
Missy asked, “How does the mouse fit inside the snake?”
Ben queried, “Can I hold it?”
Timmy wanted to know, “Where did you get the mouse?” Jason answered, “At the pet store. Duh!”
All the girls were squirming now. “Was it dead when you bought it,” Timmy continued. Jason was in his glory; I was in hell.
That night, after pledging never to forgive Jason for both upstaging my twirl and making me squeal, I was left with a nagging question: should a pet store really sell pets as food for other pets? I mean, you can buy a mouse as a pet, right? So why are some mice deemed as pets and others as dinner? Even today, long after losing track of Jason, it still strikes me as a naïve but sensible thought – pet stores sell pets, and so any animal you buy there should be cared for, played with and loved, not eaten. Conversely, animals on a farm are raised to be eaten, not played with. Right?
It’s a thought that I remembered last weekend, driving through the explosively colorful autumn in upstate New York. Aunt Susie and I were making our annual harvest pilgrimage to Becker Farms, a picking farm I frequent for strawberries and peas in the summer, and pumpkins, apples and craft beer come fall. These days, the offering du jour is clearly squash. From little acorn squash and bulbous butternut to big green winter squash and miniature gourds, Becker Farms has it all, including, the king of the squash family – the mighty pumpkin. Plump and round or tall and lean, pumpkins were being swooped up like hotcakes by pickers descending onto the fields.
As I walked the rows of the pumpkin patch, imagining the pork chop I had planned for dinner resting on a silky pumpkin puree, I suddenly realized that most of my fellow shoppers surely had very different plans for their haul. It’s the end of October, which means the beginning of our yearly pillaging of seasonal produce that’s taking place across the land. That’s right ladies and gents, I’m talking about Halloween. All this week, in neighborhoods across the country, big, tasty pumpkins will be picked, scooped and then left to rot on doorsteps, porches and windowsills, next to autumnal tableaus with cornucopias of assorted edible squash.
I don’t have anything against pumpkin carving per se – when I was seven I won my Girl Scouts carving contest with an “armadillo” (about five thousand pumpkin seeds glued to the outside of a jack-o-lantern with glowing amber eyes) and one of the best first dates I’ve ever been on involved a pumpkin carving competition at a local dive bar (BYOP, of course) – but I can’t help thinking that, as my time in Buffalo winds down in the days leading up to Halloween, each jack-o-lantern is roughly two pumpkin pies gone forever, each seasonal window display, a hearty soup and batch of pumpkin ravioli that the world will never know.
Which is why I urge all of you to get out to your local farmers’ market or picking farm and take advantage of this season’s iconic vegetable. These next few weeks are the best of the whole year for everyone’s favorite bright orange squash. And once you get them home, I urge you to remember one more cardinal rule that we all learned somewhere between the age of pumpkin armadillos and boyfriends with pet snakes: Don’t play with your food! Especially when it’s seasonal, local and delicious. Instead, Eat it Up!