October 26

National Pumpkin Day

 

On a special October episode of a daytime medical program, the dubiously credentialed host presented pumpkins as The Next Great Superfood:

“Don’t simply carve faces in them, drop in a candle, and leave them on the stoop.  The parts you usually scoop out and throw away — the seeds and pulp and flesh-fruit — can actually change your life.  My guest and I are going to show you how.”

For the next hour, the host and his invited “expert” demonstrated various ways to prepare pumpkin innards:

– pulp and flesh squeezed in a juicer, with a list of added spices, would boost the drinker’s immune system (a claim supported by an audience member, rather than scientific evidence).

– sliced and chilled sections, added to salad, helped the user burn calories at an amazing rate (“Be careful not to overdo this technique,” the expert cautioned.  “Losing weight too quickly can be harmful.”)

– pumpkin seeds dropped in hot water brewed a hot tea that supposedly worked like a caffeine-substitute in the morning and (an unexplained contrast) managed to soothe insomniacs to sleep at night.

– a paste of olive oil and mashed pumpkin created an ointment that cured rashes, erased wrinkles, and also served as…“Cover the kids’ ears if they’re in the room,” the host said before whispering into the camera: “…an intimacy aid.”

Further outlandish claims filled out the hour, until they’d promised every possible health benefit to men and women in the viewing audience.  Except:  “No, no,” the expert said.  “No pumpkin pies.  Those are full of sugar.”

As sometimes happens, the claims in the TV episode had “gone viral” online, reaching beyond the daytime audience to spread throughout the U.S., Canada, and beyond.  Consumers fought over gourds in the grocery store, at roadside stands and local pumpkin patches.  The lure of health, beauty, and virility inspired countless people to change their diets — as if they’d finally found the source of eternal youth, eternal life.

They found just the opposite.  As they made smoothie shakes from the seeded slime inside a pumpkin, as they brewed a cloudy tea or spread mud-orange ointment over their bodies, as they topped salad with chunks that looked like spoiled cantaloupe or chose hard pumpkin wedges to replace laminated cheese on their sandwiches…all the while dreaming of pounds melting off, energy returning to tired muscles…they didn’t realize the pumpkins themselves had also “gone viral” — in the more traditional meaning of the word.

A genetic modification, intended to produce larger pumpkins for October holiday decorations, somehow reacted with what should have been a harmless, natural pesticide. In small quantities, the effect would go unnoticed…but the TV show had encouraged massive ingestion:  grated skin, rind, fruit, even the stem blended into every possible meal combination.

People lost weight, yes.  Because the pumpkins destroyed their stomachs.

Ironically, in their final moments, the victims’ skin tightened over their faces in an orange, ribbed pattern.  Their eyes, nose, and mouth grew bruised and black from the sickness.  Each death mask looked like a jack o’lantern.