The depths of pumpkin spice: Behind every cup, there’s a cornucopia of cultural implications (and it’s still OK to like it) 

People have strong feelings about their drinks. From the demise of New Coke to the rise, fall and rise again of the cosmo, the general public will live and die according to their drink preferences.  

Very few drinks elicit as strong of a reaction, in both fandom and vitriol, as the pumpkin spice latte, or PSL. To some, the PSL represents the beginning of a season that means warm autumnal flavors. To others, it encapsulates all that is wrong in today’s world. I want to take a little time to defend the pumpkin spice latte, a flavor that, at its core, represents balance, seasonality and nostalgic joy.  

Before going any further, we must first understand pumpkin spice. The spice blend is commonly cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and clove. While we in the U.S. associate pumpkin spice with Caucasian folks, the spices found in the blend are indigenous to Asian countries, which were brutally colonized by the Dutch, French and British. These spice traders spent hundreds of years exploiting and killing the people who celebrated and cultivated these spices. To dismiss pumpkin spice as exclusively white people’s food is to ignore these spices’ heritage and their colonial history—and to rob people of the ability to celebrate their own cultures.  

One of the most common issues people have with the pumpkin spice latte is that it represents a person, usually a woman, who is considered “basic.” Calling someone “basic” is to mock a person who engages in late-majority consumerism. The late-majority stage of consumerism is when a product or idea is no longer considered cool or cutting-edge, but is ubiquitous. People who engage with products in this stage are often mocked because of their lack of cool—but cool is also a privilege. To assert your own cool within capitalism takes the resources to access new things and the platform to share them with the world. Mocking people because they enjoy what they know is discounting your own privileged access. 

Aside from the complicated history of colonialism and the fact that we are all suffering in late-stage capitalism, the reality is that everyone tastes things differently, and there is no correct answer regarding flavor. Each day, your flavor receptors experience an onslaught of input. From the time you burn your tongue on that first sip of coffee, to the lousy mood your boss puts you in, all these things affect how we perceive flavor. Every single person experiences flavor differently, and because of this, there is no correct answer to flavor. The ingredients of something may always be the same, but our emotional and physical responses to those ingredients are wholly unique. The vilification of a flavor may be an opportunity to explore why you don’t like it. 

The PSL is a spicy, warm sip of fall, a time when we bring out our most treasured flavors to share with the people we love. You don’t have to enjoy this time of year or its flavors—but you should let those who love a big cup of creamy pumpkin spice enjoy their sip while it lasts.

Originally posted 2023-11-04 16:35:40.


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