In Defense of Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Fall is back! So is football, stocked-up holiday aisles at all the stores and even some cooler weather. But another thing that has come back, which doesn’t seem to be welcomed any longer, is the Pumpkin Spice Latte.
Today pumpkin is just a big joke. Last year, it was already remarkably uncool, but this year, it’s the stuff of absolute ridicule. After someone’s bright idea to make Pumpkin Pie Spice Pringles a few years ago, it seems like every single product in the store had to follow suit. While grocery shopping the other day, I saw pumpkin spiced Pop-Tarts, almonds, coffee creamer, ice cream and peanut butter – and I wasn’t even really looking that hard.
It has gotten a bit out of hand, I know this – hell, I’m surprised that we don’t have pumpkin spiced soda yet – but it seems like the pumpkin craze is always linked back to Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte. It was patient zero in the pumpkin plague that has descended upon our favorite processed foods. And when you think of who still buys these lattes, social media memes will tell you that it’s mainly suburban white women, those who drive kids to soccer practice in an SUV and probably have those “Can I talk to the manager?” haircuts. The latte has become the mom jeans – maybe even the Twilight Saga – of the coffee shop world.
And yet, I still love them. I won’t buy a $7 can of pumpkin flavored almonds, but I will treat myself to the uncoolest of lattes. It’s not like they all of a sudden became terrible because they’re so damn popular with the mini-van crowd – they’re good!
I don’t normally go to Starbucks, but I do go to the PJ’s near where I work on most days, and they do have a pumpkin latte. It’s not Starbucks, but it does the trick. Though I’m always kind of embarrassed. I’ll request one with a grimace, especially if I’m ordering from a guy. (For some reason I feel like he’s judging me) It’s almost as if I’m buying tampons or condoms instead of my daily-needed dose of caffeine in pumpkin form.
And then last week I was in the mood for ice cream, so I stopped by a French Quarter gelato shop and noticed they had a pumpkin pie flavor. In the end chocolate won out, but I asked the hipstery guy who worked there if the pumpkin pie was any good. He sighed, “I’m not a fan. To be honest, I die a little inside whenever someone orders one.” I joked around and said he should feel lucky that the Zapp’s potato chips they were selling didn’t have a pumpkin option, and he said in a defeated tone, “It’s only a matter of time.” It was as if he was readying himself for an alien invasion that he knew he’d be on the losing side of; he’d accepted that he will one day be ruled by an intergalactic overlord, and he wasn’t looking forward to it.
But to me that seems like quite an extreme reaction to the humble pumpkin. It’s just a squash after all, part of the mythical “three sisters” that are native to North America: Corn, squash and beans. So in that way, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is very American, as is the way we celebrate fall and Halloween. The cool thing about these little seasonal treats is that they’re universal; they don’t belong to Christmas or Hanukkah, they belong to all of us, as we all say goodbye to the hot weather and welcome in something a little more chill.
The pumpkin flavor is also a nostalgic one to me, as it always reminds me of my grandma’s amazing pumpkin pies over the holidays. I used to not care about Thanksgiving dinner, and wanted to start with dessert, or rather, just eat pumpkin pie instead of turkey.
So I will continue to buy Pumpkin Spice Lattes, even though I honestly believe that pumpkin flavored peanut butter, and things of that nature, are pretty damn ridiculous. And I’ll continue to enjoy my lattes, even though every time I order one, I feel as if I’m being judged. I embrace my uncoolness as a consumer of designer lattes, because while they’re seen as tragically unhip, at the end of the day, they’re also pretty good. I like them, nay, love them. And that’s what matters to me.