Though the temperature forecast stays stubbornly in the 90s, when I turned my calendar page over to read the word September, it is almost as if I could hear the autumn leaves crunching under my feet. It takes all the willpower I have not to grab my fuzziest sweater and order another pumpkin spice latte.
Yes, I said it, a pumpkin spice latte (PSL) from Starbucks. Culture has deemed this the most “basic” of choices (and maybe even “extra” in my case, as I have to specify half-sweet-no-whip every time or I turn into a sugar dragon).
This school semester on top of this entire year is difficult enough, so this fall, how about we do not judge each other on simple, even basic, pleasures that bring a bit of light to our everyday
If the consumerism aspect of an overpriced, limited-time-only coffee beverage makes you want to gag, I understand. If you don’t even like the taste of pumpkin, I get that too – fun fact, did you know Starbucks didn’t even include real pumpkin in the drink until 2015? If you think that pumpkin season in August is an insult to traditional harvest calendars, I see your point.
Through this, I aim not to convert anyone to the pumpkin spice gospel but instead encourage you to save your judgment for more worthy causes.
To start, when you want to cringe when someone orders a PSL in the Starbucks line, check where this impulse stems from. Does your judgement come from a true dislike of the over-glorification of the trend, or from society’s dismissal of trends coded as feminine? According to writer Jaya Saxena in an article for Taste, “When men enjoy something, they elevate it.
But when women enjoy something, they ruin it … when those foods blow up, we judge women for falling for the marketing or trying to jump on the bandwagon, and we assume that because they like something other women like, they don’t have minds of their own.”
Pumpkin spice is not the only example of feminized food trends under attack, but acai, rose, cupcakes, fro-yo all fall into this category as well. Try to think of the last time someone hated on a more masculinized food trend before relegating the PSLs to basic white girls.
An entire research article published in the GeoHumanities Journal in 2015 critiques this idea of a “basic white girl.” The coded term criticizes a type of female who “cherishes uninspired brands,” or “lives a banal existence,” and as such a consumer is clearly living from a place of privilege (those lattes associated with them do cost $5.25 after all!)
Black writer Kara Brown pointed out how the label of something as basic has been colonized by white women, when it really stems from R&B and hip hop as a term to mean you just aren’t that dope.
She argues that the term is about coolness or lack thereof and has been made into an over-intellectualized term by panicked white women.
“As white people got ahold of the term “basic,” they warped the term into true distortion, rendering it an overworked shell of its essential meaning.
Basic went from being a fairly generic insult to somehow specifically referencing white girls who like Uggs and leggings and horribly flavored lattes … Thinking of basic in this way necessarily erases all the people [of color] who continue to use the word correctly, in terms of slang, and instead suggests that the way all these panicked white girls are using it is the true definition.”
She argues that what is not basic at all is liking what you like, and not caring at all what anybody else thinks.
Cheers to that (with whatever flavored beverage you wish, thank you very much).
While I could argue about the sociology of food all day, I’ll end this manifesto by celebrating the turn of a season. For me, PSL season brings fond memories. There is something innately comforting about a frothy, cinnamon-y autumnal treat, whether Starbucks branded or not. According to food trend experts, pumpkin flavor began to take off after it became associated with comfort foods during the recession of 2008.
“In times of economic distress, people gravitate toward comfort foods because of the good memories the dishes conjure up. Foods like biscuits and dishes like spaghetti and meatballs enjoyed popularity during the 2008 recession. Pumpkin and pumpkin spices, of course, make many think of Thanksgiving and holidays,” Alex Abad-Santos, Senior Culture Reporter wrote for Vox 2014.
Perhaps we need this comforting reminder, even more, this year. In a time of economic uncertainty and a long summer of quarantine, never have I been more excited to enter a new season. The pandemic has cast a lot of anxiety at the start of the semester. Classrooms, football, campus clubs, and hangouts with friends have all become unfamiliar in the age of COVID-19.
But amidst it all, seasons change and so my roommates and I deem the PSL’s return as a reason to celebrate. We were sitting in our living room studying when one of us saw Starbuck’s announcement on Twitter on a Thursday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. We dropped our studies to get in the car and go order one as an easy excuse for a study break. We did so somewhat ironically, laughing at ourselves for how excited we were, but there was nothing ironic about the memory of laughing with my roommates sipping an unseasonably hot beverage in the backseat of the car.
In a few short months, my roommates and I will be graduating and facing “the real world.” While I don’t know what the real world entails, I do know that dropping everything to go grab a gimmicky drink together may not be feasible as we go our separate ways. Seasons never last forever, whether that’s the season of summer or fall, pandemic-anxiety or pumpkin spice lattes, or the life season of living with my two best friends. Because of that transience, I’ll continue to savor every part, even if it means laughing at myself all the way.