It began last Tuesday. The yearly pilgrimage to Starbucks for the vaunted, the revered, and the completely overrated, pumpkin spice latte.
What is our obsession with the pumpkin as a flavoring agent? It isn’t like people are tripping over themselves to eat actual pumpkin. It’s just a giant orange squash filled with seeds and viscous goo. It tastes like it appears — a gross, misshapen, decorative orb. As New York Magazine wrote in 2012, “The weird thing about pumpkin’s rise to baconlike ubiquity is that pumpkin, on its own, is not a very appetizing food at all.”
OK, OK, I understand that it isn’t necessarily the taste that has people elbowing their way into a crowded Starbucks. It’s more the idea of what the pumpkin spice represents. The end of summer, of the oppressive heat. It’s the first sign that the holidays are approaching, and whether or not you want to admit it, that’s exciting.
Personally, I can’t wait to put on a shawl-collar cardigan and curl up in my breakfast nook with a steaming hot pumpkin spice latte and a first edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson essays. I’ll occasionally glance out the bay windows while I cup the pumpkin spice latte with both hands and let the steam rise around my face. Mmm, it’s warm compared with the crisp chill in the air. Look at the orange and yellow leaves gently falling from that knobby oak in the backyard. An oak that has seen our family grow. A wise oak. Beyond that, a path in the woods made from countless footsteps through the years. It leads down to a wooden bench next to an idyllic pond. We used to gather there to watch the first snowflakes of the season while I read Robert Frost poems to the children. It was late November when I drowned the neighbor’s German shepherd in that same pond.
Woah, that got dark quick.
My pumpkin spice latte fantasies need work, but you get the point.
When did we all become earthy transcendentalists at the mere mention of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice lattes? It’s like the minute Starbucks puts up a few autumn wreaths and throws on some James Taylor, we’re instantly in scarves and jumping in leaf piles.
Look, I like autumn as much as the next guy. The cooling air, the bonfires, the wearing of layers, foootbaw! I love all that crap. But I think maybe, just maybe, this collective orgasm we have over the changing of the seasons and pumpkin-flavored anything is a bit too much.
“Pumpkin’s true pre-eminence as a high-selling seasonal staple didn’t reveal itself until within the last five years,” the Washington Post’s Drew Harwell writes, “when the massive popularity of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice latte, the coffee chain’s ‘most popular seasonal beverage of all time,’ spurred food makers of all stripes to attempt their own pumpkin lines.”
Now I’m not a complete pumpkin spice Scrooge or anything. I do believe that some products can benefit from the spice of a pumpkin.
Ale, for instance. Hell yeah, let’s gather ’round the bonfire in our hoodies and get smashed on the pumpkin spice ale. Afterward we’ll head out to smash old man Johnson’s pumpkins all over the street. This after we light a flaming bag of crap on his front porch, of course.
These pumpkin spice Oreos sound like they could work. Dunk ’em in milk — that’s a winning combo! Pumpkin spice Eggos? I could get down on that.
But really, there isn’t much after that.
Pumpkin pie spice Pringles? Surely you jest.
Harvest pumpkin tortilla chips? That’s almost sacrilegious.
Pumpkin spice Frosted Mini-Wheats? Gross.
Pumpkin spice Kahlúa? Meh.
Pinnacle pumpkin pie vodka? Eww.
Pumpkin spice baby food? Stop it.
Pumpkin spice dog food? Stop. Just, stop.
Pumpkin spice lube? I’m intrigued.
By the way, that last one is a real thing. You know, for those of us who like to introduce the start of autumn into the bedroom. Damn girl, you smell like a Vermont country road. You know what’s doing the opposite of withering up and dying on the vine right now? My candy apple stick.
That line also works in Starbucks. Especially if you’re trying to get banned. S
Jack Lauterback also is co-host of “Mornings with Melissa and Jack” on 103.7 Play weekdays from 6-9. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @jackgoesforth.