We are living in the midst of a generational slow-motion disaster that is, by all accounts, set to get much, much worse in the coming months. We live in a world on fire, a place devoid of promise and hope — a place of still-unknown isolation and tribalistic cruelty that is careening toward a strange and uncanny future.
And yet amid all that pain and suffering and unrest, we are still at the cusp of what can only be called our most idiotically controversial time.
Pumpkin spice season.
Pumpkin spice flavoring is an autumnal delicacy, generally a blend of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and sometimes allspice. People mostly like it in coffee. Other people like to hate on them for it. It’s a thing. There are memes.
I’m not a pumpkin spice zealot, but I do like it. I like things that taste good and are sweet, because I’m a human being. Pumpkin pie is good, and the taste of cardamom and cinnamon reminds me of fall. In an age where falls are becoming shorter and hotter, pumpkin spice is a nice reminder of the season between summer and winter. None of this should be controversial. It’s a small treat that is allowed to occupy space in the collective conscience for three months out of the year, like peppermint in the winter months or lemon meringue pie in the summer.
Yet, for some reason, pumpkin spice is at the center of its own little culture war, hated like poison by man’s men. To wit, Denis Leary has tweeted about how much he hates pumpkin spice more than five times.
As our country grapples with actual problems that will have generational implications, I am here to defend one of my most mocked pleasures: pumpkin spice. And I put this question to you: How can you find it in your soul to sneer about pumpkin spice flavoring, especially now?
When I first considered defending fall’s most loathed product, I was leaning toward discussing toxic masculinity. It is, after all, an exclusively male proclivity to tear people down for enjoying a novelty drink, and the criticism has a firmly misogynistic bent. But after some thinking, I realized revulsion to pumpkin spice flavoring is a specifically American disease, and a holdover from another age.
In America, we imbue everything with social, political, and gender values. There is no object or product that is not a shibboleth. Each purchase we make has to say something greater about who we are, what we believe in, and how we present ourselves to the rest of the world.
Pumpkin spice flavoring? For decadent, frivolous women.
Jerky? For real men.
Chaw? The carcinogen of the red-blooded American rightist.
Even your beer choice has to be an opaque reflection of the depths of your soul. Ask any IPA maniac.
This strange affliction, the desire to categorize and belittle people based on the products they consume, is pathetic, weird, and distinctly American. A product just can’t be a product.
It’s facile to begin with, altering the way we view and treat people based on the products they consume. But there’s something especially gauche and childish about doing so right now, when so many people have so few pleasures left in the midst of the many and mounting crises facing us all.
In an era of accelerated misery, how hard is it, truly, to let people enjoy something that makes them happy?
If I’ve learned anything from what we’re living through, it’s that we shouldn’t begrudge any small token of joy. We’ve lost too much for that. Try and forgo belittling pumpkin spice drinkers and rid your mind of the peculiar American cruelty to clown people for what goes in their to-go cups. Bottoms up.