In Defense of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

pumpkin spice latte

Especially when civility is in tatters, why do we feel the need to judge little things that bring others joy?

It is officially fall – the time of year otherwise known as Pumpkin Spice Season. It happens everywhere, earlier and earlier it seems, when all other taste trends bow in obsequiousness to the grande dame of flavor fads – an apparently mesmerizing mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. And then wham, everything starts coming up pumpkins (even if pumpkins are not actually required).

The current epidemic of pumpkin spice mania is usually credited to the introduction of the Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) – a dichotic creation that elicits equal amounts of praise and protest, pleasure and disgust, which was spawned in 2003. Even though I swear there was a seasonal pumpkin pie milkshake at McDonald's way back in the olden days when I was a kid, but nobody ever seems to mention that.

Anyway, the rise of the almighty PSL has been contagious. ABC News reports that there are 446 food products found in traditional grocery stores that feature pumpkin-spice flavor on their packaging. Pumpkin mania is sneaking into everything from cereal to candy to chips ... and it has even jumped ship and invaded personal care (pumpkin spice deodorant) and cleaning (a whole line of Mrs. Meyer's).

And for the non-lover of all things PSL, it's open season for griping. And a-griping they do. I can't think of another flavor combination that is so harshly maligned. I see the grousing everywhere. Yesterday I actually overheard strangers on the street "ugh"ing – complete with eye rolls – about an acquaintance's excitement about the seasonal offerings.

My question is: Why?

There has been a lot of grief by the naysayers that the pumpkin spice latte doesn't even contain any pumpkin (which I'm guessing is the reason that it's called a pumpkin spice latte and not a pumpkin pie latte). And ... so what?

I love pumpkin pie for that magical combination of flavors, even if I may not want it in my coffee. But why would I want to go around ridiculing people who love things seasoned with warm spices? I don't like peppermint sticks, but I'm not going to start shaming those who do come December when the candy cane invades all things sweet.

Yes, with the introduction of, say, pumpkin spice Pringles, the whole pumpkin spice thing may have jumped the shark. But even when Fonzie actually jumped the shark while on water-skis, we didn't feel the need to complain about people who still liked Happy Days. (And with that reference, I may have jumped my own shark here. But I persist.)

If a pumpkin spice latte, or pumpkin spice breakfast cereal, or pumpkin spice whatever, brings some joy to someone for part of the year, why can't we just let them have that joy? We are living through a period of such ugly and heartbreaking division, do we really need to feed the fire by judging people because they like a flavor combination? It all makes me sad. And yes, first world problems, I know ... but really, compassion and acceptance should transcend things like seasonal treats.

If we stopped worrying about how much we hate a flavor trend, we could spend more time focusing on things that really do deserve our outrage ... like polluted rivers, endangered species, and retrograde environmental policy.

Am I wrong? Let me hear from pumpkin spice haters. In the meantime, I'm going to go bake a pumpkin pie.