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Pumpkin Spice & The Great Divide

By Nanea Hoffman

People might be over-exposed to pumpkin spice. The promotional campaigns begin in August, when it’s still boiling hot outside, and brands have found a way to insert it into products you’d normally never associate with a flavor you typically find on a Thanksgiving table. For many of us, the combination of pumpkin spice and coffee is delightful. We look forward to the appearance of pumpkin spice lattes the way Linus from the Peanuts Gang anticipated a visit from the Great Pumpkin: with deep sincerity and hope.

But as with anything that becomes widely beloved, pumpkin spice has triggered a backlash. It’s come to symbolize a bougie, herd-like mentality – associated with white girls in UGG boots who can’t skip their daily Starbucks fix. And maybe that’s not a totally inaccurate categorization.

It always bugged me, though. The way it bothers me when people decide to shit on any otherwise harmless pleasure simply because it’s not something they personally enjoy. Hating pumpkin spice has become as much of a trend as loving it.

Then, a friend shared this post on Facebook. It was made by a man named Eric Jensen back in August of 2016. He wrote:

Pumpkin spice hate season is coming again, so here’s a reminder from a historian: what we call “pumpkin spice” is just the classic English and Anglo-American “sweet” spice mix: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and mace. It’s been used in traditional desserts, from apple pie to plum pudding, for centuries. When did people start having a problem with it? Not when women were in the kitchen putting it in their pies but when women decided they liked it in the coffee they grabbed on the way to school or work. So, when you see people snickering at the pumpkin spice products this fall, remember what they’re mocking: women choosing something for their own pleasure rather than devoting themselves to pleasing others.

Whoa. I’d never seen it put quite that way, but it made so much sense. No one was out on the streets persecuting women for their love of spiced seasonal drinks, exactly, but it was cool to joke about it, in a mildly diminishing way. One meme reads:

“If you say Pumpkin Spice latte three times in front of a mirror, a white girl in yoga pants will appear and tell you her favorite things about Fall.”

Basic, in case you don’t know, is slang for someone who only cares about mainstream, popular culture. If you shop at The Gap and decorate your house like a page out of the Pottery Barn catalog, you’re basic. The subtext is: you have no individuality, no imagination, no personality. You’re a nutmeg-dusted sheep who, by the way, doesn’t care about all the artificial flavors and preservatives you’re ingesting. Who cares if it makes you happy or brings you comfort – you like the wrong thing.

In one online discussion about pumpkin spice and letting people just live, a commenter said, “You know who likes pumpkin spice? People who peaked in 7th grade!” And later, when I responded that I happened to love it and I definitely did NOT peak in 7th grade (anyone who knew me in 7th grade can confirm), they shot back, “Don’t get your knickers in a pumpkin spice twist. I was totally kidding.”

These days, America is sorely divided, even down to our choice of coffees. We can’t just like or dislike something; the other side must be wrong and should be told of their wrongness. Even if you’re ostensibly on the same side, you can be criticized for not caring about the right issues or not caring about them the right way.

Pumpkin spice scorn is admittedly perhaps one of the most benign forms of vague misogyny (it appears to be mostly women who overtly declare their love of pumpkin spice, but I’m happy to be contradicted here). It’s like getting lightly smacked with a throw pillow – more annoying than hurtful, really. Men may use it to gently infantilize women for their enthusiasm for candy-flavored caffeinated beverages (look how cute and annoying!) while some women might seek to differentiate themselves from their UGG-booted sisters by loudly decrying the overt commercialism and unhealthiness of it all (where is your sense of personal responsibility?). It’s weird. You could, after all, just not have any yourself. Or conversely, you could just enjoy your PSL and ignore the hate.

But it’s not that simple. It feels as though we now live in a climate of “if it doesn’t matter to me, it doesn’t matter at all, and anyone who says otherwise is being ridiculous.” Eric Jensen could not have known that a few months after he made that post, the results of the 2016 presidential election would profoundly change the socio-political landscape of this country and dramatically highlight ideological differences that continue to separate us all, regardless of how we take our coffee.

In this present state of the world, it’s almost a revolutionary act to love what you love and to allow others to do the same.

Fly your flag, baby. @naneahoffman #sweatpantsandcoffee

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About Nanea Hoffman (276 Articles)
Nanea Hoffman is the founder of Sweatpants & Coffee. She writes, she makes things, and she drinks an inordinate amount of coffee. She is also extremely fond of sweatpants. She believes in love, peace, joy, comfort, and caffeinated beverages.

1 Comment on Pumpkin Spice & The Great Divide

  1. The Universe is truly a magical place… I say this because so often you take the thoughts right out of my head and put them on the page far more eloquently than I ever could.

    I have to tell myself about a gazillion times a day that people who are happy in their lives, and like themselves, rarely need to make others feel small, even over small things like lattes.

    Carry on, you fierce, lovely, soul-replenishing leader of my tribe. I, along with the entire Universe, love you and need your words. May your PSL cup spill over and never run dry.

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