I'm sure most of us are familiar with the cultural phenomenon of "pumpkin spice hate". From John Oliver's rant about pumpkin spice lattes, to the innumerable Buzzfeed lists about the autumnal behaviour of “basic bitches”, this season, people are irritated with a spice blend.
Of course, we know by now that there is no actual pumpkin in a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte. But why does this shock us? Why do some of us feel as though we have been let in on a secret that those other suckers can't see. There is nothing new or unique about Starbuck's "deception". It is an outcome of the basic principles of capitalist mass production. Cut costs any way possible, sell the illusion of a lifestyle, not the product. If we compare the money in our economy that is spent on marketing versus that which is spent on manufacturing, we should realize that the quality or authenticity of mass produced products is irrelevant.
No, it seems that what pumpkin spice haters are really saying is "my consumption habits are more sophisticated than yours, therefore I am a better, and more complex, person than you are." Basic or sophisticated, buying stuff is buying stuff, and the attempt to compare the relative complexity of human beings by discussing their consumption patterns says more about the criticizer than the criticizee. What could be more "basic" than an inability to imagine a self that is anything more than the stuff a person accumulates.
But, pumpkin spice hate seems also to have a more nefarious undertone. It is a play for cultural distinction that simultaneously degrades women. Making vaguely derogatory statements about “basic things a lot of women do” is a subtle form of misogyny. The basic bitch revels in the trivialities of girly behaviour - makeup, clothes, candles, and fancy holiday drinks. But aren't these the very things us women have been socialized to care about? Trivialities? If the recent Renee Zellweger plastic surgery "scandal" has taught us anything it's that us women must always be thinking about how we look, because that is of the utmost importance. Alongside this emphasis on the irrelevant, our culture relentlessly rewards positivity. Negativity, and perhaps even seriousness, is a scourge to be eliminated from our lives. So, not only should we women concern ourselves with the superficialities of appearance and the products that make them possible, but we should be upbeat about it.
With a consumer culture that leaves little room for expression of genuine individuality, and gender roles that socialize women to value their appearance above their other qualities, if there are a lot of basic bitches who totally love pumpkin spice, should we be surprised? Gender roles that produce inequalities, the continued existence of a wage gap, and the absence of women in positions of power demonstrate that we want women to be basic, but that won't stop us from criticizing them when they are.
My problems with pumpkin spice hate aside, isn’t the desire to consume all things pumpkin, in part, rooted in a desire for celebration? Celebrating with practices that embrace food and seasonality - visiting a farm to choose pumpkins, gathering together to carve them, and spending time in the kitchen baking all things pumpkin spice - is a celebration of the passage of time, of everyday existence itself. This is "basic" in the best way possible. This kind of celebration is something that, for myself, I know I don't do enough of. I am trying to be more mindful of stopping and taking time to celebrate. To that end, I have made a homemade pumpkin spice syrup.
For this Pumpkin Spice syrup I used this recipe from Annie's Eats. Although it takes a bit of time to make the syrup, it has kept in the fridge for weeks now. The recipe below shows how I use the syrup to make lattes. This latte contains real pumpkin (well, from a can), and celebrates the passage of the seasons at a much lower price point than a Starbucks drink.