Between about 2010 and 2014, pumpkin spice was having a moment. Between 2014 and 2018, hating pumpkin spice and its over saturation of the market had a moment of its own. Now there’s pretty much a pumpkin spice version everything: In addition to the Starbucks PSL (pumpkin spice latte) that started all this when it debuted back in 2003 as a seasonal drink for autumn, there are pumpkin spice Oreos, pumpkin spice multi-purpose cleaner, and pumpkin spice Pringles. There are deodorants. There are NOT condoms, but there might as well be. Pick something and chances it will have a pumpkin spice variety, whether it be cheekily self referential or entirely sincere.
In 2013, I wrote a painfully 2013 blog about pumpkin spice fatigue. I will link it here as penance for once opening an article with “It’s fall, y’all!,” even if it was a joke. Today, I am writing about “pumpkin spice fatigue” fatigue. Oh, how six years can change a person, making them somehow both more accepting and more cynical. Pumpkin spice, I’m here to say, is fine. Like Lana Del Rey or Keanu Reeves, it has outlasted the energy of its detractors, going on to have a successful career. It continues to exist in our grocery aisles and our coffee shops. Starbucks is rolling the PSL out earlier and earlier, and honestly, who could possibly care anymore? It’s no longer the free-wheelin’ Obama years, people. There are bigger things to worry about than what sugary drink a high school sophomore chooses to order before first period.
Writer, podcaster, and pasta expert Kara Brown is one of the first people I remember openly hating on pumpkin spice ubiquity in a blog on her personal website, which doesn’t seem to exist anymore (smart, Kara, very smart). I reached out to Kara, my friend and former colleague, to see how, as one of the early adapters of pumpkin spice backlash, she felt about it now. “I also feel that indifference. Part of that is probably due to living in LA. We have pumpkin spice shit, but without the fall weather it someone feels less prevalent,” she told me. “Also the world is burning and white people are bothering me in other ways.” As one of the white people bothering her in that moment, I wrapped up the conversation there.
In this era of performative internet ennui, it feels increasingly silly to get annoyed at a person’s enjoyment of something harmless just because I happen to think it tastes gross. Conversely, it’s also understandable to cling to hating something as minor as cinnamon spice mix because that’s much easier than confronting the Big Picture (the Amazon is on fire, the U.S. president is a racist, we’re all slaves to capitalism, etc., etc.) and you simply want to focus on a silly problem that’ll let you fight on Twitter over what’s ultimately low stakes. Hate pumpkin spice, love pumpkin spice, put it on your pits, sprinkle it on your bedsheets, do whatever makes you happy. The world is full of terrible things and life — spent in a rapidly rotting skin sack — is short. Capture joy where you can, so long as your joy includes tipping your exhausted barista and excludes, I don’t know, things that cause people harm. Long live pumpkin spice. Long live stupid stuff that makes the day worth getting through.
All this being said, there are few sounder deathblows to a trend than indifference. Pumpkin spice has thrived in love and in hate, but can it survive our collective boredom? Maybe pumpkin spice will lose, after all.