The first leaves turn yellow and slowly fall from the trees. September draws to an end and there’s a slight chill in the air. The morning’s dawn is beautiful and crisp. Soon, we’ll be wearing knitted sweaters, warm boots, and listening to Taylor Swift’s folklore album on repeat. Oh, and we’ll be drinking and eating anything that’s pumpkin-spiced.
You probably associate it with modern traditions popularised by the epitome of autumnal capitalism: the glorious pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks. However, this simple blend of spices actually has a long and fascinating history. Pumpkin spice contains nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and sometimes all spice. While there’s no actual pumpkin in it, this blend of spices was typically used in pumpkin pies, hence the name.
Nutmeg was such a sought-after spice in the late 1600s that the Dutch actually traded New Amsterdam for the British colony of Pulau Run island where it grew. The British then changed the name of New Amsterdam to New York. Yup, New York as in the city that never sleeps, home of towering skyscrapers and Broadway. The street vendors selling I LOVE NY merch can thank pumpkin spice for that.
Nowadays, pumpkin spice has developed from a delicious blend of spices to a representation of the “basic” girl and everything negative that entails. We all know exactly what caricature I’m talking about. She’s usually caucasian, wears yoga pants, loves astrology and from the months of August to November, can always be found with a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks in her hand. This bland, basic creature evokes a sense of contempt and frivolity in anyone who sees her. But let’s take a second to digest this.
I can’t help but question how odd it is that, as a society, we make a simple blend of spices into something that’s gendered. Why do we equate nutmeg and cinnamon in coffee with someone who’s vapid and superficial? More specifically, why do we connect it in our collective mind with a “basic” woman?
Pumpkin spice is a flavour that’s been used in our kitchens for centuries (researchers have found it on Indonesian pottery shards that are over 3,500 years old!) So why is it so wrong for a woman to enjoy it in her coffee? The casual misogyny that comes with putting women down in the name of pumpkin-spice-related humour is, frankly, unacceptable and so outdated it’s boring.
What’s also disappointing about our feminisation of flavouring is that it negatively affects all genders. For example, men are more likely to feel embarrassed about ordering pumpkin spice beverages, because the drink is considered “fruity” and “girly”. They’re kept back from enjoying something tasty and pleasurable, simply because we connect coffee consumption with gender stereotypes. Meanwhile, women face constant belittlement because of their personal preferences.
While pumpkin spice isn’t for everyone, people deserve to consume it without being labelled as “basic” or “fruity”. Personally, I like to sprinkle a pinch of my homemade pumpkin spice blend into my morning coffee on those beautifully grey and rainy days. Whenever I make pancakes or muffins, you can bet I’m adding a bit of that spicy delight into the batter. AND I’ll probably be wearing yoga pants and listening to indie folk music.
It doesn’t diminish my worth or complexity as a human, and it certainly doesn’t diminish yours either.