By Teresa Zhang
September 21, 2020
Confession: I’ve never actually consumed the infamous pumpkin spice latte, but, like everyone else, I know of the drink’s popularity and reputation, which is so notorious that it’s a commonly known fact that in America, the fall season starts not after the Autumn Equinox, but rather when Starbucks releases its seasonal Pumpkin Spice Lattes.
This controversial drink was first released by Starbucks nationwide in the fall of 2004 when it became instantly popular with drinkers and critics alike. The flavor was so popular that other brands sought to capitalize on the craze and began rolling out with their own pumpkin spice themed products.
And now, more than a decade later, companies are still releasing pumpkin spice themed products. But unlike in 2004, consumers are more doubtful of these products, and rightfully so. Pumpkin spice has worked its way into everything, from pasta to deodorants, to even–and I shudder to even think about it–canned meat.
The perseverance of superfluous pumpkin spice products has made their impact on American culture, particularly on the internet where it is synonymous with shallowness and superficiality, through the sheer amount of exposure the flavor receives yearly from thousands of internet memes and dozens of opinion pieces, including this one, that either vehemently defend it or ruthlessly denounce the flavor and the larger culture that surrounds it.
But as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. To maintain relevance is the chief goal of any product, none more so than in the food industry where food trends come and go like a revolving door.
When companies release yet another overdone pumpkin spice product, they don’t do it hoping it becomes the next big, to be seen with item–they do it because it’s a solid, reliable gimmick that sells and gives free promotion from reviewers to the company.
Pumpkin spice isn’t a modern American classic because it’s good–it’s a classic because of its marketable reputation and the importance our society places on its annoyance with the polarizing spice. And that’s what makes it the iconic flavor of our generation, at a time when everyone everywhere wants to know everybody else’s opinion.