Quick Hit: Pumpkin Spice the Movie

This is too good not to share: a trailer for Pumpkin Spice the Movie, by Official Comedy (h/t The Hairpin).

I loathe “Pumpkin Spice” products, for what it’s worth. I’m not keen on the cinnamon-nutmeg-allspice combo generally–I do steep small amounts of each in mulled wine, but the word “small” is key here. Too much cinnamon dries out the mouth (c.f. Cinnamon Challenge) and nutmeg in large doses tastes like soap. Every autumnal pub visit is pumpkin spice roulette for me: I love a pumpkin beer that foregrounds the robust earthy notes of actual squash, and I’m always game to try new brews, but the reward for adventurousness is usually a nasty mouthful of regular ale ruined with pumpkin pie spices.

I’m at a loss for a reasonable explanation of this widespread phenomenon, but there are two cultural angles that particularly interest me. One is the competing capitalist aims at play. On one hand, it’s good business to have a special product that’s only available at certain times of the year; if it’s a desirable product, you’re guaranteed a little sales boom for that period. On the other hand, if you can extend a sales boom, all the better. So the pumpkin spice season starts a little earlier than the actual pumpkins do–it may be past equinox, but we’re still getting peaches at the market–and is drawn out for as long as possible. In the Pumpkin Spice parody above, note the villain’s plans for “pumpkin spice Christmas cookies,” a spooky reminder of the preternaturally long Christmas product season in stores.

Second, how did we lose the word “pie” in the “pumpkin spice” construction? There’s nothing pumpkiny about fourspice, except that fourspice (in small doses!) can nicely complement a pumpkin’s natural flavors in cooking. The spices being overused in seasonal beverages are borrowed from traditional pie recipes. I’m reminded of an article I read a few years ago–it’s just as well that I’m at work and separated from my research notes, or I’d dig it up and spoil your pumpkin spice parties with its handwringing about artificial flavoring. For the authors of this article, artificial flavoring (especially that developed for use in candy and chips and sodas) represented something very dark about modern humanity: that we are satisfied by consuming signs without referents. (A concept also discussed in my recent post about spam.) At the time I found their argument overdramatic, particularly when they worried whether our children will know what an actual strawberry tastes like or whether they will correctly prefer it to strawberry soda. But then, what is “pumpkin spice” but a sign without a referent? The very thing it is meant to allude to–pie–disappears; instead, the words “pumpkin” and “spice” together are supposed to represent autumn, warmth, comfort, and domestic pleasure. I’m impressed by how well this succeeds.

Anyway, absent actual use of actual sources, all I can do is rant and welcome you to do the same. Alternately, you are invited to report your favorite pumpkin ales that taste mostly like squash and only a little like pie, or share your tips for evading the Pumpkin Spice Uprising.

Edited to add: I borrowed this post’s featured image (below) from an article at Forbes about why pumpkin spice lattes are so popular; I didn’t read it before posting, but Micheline Maynard’s theory is compelling.

pumpkin-spice-latte-sign-785463

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One response to “Quick Hit: Pumpkin Spice the Movie

  1. Pingback: Link Buffet: Rants and Rhapsodies | Scenes of Eating·

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