Seasonal Spice

I had myself a bit of a pajamas day today. I take some comfort in the fact that I took a shower and changed into fresh PJ’s during the late afternoon. I don’t know why that matters to me as strongly as it does, but it does somehow feel more ambitious to have done that instead of to be wearing the same set of PJs from sun-up to bedtime again.

There’s a few contributing factors to this kind of nesting day. Last night’s Shakespeare event was very fun, but we didn’t get home till after 12:30 AM — nothing much for younger folks, but WAY later than Mr. Mezzo and I are used to being out. There’s also been a lot of stress and tension in the office, so I am plum worn out from that.

There’s also the undeniable shift over to autumn.

The equinox is just a couple days away, and here in Boston, the temperatures and sun patterns are already showing the turn to fall. And there’s plenty of ways that the crisp air and autumn skies invite a being-outside kind of enjoyment. There are apples to be picked, leaves to go out and appreciate (once the foliage colors go full-spectrum autumn rainbow), maybe even a high school football game to head out and watch. But all of those are pleasures for another day.

You-can-never-get-a-cup-of-tea-largeSometimes all I want to do when there’s a new chill in the air is tuck up on the couch under a blanket, enjoying some combination of reading, iPad gaming and TV/DVR/video-watching. All with comfy wool socks on my feet and a warm mug of something in my hands.

And today’s warm something?  Pumpkin spice flavored coffee, a product of a fall culinary marketing tradition that has become so ingrained over the past few years that it was already being lambasted back in 2012 in Flavorwire:

Fall is in the air, and that means, once again, it’s that time of year when nothing’s safe from being pumpkinized. This year, the endless flurry of pumpkin- and pumpkin-spice-flavored goods and services seems to have gotten a bit out of hand. The popularity of Starbucks’ autumnally emblematic Pumpkin Spice Latte has ushered in an anything-goes mentality among marketing strategists, leading some to compare the newfound ubiquity of pumpkin to bacon, others to remind us of the oft-forgotten history of the pumpkin-spice trade, and yet other rabid partisans to come to its defense.

brace-yourself-pumpkinHonestly, this isn’t something I’d ever imagined myself trying. I’ve never been much of a pumpkin fan, so all this “pumpkin spice” stuff seemed like it just automatically wouldn’t be up my alley. Also, one of my friends has a habit of bringing the most ridiculous examples of mass pumpkinization to Facebook’s attention, so my association with this annual “culinary festival” has always been more strongly linked to an awareness of such sins against humanity as pumpkin spice Pringles, Oreos and lasagna noodles than to any autumnal food I’d actually want to eat.

Now, it turns out my relative indifference to pumpkin flavor is entirely irrelevant to my suited-ness or unsuited-ness for the pumpkin spice craze. In today’s dose of new knowledge, that Slate review of the Pumpkin Spice Oreos tells me how:

In an odd yet pervasive lexical leap, “pumpkin spice” typically refers not to pumpkin itself but to the spices typically found in pumpkin pie: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, sometimes allspice or cloves.

Who knew? Turns out that all this time, my indifference to pumpkin flavor wasn’t actually any sort of barrier at all for pumpkin spice stuff. (Of course, I’m not a fan at all of pumpkin pie, so even if my reasons for staying away were off-base, it’s probably just as well that I’ve stayed away from the pumpkin spice trend for all these years.

So why did I try it at all? (Why is this morning different from all mornings?)

Well, even though I know Denis Leary would never be able to forgive me for it, I have a cheap and unholy love for flavored coffees:

So, when I saw a sampler in Bed Bath & Beyond last weekend that contained one flavor I love, one I really want to try, and one I was really “eh” about (the pumpkin spice currently under discussion), I decided that my desire for the first two was strong enough to make purchasing the sampler worthwhile. Which led to this morning’s flavor experiment.

Botom line: I’m not a fan, so I think the pumpkin spice lovers at my office might find an extra gift next to the company Keurig come Monday morning.


So, all the pumpkin-flavored frivolity is well and good, but let me circle back to where I started this post: the scent of autumn in the air.

Now, I know that there’s a whole marketing machine that’s behind this annual craze. It’s part of the corporate-consumerist machine. By creating limited editions of things, companies can keep consumers hooked into buying the newest, most current, seasonal flavor of something — whether that “flavored” thing is a candle, home decor, or some foodstuff that is quite literally flavored.

And yet: there’s plenty of marketing ploys and product innovations that the public is incredibly unsusceptible to. (Think of Ann Arbor’s Museum of Failed Products. Or hell: just think of New Coke.) So why do we go hook-line-and-sinker for pumpkin spice and its seasonal analogues?

I’m wondering if part of it connects, at some deep, unconscious and atavistic level, to a desire to re-connect with the seasonality of things. Modern life is very much disconnected and insulated from the natural seasons. That’s certainly true in the way my life is constructed, and, I’d imagine, for many folks out there with traditional jobs. Artificial light and climate control pretty much insulate us from the effects of the sun’s changing journey throughout the 12 months of the year, and, unlike in agrarian structures, a lot of our work tasks remain virtually unchanged throughout the ebb and flow of the seasons.

So for all its ridiculousness and generally over-done nature, perhaps the annual pumpkin spice craze — and the cranberry-balsam “holiday” craze that will be following as November and December approach — speak to a soul’s longing that is real and true. Through that lens of possibility, there might arise options to feed that soul-force longing in ways that are more authentically connective to the seasons, rather than quite so tightly caught up in the corporate advertising machine.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll get out of my PJs and take a walk around the lake. Or do that apple-picking I talked about earlier.


Image credit:

Cup of tea:

Brace Yourselves:



2 thoughts on “Seasonal Spice

  1. ephemeralcas

    I like your positivity regarding this subject. I too am quite skeptical of the marketing scheme of pumpkin spice and actually I don’t really like pumpkin things either.. BUT I do like the idea that MAYBE JUST MAYBE the craze has something deeper to it. I mean if you REALLY wanted to stretch it, we could talk about how pumpkin pie is like pretty much a symbol of thanksgiving second to turkey. And thanksgiving means family, so maybe the whole pumpkin deal is even a craving for that comfort of warm family time. Which, rarely actually happens during the holidays but the IDEA of it might have something to do with said pumpkin phase.. Who the heck knows though, just thinking out loud.. Or through my fingers I guess. Thinking through my fingers..


  2. Pingback: Breadcrumbs 3 | Self-Love: It's Just Another Lifestyle Change

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