I really like pumpkin spice. I look forward to its warm, nostalgic, hug of a flavor—mmm, is that nutmeg?—every Thanksgiving, when I enjoy a delicious slice of pumpkin pie. “Yum,” I say, savoring every bite. Pretending that the ever-aggressive pumpkin spice industrial complex doesn’t exist (my only defense at this point), I tell myself, “This is a wonderful, precious treat.”
See. I’m far from being a pumpkin spice hater. In fact, I more than like pumpkin spice; I adore and respect it. So much so that I want it to remain a special, just-a-few-times-a-year thing. Just like candy corn (yes, I like candy corn) and candy canes, or hot apple cider, or buñuelos—I treasure those delights not only because they are delicious, but because the fact that they’re hard to come by absolutely ups their allure.
It’s similar to the whole “if you don’t know darkness, you’ll never truly appreciate light” idea, a delicate balance that I’ve been regretfully cavalier with before. Case in point: I used to look forward to tamales during the holidays, then I started eating them year round. The pitiful result is that now they’re just another thing I eat once in a while. I don’t value them the way I used to, I don’t marvel at the hard work that my or someone else’s tias put into every corn husked pouch. I ruined a culinary narrative that I was raised on with my own devil-may-care overindulgence. It could happen to you.
Pumpkin spice used to have that ooh-this-is-rare-I-better-eat-it-quick allure, too, but now it’s everywhere (and mostly artificially produced), and I fear it’s too late to put the breaks on. Walk into a supermarket between August and December, and you’ll find a plethora of pumpkin-spiced products. We’re talking bagels, M&Ms, Jell-O pudding, Peeps, Pringles, hummus, yogurt, Oreos, granola bars, marshmallows, soap, cream cheese, Country Crock, etc. etc. etc. I’m not saying that all of these products are necessarily awful—except maybe the Country Crock—it’s just too much. Especially in Southern California, where the need to get cozy doesn’t actually present itself until mid-November.
And you know who the worst pumpkin spice exploiter is? It pains me to say this, specifically since it could hurt my chances of being part of their secret society of taste testers (or at least the editor of the Fearless Flyer) someday, but: Trader Joe’s. In the most recent issue of their monthly newsletter, they feature more pumpkin spice products than anyone, even the most hardcore pumpkin spice consumer, could ever need. Highlights of almost 50 pumpkin products currently offered include tortilla chips (What? Why? How? Oh, nevermind), cheesecake, cereal bars, coffee, ravioli, pita crisps, pumpkin butter and body butter, dog treats, ice cream, panettone—I can go on and on. See page 13 for a unreasonably long list. You were were founded in Monrovia, Trader Joe’s, what do you know about seasonality?
They even offer a sorry-not-sorry statement around the middle of the booklet. “Have we gone too far?” they write. “Has pumpkin mania reached its apex? Will the Earth’s core explode and bring everything to an end?” Nah, they say, explaining that T.J.’s is just “really fond of pushing boundaries.” I disagree. What they’re pushing is pumpkin overkill. They’re killing pumpkin spice, and every time we exclaim, “Oh my god! Pumpkin Toaster Pastries!” we are complicit.
We’ve diluted pumpkin spice to the point of oblivion—making it a “brand” like we (or more pointedly, hair-flipping corporations) do with so many things. Oh, you like live singing competitions? Here are five new live singing competitions. You enjoy dark chocolate? Here are 435 different variations of chocolate bars, pick one (and just forget about the looming cacao shortage)! Superhero movies your thing? Well, that’s good, because that’s all we’re making anymore. Ever. Don’t you just love the Christmas season? Us, too. Whaddayasay we start it in August for now on? Did someone say avocado toast? Or truffle mac and cheese? Or bacon? Or kale salad? Or sriracha? Admit it: We go too far and end up ruining the things we love.
Hear my words and heed my warnings because if something doesn’t change, soon we’ll sipping pumpkin-spiced lemonade in June. “It goes great with pumpkin-spice-bacon-wrapped pumpkin-spice hot dogs,” we’ll say as we watch the Earth crumble.