Media elites, particularly those on the Left, love to hate the pumpkin spice latte. In 2014, the left-wing website Vox Dot Com described the ubiquitous fall beverage as “an unctuous, pungent, saccharine brown liquid, equal parts dairy and diabetes, served in paper cups and guzzled down by the liter.” Just last week, the similarly inclined Washington Post blamed pumpkin spice for “war, genocide and slavery.” And yet, the PSL has become Starbucks’s most popular seasonal drink, with sales topping $200 million in the drink’s first decade of existence. Last year alone Starbucks sold 424 million cups.
Pumpkin spice pervades the autumnal marketplace, permeating consumer goods from canned ham to deodorant. The people’s love of pumpkin spice and snobbish elites’ derision of it suggest a subtle political reality: the pumpkin spice latte is America’s most conservative drink. While liberal, coastal white girls may constitute the most conspicuous purveyors of pumpkin spice, the flavor’s cultural connotations and the strong opinions they elicit reveal the drink’s profound conservatism.
For one, the explosion of pumpkin spice attests to human ingenuity and the efficiency of free markets. Starbucks alone now offers at least four pumpkin spice products. Over the past 16 years, virtually every food and beverage provider in the United States has followed the trend. But the pumpkin spice latte’s conservatism delves beyond mere economic factors into the cultural and philosophic.
Pumpkin spice lattes herald the advent of autumn, the most beautiful season and also the most tragic. Fall means that summer has gone, the leaves are falling, and winter approaches. Autumn reminds us of the tragic fact of life: impermanence and the inevitability of death, which forms the foundation of conservative political philosophy and the antithesis of utopian leftism. Coffee shops offer pumpkin spice lattes but once a year. One looks forward to their arrival. They come, and then they go, reminding us that our days are fleeting and pleasures ephemeral. Nothing gold—or orange—can stay. Variety is the spice of life.
Of all the senses, smell and taste most closely relate to memory. Strong flavors evoke strong memories, and few flavors taste stronger than pumpkin spice. That strength nearly led Starbucks to reject the latte when it was first proposed in the early 2000s. As former Starbucks executive Tim Kern told Quartz, “A number of us thought it was a beverage so dominated by a flavor other than coffee that it didn’t put Starbucks’ coffee in the best light.” People love that strong flavor because it reminds them of Thanksgiving, the quintessentially American holiday. The Pilgrims may not have imbibed coffee concoctions of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove when they celebrated the harvest at the first Thanksgiving, but the flavors today remind us of our nation’s earliest days and inspire a singularly conservative nostalgia and gratitude for our forebears.
In more tangible terms, the pumpkin spice latte shares many of the qualities that endear conservative politicians to their supporters and arouse disgust in their opponents. It’s blunt, common, and unapologetically American. Its brand is promiscuous, its color artificially orange. Were our president to liquefy, he would turn into a pumpkin spice latte.
So many million Americans can’t be wrong. This autumn, ignore the fake news, and drink a toast of thanksgiving to our national health.