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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Pumpkin Spice

Is it basic as hell? What’s the relationship with actual pumpkins? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Pumpkin spice! Just when is PSL season? And what connects pumpkin spice to ass cream? Let’s serve up some pumpkin spice facts.

Lie #1: “Hey, That Latte’s A Bit Sweet!”

It’s not a bit sweet. It’s a fucking LOT sweet. There is a pretty whopping 50 grams of sugar in a grande Starbucks pumpkin spice latte — upgrade to a Venti and it’s 64 grams. The American Heart Association suggests men should have no more than 36 grams per day, and women 25 grams. The Office of Disease Prevention is a bit more generous, suggesting you limit sugar to 10 percent of your daily calorie intake — for someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s a maximum of 200 calories from sugar, which works out to about 50 grams. So unless you’re planning on sharing that PSL, or are famed for your clumsiness and likely to spill half of it on the floor like a wobbly idiot, you’re taking in vastly too much sugar. Excessive sugar can, of course, lead to all sorts of health issues, from obesity, to diabetes, to shitty teeth, to heart disease. 

A Harvard study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 looked at heart disease and sugar over a 15-year period, and found that people for whom sugar was a higher percentage of their daily intake were more likely to die from cardiovascular illnesses. People who got between 17 percent and 21 percent of their calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher chance of dying from heart disease within that period than those who got 8 percent from it. 

Sooo… maybe just have a regular coffee?

Lie #2: It’s PSL season!

It isn’t Pakistan Super League season, you big fibber. Pakistan Super League — a six-team round-robin cricket tournament played in the Twenty20 format rather than longer conventional matches — takes place in February and March every year. However, this year the last four games were postponed due to coronavirus, so will be played toward the end of November. So, while it isn’t PSL season, it is, sort of, nearly PSL season. Cricket: It’s bonkers!!!

Lie #3: “There’s a Sixth Spice Girl, Pumpkin Spice, Ha Ha Ha”

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It’s not a good joke, is it? Like, there’s no wordplay or anything. It’s just two things that have the word “spice” in it. Garbage. (Will there be bad Spice Girl memes when the film Dune comes out, due to melange’s importance to the plot? Yes, there will, they will be shit.) 

But there was a sixth Spice Girl, sort of. Much as there are several people who have been known as the “fifth Beatle,” there are a few people who could stake a claim to being the sixth Spice Girl. The first iteration of the group was called Touch, formed in March 1994 by the management company Heart Management after auditioning hundreds of singers. It went through a few lineups, giving five or six women “I was briefly in the Spice Girls” stories. But the biggest claim to being the sixth Spice Girl goes to Michelle Stephenson.

Touch’s final five-piece lineup was the same as the one that went on to global megastardom, with one key difference: where Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton would eventually be was a woman named Michelle Stephenson. The hows and whys of Stephenson’s departure differ depending on who tells them — she says she wasn’t a fan of the musical direction and had a sick mother to take care of, while management have claimed it was more of a firing.

Stephenson went on to do backing vocals for Julio Iglesias and Ricky Martin, as well as TV presenting. She claims that, had she stayed in the Spice Girls, she would probably have been known as Smart Spice. 

Not Pumpkin Spice at all. 

Lie #4: It’s Not Meant to Have Pumpkin in It / It Should Have Pumpkin in It

How people interpret the phrase “pumpkin spice” seems to vary a lot. There are those who argue that the name refers to the spices one would use were one spicing a pumpkin, and those that argue that shut up, dumbass, of course it’s got pumpkins in it, it’s right there in the name. 

Both parties are right, which means both parties are also wrong. When Starbucks introduced the PSL in 2003 there was no pumpkin anywhere near it, just vaguely warming autumnal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. It was almost named the Fall Harvest Latte. Pumpkin was added in 2015, at the same time caramel coloring was removed.

Pumpkin spice probably doesn’t need to have pumpkin in it. If you buy a tin of car paint, you don’t take it back to the store and complain that there isn’t a car included. See also: airplane glue, watch batteries and toilet paper. Complaining there’s no pumpkin in pumpkin spice is, sort of, like complaining there’s no hemorrhoids in hemorrhoid cream.

Lie #5: “Instagramming a #PSL? God, You’re So Basic”

Pumpkin spice lattes occupy a strange space in modern culture, seen as emblematic of a certain kind of vapidity. It’s just a drink that some people enjoy the taste of, but it makes certain dudes really angry. The idea seems to be that, if you’re excited about a silly drink going on sale, you clearly live your life at an incredibly superficial level. 

It’s an argument that only really seems to come up surrounding stuff aimed at women (which pumpkin spice mostly is). Nobody seems to suggest that, for instance, a man with an interest in the McRib returning to his local McDonald’s must necessarily have no interest in the deeper profundities of existence. It’s misogyny and nothing more, misogyny poorly disguised as a kind of world-weariness.

If it’s the Instagramming that bothers you, stay off Instagram. As Vox’s Rebecca Jennings notes, the PSL exploded in popularity at the same time Instagram really took off. Despite not being a particularly photogenic or distinctive-looking product, it still fits in with showing off a nice kind of “fall aesthetic.”

The lives people choose to present on a platform like Instagram are, by their very nature, curated. You might opt for a different vibe than “autumnal cute,” but you’re still working to present the image you want people to have of you. Carefully positioning a battered paperback next to a bottle of expertly-chosen craft beer, or sharing a screengrab of a running app displaying an impressive result, or showing off a drawing your kid did — they’re all exactly the same. They’re all decisions to show off about your life because you think other people might give a shit or think more of you. Yeah, it’s nonsense. It’s all nonsense. But if you’re exposed to it, it’s because you’re seeking it out. If you’re so highbrow and profound that such things offend you, get off Instagram and go and achieve something, you dick.

The other reason people will point to for being angered by it is the rampant consumerism — people lining up to pay the capitalist giant Starbucks for a product they’ve been told they want. If that’s the case, perhaps spending time on your iPhone (made by Apple, the world’s most valuable company, worth $1.8 trillion) looking at Instagram (owned by Facebook, currently in seventh place) is unlikely to do you much good. 

Everyone enjoys things that don’t necessarily appeal to everybody. It’s like sneering at someone for watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians then playing Call of Duty for 12 hours straight. Yeah, maybe their thing is stupid. But your thing’s stupid too. They’re watching a family going through fake dramas; you’re playing make-believe fighting in a special chair. 

If someone’s excited that a drink they enjoy, which isn’t available all year round, is returning to stores, that’s a good thing. Being excited about anything, right now, is great. Everything is so bleak at the moment: The world is falling apart, and winter is almost upon us — ah, brilliant, all the upbeat fun of summer 2020 except colder and with less natural light. So, fuck, if a tasty drink provides momentary escape from the crushing agony of this cursed world, shit man, PSLs for everyone.