The Politics of Pumpkin

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*Also published on Medium*

Like hipsters and basic bitches, pumpkin spice- along with all of it’s fame and criticisms- has fallen by the wayside in most circles. We have moved on to other targets- meninists and vaporwavers, cold brew and kombucha, the over-hyped subcultures and trends that we either love to hate or fully latch on to.

But these days, what goes around comes back around quicker than ever. A trend barely has time to die or be banished by society before it is being picked back up by the next generation or being reclaimed by the exact people who shunned it in the first place.

I can’t tell which of these is the reason why pumpkin (spice) donuts ended up on my plate last Thursday morning in the faraway land of Melbourne, Australia. A land where pumpkins come from a vine, not a can, and almost no one mutilates them into spooky faces. They are a different, much sweeter variety here. Yet strangely, they can be found atop savoury dishes like burgers and pizzas- not laced into coffees or poured into pie shells.

…With the exception, that is, of the five Starbucks still surviving in Melbourne’s Central Business District (all within six blocks or less of each other, mind you). These coffee chains are frequented by nostalgic ex-pats and Asian tourists and do, come September, serve up the infamous PSL (as any Starbucks must).

But SBX aside, pumpkin spice has not really taken hold of the Aussie food scene (yet). Which is why I was surprised to see sweet pumpkin anythinggrace the menu of a local cafe. But I had to get it, because who am I to stifle my inner basic bitch when it’s fall in the States, goddamnit?

(Please keep in mind- I do observe the indigenous origins of both “pumpkin” and “spice”, as well as my privilege as a (mostly) white cis(mostly)het who has the financial means to purchase readily available commercial pumpkin products. In no way do I mean to appropriate these foods that existed for years in the diets of those who were colonised at the hands of my *potential* ancestors.)

I think personally, I err on the side of pumpkin spice reclamation rather than second-time-around appeal. I’ve had my fair share of PSL’s over the years, I’ve mocked them, and here I am, back on the big orange train.

This seasonal favourite has been around since 2003. (2003!!) Although, Starbucks didn’t introduce the drink to Oz until this year?! So I guess everyone else is smitten with first-timers’ bliss (or perhaps yet to even jump on the tractor).

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Despite Melbourne’s progression towards a globally-recognised cultural hub, they do lag a bit in adoption of certain fads.

Not that this is bad- in fact, it may be what makes the city so special. They are a community that does their own thing. Lots of artists and businesses here are happy to start their own trends or abstain from the popularity hierarchy completely. Many Melburnians favour small, independent companies over corporate chains. They don’t have a specific style. Their unique fashion fusion is their style. They reject norms and conventions.

(Except for Uggs, but they’re mostly seen as bedroom slippers, so give them a break).

Australia- and Melbourne specifically- is a cool place because it doesn’t blindly embrace all that’s labeled as “cool”. Rather, it relishes in it’s defiance of the status quo.

Although… aren’t such “rebellions” and “eccentricities” just trends within themselves? So really, if the whole city is rooted in an identity of alternative culture, they are really just conforming to the current trends now taking hold of youth all around the world? Because alternative culture is becoming trendy, and the mainstream is embracing what was once fringe, and who is to even say who/what is alt and who/what is mainstream anymore, and isn’t “alternative” just our grandma’s backhanded way of saying that she hates our new facial piercing and prefers us to date within our race?!?

Which is why we need to combat that dominating trend, and reclaim the mainstream. The basic. The pumpkin spice and mall stores and 9–5 jobs and top 40. Hence my breakfast choice last Thursday morning.

But anyway, my donuts we’re pretty good. Brb, gonna go grab some Starbucks.