Despite what the relentlessness of the current heat wave in L.A. would have you believe, it's officially fall. As such, if you've recently ventured out to grocery stores, you've probably noticed a change in their seasonal offerings. Instead of picnic supplies there's Halloween candy, the summer ales in the beer section have been swapped out for bolder stouts, and sweet potatoes are back and better than ever.
But there's also another change-over taking place in the aisles, one that's deeply more troubling: The unrelenting advance of the pumpkin.
As this article from ABC News points out, fall has become the season of the pumpkin flavor:
"Dunkin' Donuts is offering pumpkin cream cheese and pumpkin muffins, to go with its glazed pumpkin cake donuts and pumpkin coffee, of course. At chain Einstein Bros., there are two types of pumpkin bagels and a new pumpkin scone. And frozen custard brand Culver's is rolling out three new desserts with pumpkin flavoring mixed in. Sonic even has a pumpkin pie shake."
And I'm here to say this needs to stop. You know what should taste like pumpkin? A pumpkin. You know what doesn't need to taste like a pumpkin? Anything else.
Quick question: How many times have you thought to yourself "Man, I really could go a nice, juicy pumpkin right about now?" I'll save you the trouble from having to go too far back into your memory to find the answer. It is zero. Never in your childhood did you wish that mom was cooking up pumpkin that night for dinner, never in your adulthood did you make a late-night run to the store because you had a pumpkin craving. Never. It doesn't happen. And you know why? Because the flavor of pumpkin isn't very good.
"But what about pumpkin pie?" I'm sure one of you wise-acres are going to chime up with. And sure, I'll consent that pumpkin pie is fine. Definitely one of the lesser pies in the pie kingdom -- it's pretty much the cocktail weenies of pies; if it's on the table, might as well have one, but is it really anyone's first choice? -- but it's also only really good when it's served under a small mountain of whipped cream. Have you tried to eat pumpkin pie without it? It's like chewing a lightly-sweetened mound of sand. But that's not pumpkin flavor, anyway. That's pumpkin pie flavor. If the stores were selling "pumpkin pie stout" or "pumpkin pie bagels" that would be a totally different argument. (And probably more descriptively correct.) But in this case, it's pumpkin. And it's gross.
That said, it's easy to see why people would get suckered into buying something that inherently doesn't belong on their taste buds: Halloween is an awesome holiday and the pumpkin is representative of that. Seeing the word "pumpkin" while strolling through grocery aisles or scanning the checkout counter's board may not stir up memories of a delicious pumpkin meal, but it does stir up something more profound: A sense memory of a happier time.
"Pumpkin" means candy, and costumes, and trick-or-treating, and childhood, and the innocence of youth, and Christmas being pretty much right around the corner so it's basically here, and presents. That's what people are trying to get whenever they order the "new pumpkin thing." They're not looking to buy a food or drink that tastes like a pumpkin, they're looking to buy back a few moments of their lost youth.
But, seeing as that's impossible, in the end they're just left with a few dollars less in their pockets and a terribly-flavored thing in their hands.
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