There are plenty of reasons not to like pumpkin spice lattes, a drink so ubiquitously autumnal it now goes by the acronym “PSL.”
They taste like diabetes with a little bit of caffeine mixed in. They’re basic. They’re the least pumpkiny-tasting pumpkin product associated with the months September, October and November that isn’t those candy corn “pumpkins” that sit untouched in Halloween-themed bowls on coffee tables around the country during the weeks leading up to Oct. 31.
All of those things are perfectly valid reasons to hate on pumpkin spice lattes.
Genocide and slavery are not. I don’t think any drink — yes, even the PSL — deserves that kind of obloquy heaped upon it.
The Washington Post, or at least one of its columnists, disagrees with me.
In “Pumpkin spice wars: The violent history behind your favorite Starbucks latte,” published last week, The Post’s Gillian Brockwell argues that “underneath those fuzzy-sweater vibes, the spices in ‘the PSL’ have a dark history. Particularly nutmeg. It’s a story of war, genocide and slavery.”
“The variety of nutmeg we’re familiar with is native to the Banda Islands in what is now Indonesia,” she wrote. “In the Middle Ages, the Bandanese became rich trading the spice — plus mace, which comes from the same plant, and cloves, which also grew there, according to Atlas Obscura. Nutmeg made it to the lips of Chinese and Malay elites, and to Europeans via Arab traders, who kept the location of the source secret.”
Brockwell doesn’t excoriate the Bandanese for their arrant embrace of capitalism because soon, a greater evil overtook the islanders: colonialism.
“All that changed in 1511, when Portuguese explorer António de Abreu became the first European to land on the Banda Islands, according to food historian Michael Krondl. Portugal, which was absorbed into the Spanish empire in 1568, had a foothold in the nutmeg trade for nearly 100 years, but the Bandanese resisted their efforts to gain more control.”
Then came the Dutch, who ended up taking the islands after their arrival in 1599. They established forts and forced the Bandanese into exclusivity contracts they possibly didn’t fully understand, since the Bandanese kept on trading nutmeg with their old partners, including the English. (Apparently, the 16th-17th century British were big fans of the pumpkin spice latte. And here I thought they were tea people.)
So then the Bandanese — be sure to keep track of this, it’ll be on the test — had a number of “violent skirmishes” with the colonial powers. A 1621 Dutch offensive ended with the colonizers decapitating the Bandanese leaders, enslaving the elites and chasing the rest of the Bandanese into the mountains, where almost all of them met a gruesome fate.
Only a thousand of the Bandanese ended up surviving out of a total population of 15,000.
“The matter was settled in 1667 when the English agreed to end its claims to the Bandas in exchange for an island the Dutch considered worthless: Manhattan,” Brockwell wrote.
“And, for the record, Manhattan boasts 240 Starbucks that are peddling pumpkin-spice lattes at this very moment.”
Oh, there’s the connection to the PSL! I’d forgotten about it as it hadn’t been mentioned since the beginning of the piece.
So there you have it, one ingredient in the vile concoction makes it an artifact of slavery and genocide.
We shouldn’t view the world and its societies as if they were created yesterday. There are historical iniquities that we need to be aware of. We don’t need to be aware of them when we order a pumpkin spice latte.
Slavery and genocide are devalued when we try to try to force this kind of perpetual woke awareness on people. “Oh, so you like mashed potatoes? I bet you didn’t know tubers were brought back to Europe from the Americas by barbaric colonialists!“
This doesn’t make people go “wow.” This makes people turn off legitimate talk about history, lest they be constantly reminded of everything they’re supposed to feel some distant level of shame over.
It doesn’t help that this article is nothing more than a flimsy random factoid about spice trading and colonialism hung on the clothesline of a trending seasonal topic: the pumpkin spice latte, a drink popularized by what may be the wokest major food and beverage chain on the planet.
It’s like the strife over pineapple on pizza — only did you know that Christopher Columbus (that genocidal scoundrel) and his crew were probably the first Europeans to taste pineapple? Totally true, by the way! And totally irrelevant to whether or not pineapple goes on pizza.
My dislike of the PSL doesn’t have anything to do with moral qualms over it. You like it, order it. Unless you’re a member of the original colonial forces from the Netherlands who’s been forced to walk the earth perpetually as punishment for your sins, you don’t have to worry about where that nutmeg came from.
If you are a 17th-century Dutch admiral shackled to this mortal coil for your role in pillaging the island of Banda and exterminating its residents, and your every waking moment is a living hell of regret and abashment, well, maybe you shouldn’t go in Starbucks to begin with. If you do, stay away from the pumpkin spice latte or anything else with nutmeg as an ingredient. You have no right to it. How dare you, sir? How dare you? And stop reading my columns, too.
The rest of you, keep drinking the stuff without shame. I mean, I have no idea why you would, but if anything’s going to stop you from drinking it, it shouldn’t be the violent manner in which the Dutch managed to get control the nutmeg trade roughly 400 years ago.
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