Pumpkin Spice Latte With An Extra Shot Of White Privilege?


Annabel Scott Contributor
Font Size:

According to a University of British Columbia scholar’s recent study, pumpkins and pumpkin spice lattes are the epitome of sexism, racism and white privilege.

In the peer-reviewed academic study titled “The Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins“, Lisa Jordan Powell examines and analyzes the “symbolic whiteness associated with pumpkins in the contemporary United States.”

Powell begins by discussing the supposed symbolism pumpkins have in our society. “Here, we examine pumpkins’ symbolic whiteness. Doing so connects underground veins of class, gender, and especially race in media and marketing of food and flavor; it suggests complicated interplay among food, leisure, labor, nostalgia, and race; and it makes visible today’s version of racial and class coding of rural versus urban places.”

Powell then shifts her focus to a more specific aspect of “pumpkin symbolism” – Starbucks most popular seasonal beverage of all time: The Pumpkin Spice Latte.

“Although the PSL was celebrated as a company and cultural success in 2013, one year later it was firmly hitched to discussions of white female identity and consumerism as both a dismissive, racially coded slur and a rallying counterpoint,” Powell writes. “But why did PSLs become the symbol of basic white girlness? Why did they stick even more than UGGs, yoga pants, or scented candles? The context and composition of the PSL might be revealing.”

Powell explains that prior to Fall of 2015, the Pumpkin Spice Latte did not contain any real pumpkin. She says because PSLs lack nutrients from actual pumpkin, they are consumed solely for luxury and apparently, in Powell’s mind, only white people can have luxurious things.

“Luxury items, they cost far more than plain cups of coffee, yet do not provide tangible extra nutrition other than that in milk. PSLs are one step further from actual pumpkins. Their fluffiness, lack of substance, and triviality, regardless of attempts to dismiss them as ‘basic,’ make them ultimate luxuries and hence markers of distinction and white privilege”

And just when you think you’ve heard it all, Powell attempts to draw parallels between the PSL, sexism, and the “female gendering of pumpkins.” She claims that coffee shops were historically known to be “deeply masculine spaces” but the emergence of Italian espresso bars in 1950’s led to the “feminizing and whitening of drinks, spaces, and practices of coffee shops.”

“Starbucks PSLs are products of coffee shop culture, with its gendered and racial codes,” declares Powell.