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A Passion for Pumpkin

November 19, 2012

Published here on October 8, 2012

Once a year, for the span of about three months, our country finds itself obsessed over the pumpkin. It reminds me of the way in which we obsess over politics for about six months every election.

Think about it. People blog about pumpkins (check out Pumpkin Spice Blog or Pumpkinmania), they tweet about them, they talk about them in everyday conversation. As I am writing this, my friend is next to me googling pumpkin recipes.

It’s impossible to go a day without seeing at least one advertisement for this vegetable, or fruit or whatever it is. Its prevalence in our lives during fall is astounding. This past week, I ordered a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks, a pumpkin bagel with pumpkin cream cheese from Brueggers and pumpkin muffins from Harris Teeter. That same friend and I are planning on having a “pumpkin” day in culmination of our temporary love for the pumpkin. We’re thinking of having it on the 6th of November.

As with most trends, not everyone joins this cult-like following. Some people think they are “better than” the pumpkin. Others don’t like any variety of pumpkin — saying things like “it’s too sweet” or “it’s too traditional.” Still others, particularly college students, just don’t care enough to go out and buy any of these delectable treats.

But for the vast majority of people that do enjoy this three month phase of fall, the pumpkin is almost idolized. There are pumpkin growing contests that determine whose pumpkin is bigger (and thus better). Any food item with the word pumpkin in it is consumed by America. Those pumpkin muffins I bought from Harris Teeter? They were the last ones.

But is it the pumpkin itself that we’re so obsessed with? A recent column in the Wall Street Journal titled “Who Killed the Great Pumpkin” asks this same question. Is it actually the squash we care about so much, or is it this relatively new stuff called pumpkin spice? “Pumpkin became less a vegetable,” writes author Charles Passy, “and more a platform for piling on the flavor — cinnamon, brown sugar, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, you name it.” It seems as if the pumpkin has been dramatized by all of this extra stuff.

It makes sense. After all, pumpkin, by itself, is supposed to be enjoyed with a side of butter and some salt and pepper. To me that just sounds so…boring. I want the spice. I want my taste buds to be stimulated by a variety of intense flavors. I want action and drama. I want to turn on the news and hear about pumpkin this and pumpkin that. I want my life flavored with the same spice with which various marketing teams flavor their pumpkin products.

Have we lost the pumpkin completely? Have we so dramatized the pumpkin that we will never be able to just enjoy the pumpkin for itself? Maybe, maybe not. I personally appeal to the food companies that we enjoy pumpkin year-long. Maybe ease off of the crazy obsession we get once a year and turn the pumpkin dialogue into a year round thing with much less flair.

Pumpkin should still get the spotlight during its peak season, but let’s lay off the over-the-top fixation. It’s a squash. It’s not a movie.

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