+

In 2014, Americans spent over $360 million on pumpkin-flavored products — and that number just keeps going up.

Get ready. GIF from "The Muppets."

Granted, most people only indulge in one pumpkin-spice something per year, and half the time it doesn't even include real pumpkin in it. But love it or hate it — because when it comes to pumpkin spice, it's pretty polarizing — it's hard to deny that pumpkin is the official flavor of fall.


But back in the 16th century, early American settlers weren't exactly looking forward to the pumpkin-flavored everythings.

Native Americans relied on the ribbed orange squash in numerous ways to get them through the winter. So when the European settlers showed up, they followed suit.

Historical footage of colonial Americans settlers, upon first discovering pumpkins. GIF from TY Interwebs/YouTube.

Of course, they'd never seen pumpkins before, but pumpkins were plentiful and also full of starchy sugars, so that seemed like a win. Plus, pumpkins lasted for a long time, and when the other crops ran out, they could use them as beer or as meaty nutrients in their stews. As author Cindy Ott explained in her book, "Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon," "When people had no apples for pies, barley for beer, or meat for supper, they could substitute the prolific pumpkin."

That doesn't mean that any of this pumpkin stuff was good though. Back then, without the spices that we know and love today, pumpkin was just kind of a bland way to get calories into your body.

Historical footage of colonial Americans after realizing that the bland pumpkin was pretty much their most consistent source of food. GIF from San Diego Zoo.

By the early 19th century, the pumpkin craze had become a relic of hearty American nostalgia, or so we thought.

Because pumpkins weren't very tasty, they started to go out of style. And as American prosperity grew, people began to look down on pumpkins as a "last resort" food, something their poor ancestors ate to rough it through the hard times.

But then, in the 1950s, pumpkin pie spice entered the scene.

The first known reference to pumpkin pie spice was published in The Washington Post in 1936. And shortly after World War II, the McCormick spice company began to advertise a pumpkin pie spice mixture as a kind of comfort food, offering a pre-mixed, pre-packaged combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger.

Suddenly, pumpkin's venerable frontier reputation became desirable and delicious — even though it was really the spices and not the pumpkin itself that people were diggin'. (On the bright side, those spices did offer some additional health benefits, though.)

My mother always warned me that if I ate too much of something, I was going to turn into it. GIF from "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers."

And finally, the kicker: In 2003, the pumpkin spice latte burst onto the scene. That's when everything changed.

Basically, it's all Starbucks' fault. There were some other companies offering pumpkin spice coffees (and candles) as early as 1996, but the legendary PSL is what really kicked the trend into high gear. Starbucks was looking for another seasonal drink to compliment its popular winter holiday offerings, and although they tried several other options, there was just something about the pumpkin spice latte.

The limited availability certainly didn't hurt customer excitement. And while the PSL was an immediate hit, it really took off after the recession hit. "Pumpkin became recognized as part of the comfort food trend during the recession in 2008," said Suzy Badaracco of Culinary Tides in an interview with Vox.

Approximately 50% of the American population come August, when pumpkin spice season mysteriously smarts amid the oppressive summer heat. GIF from "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!"

Ott echoed this idea in her book, too. "Those ideas, about last resort and hard times and, ‘Throw the pumpkin in and take care of yourself and your family on your small plot of land,’ became symbols and stories of American survival," she wrote. "It’s these kind of associations that people are buying, and the associations are really positive and affirming."

In retrospect, it seems kind of silly that a once pervasive and annoying squash could become such a phenomenon.

When it comes to pumpkin in particular, there's also the added irony that a "flavor" that harkens back to colonial America and has such strong associations with "whiteness" actually has more to do with imported spices than with the bland squash of its namesake.

White people dancing for pumpkin flavor derived from spices taken from former British colonies. GIF from KXVO15 10:00 News/YouTube.

But this story isn't just the story of pumpkins. It's actually true for a lot of the foods we consider popular today.

For the vast majority of world history, the vast majority of people were very, very poor. The culinary treats that we recognize today were rarely delicacies; they were just what was available at a low cost to feed a lot of people.

Soups and stews like minestrone, gazpacho, and ratatouille, crops like rice and potatoes, bread and polenta, and even a lot of sausages only gained in popularity because they were the only options available, and people needed to eat.

Now, with more people rising out of poverty than ever before, these cultural touchstones of necessity are becoming commodities. Whether that's a good or bad thing is entirely up to your personal taste — kind of like that sweet Pumpkin Spice Latte.

True

Innovation is awesome, right? I mean, it gave us the internet!

However, there is always a price to pay for modernization, and in this case, it’s in the form of digital eye strain, a group of vision problems that can pop up after as little as two hours of looking at a screen. Some of the symptoms are tired and/or dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain1. Ouch!

Keep ReadingShow less
popular

Artist captures how strangers react to her body in public and it's fascinating

Haley Morris-Cafiero's photos might make you rethink how you look at people.

Credit: Haley Morris-Cafiero

Artist Haley Morris-Cafiero describes herself on her website as "part performer, part artist, part provocateur, part spectator." Her recent project, titled "Wait Watchers" has elements of all her self-descriptors.

In an email to us, Morris-Cafiero explained that she set up a camera in the street and stood in front of it, doing mundane activities like looking at a map or eating gelato. While she's standing there she sets off her camera, taking hundreds of photos.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

This Giving Tuesday, Furbo makes it easier than ever to support dogs in need

Every Furbo purchase helps provide additional support for dog shelters & rescues.

Image via Furbo

Furbo is using Giving Tuesday to support dogs in need

Every year, six million lost or abandoned animals end up in shelters or rescues. Thankfully, 76% of those pets are adopted by their forever family. Of course, the dream is to find every stray animal a loving home, but getting there takes time, money, and resources.


If you’re a dog lover, especially with a rescue pup, you understand the importance of supporting animal rescue organizations and shelters. Like you, Furbo Dog Camera wants to ensure all dogs are safe and happy at home. That’s why they founded Furbo For Good, the company’s charitable initiative that supports rescued dogs. And this Giving Tuesday, they’ll be doing more for pets in need than ever before!

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

Woman reunites with her family 51 years after being kidnapped

Melissa Highsmith never even knew her real family was searching for her.

The family celebrate their reunion following a decades long search

In 1971, Melissa Highsmith was kidnapped from her home in Fort Worth, Texas. Her disappearance has been one of the oldest missing person cases in America. Now, she gets to celebrate a long-awaited reunion with her family in what she calls a “Christmas miracle.”

As ABC affiliate WFAA reported, Melissa’s mother, Alta (who now goes by Alta Apantenco) had put out an ad for a babysitter to watch over her then 21-month-old while she was at work. A white gloved, well-dressed woman going by the name of Ruth Johnson responded to the call, but she was no babysitter. After Johnson picked up baby Melissa from Apantenco’s roommate, the two were never seen again.

As any parents would do in this situation, the Highsmiths worked tirelessly to find their little girl, involving the Fort Worth police and even the FBI. Sadly, it was all to no avail. The only glimmer of hope remaining was that there was no evidence of harm, so maybe, just maybe, their Melissa was being well taken care of. And for 51 years, the family held onto that possibility.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Dwayne Johnson 'rights a wrong' at the 7-Eleven he used to shoplift from as a kid

The Rock admitted to stealing a Snickers bar every day for almost a year.

Johnson bought every Snickers bar in the store to "right a wrong"

Dwayne Johnson is a celebrity known for his generosity. Sure people know about his one-of-a-kind eyebrow raise an insane gym schedule, but it’s also common knowledge that he regularly makes surprise appearances to those in need. Not to mention his gifts are legendary—from puppies to trucks to houses.

So, it might not seem that out of the ordinary for the wrestler-turned-actor to buy every single Snickers bar at a 7-eleven and give them to customers for free. However, this was more than a good deed—it was an act of redemption.

As the “Black Adam” star shared in a video posted to his Instagram, this was the 7-Eleven he used to shoplift from while growing up in Hawaii.
Keep ReadingShow less