Fall is in the air. There has been a crispness in the air that, until recently, has been a distant memory. But where did I first catch a glimpse of fall? Not in the crisp air, leaves turning, or the fall harvest, but in advertising. I was in California at the end of August when I first saw a sign for “PSL” at Starbucks. What is “PSL?” Where have you been? The Pumpkin Spice Latte, the first sign of fall.
There is something so exciting about the changing of seasons, the wardrobe, decorations, flavors and traditions that contribute to the rhythm of life. However, for many of us, our knowledge about the seasons, particularly about its foods, only goes as far as what corporations want us to spend our money on. Enter the (admittedly delicious) Pumpkin Spice Latte. It is nice to have something to get excited about, to look forward to, to celebrate, and to keep that fragile thread joining us to the natural rhythms of the earth connected.
The irony is that although “pumpkin” is in the name of the pumpkin spice latte, there is no actual pumpkin in it. That signature pumpkin flavor is from “pumpkin-flavored syrup,” which is mostly high fructose corn syrup and natural and artificial flavors. So, in reality, there is nothing about the actual ingredients that cause this drink to be seasonal.
Barbara Kingsolver addresses this paradox in a scene from her book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” She is halfway through a year of committed local eating. When October rolls around, she begins to see pumpkins everywhere. She says, “Here was an actual, healthy, native North American vegetable, non-shrink-wrapped, locally grown, and in season, sitting in state on everybody’s porch.” On top of that, the next morning the local paper’s food section was entitled “Pumpkin Possibilities.” She could not wait to try the recipes with the three different kinds of pumpkins she’d grown that year. Then, deflated, she realized that every single recipe began with “1 can (15 oz) pumpkin.” She says, “I could see the shopping lists now: 1 can pumpkin (for curry soup), 1 of those big orangey things (for doorstep).” Here is one cultural instance where we are connected with an in-season food, yet we go for the can, or the latte with pumpkin-flavored syrup.
I admit it — I’ve had a Pumpkin Spice Latte already this season — and it was delicious. I also admit that I haven’t figured out how to make my pumpkin puree as smooth (and definitely not as easy) as the canned variety. When I cooked my first pumpkin, seeds and all, I had so much of it even after all the soups, spreads, and breads that I had to freeze the excess. It was then that I truly began to lament the presence of so much food rotting on people’s doorsteps (including my own). It seems like a missed opportunity to connect with the earth, the seasons, and our Creator. But maybe this time around, it will be different. Maybe this time we will see pumpkins as food, and experience the taste of a healthy, fresh, local pumpkin. Or maybe we will remain in the Pumpkin Paradox. If that is the case, at least we will see it for what it is.
In the coming weeks the PHW Bookclub will be turning to Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” Hopefully it will be a great conversation starter about our relationship to food, as we live vicariously and perhaps become inspired by one family’s commitment to eat locally. They have means, land, and knowledge many of us do not have, but I hope we can all learn something and have good conversation about her stories. (As an added bonus, the book includes recipes for many of the foods she talks about!) PHW Regional Assistant, Amelia Brady, will be walking us through the book one chapter at a time. Look for Chapter 1 on Thursday!
–Shannon Axtell Martin, PHW Regional Consultant
Partners in Health and Wholeness is an initiative of the North Carolina Council of Churches. PHW aims to connect health as a faith issue. Please visit our website to sign your personal pledge to be healthier, and to find out about grant opportunities for places of worship in NC.