While I don’t exactly wish that I wrote for The Sun at the peak of pumpkin spice hatred — 2012, for those lucky enough to have forgotten — I can recognize that I’m a little late to the party on this one. Gone are the days of viral posts making fun of teenage girls for liking Starbucks. In recent years, the sexist undertones of the “basic” stereotype have become obvious and have made these jokes distasteful, if not completely unacceptable. Now, there is generally less embarrassment associated with liking Starbucks and oat milk, and I’m grateful for this shift! But if I can acknowledge that being “like other girls” isn’t a bad thing, then why do I still feel so averse to pumpkin spice?
It’s not entirely surprising to me that the need to prove myself (To whom? No idea.) is shed last in my food choices. It’s been a while since I was able to accept that pink is an incredible color, and that makeup is really, really fun, actually. That is to say, I’ve had relatively little trouble accepting many of the physical stereotypes associated with femininity that I had previously avoided for fear of being labeled “like other girls.” Hell, I haven’t just accepted makeup — I’ve readily embraced it, having been freed to experiment with something I truly enjoy without the imposed fear of always looking pretty or even remotely presentable. Yet, despite the joy I regularly find in playing with these stereotypes (once I realized that they don’t actually carry any gender, it got a lot easier), I still have trouble letting myself enjoy foods which also carry feminine connotations.
Almost every time I go into Starbucks or Dunkin’, I feel a brief flash of superiority at knowing that my order is relatively simple. Immediately following this ego boost is a sharp wave of shame; have I internalized so much sexism over the years that I’m this inherently hateful? Can I even call myself a feminist if I get this much satisfaction from creating constant competition with the women around me? Even worse, this competition is completely baseless, founded only on arbitrary virtues that I apparently hold in high regard. While I can always shove away this shame long enough to order my coffee and get about my day, I’m left with a lingering worry that the barista is judging me for ordering oat milk instead of cow’s milk, or cold brew instead of regular iced coffee. If this seems like an unnecessary amount of worry and thought to put into your morning coffee, that’s because it is. I am all too aware of the irrationality of all these thoughts, and yet they remain.
I’m reminded of my freshman year here at Cornell. In high school, I wore a uniform and followed — like many of you — a strict schedule that dictated my every move during the day. When I arrived at Cornell in August of 2018, I felt virtually no desire to continue wearing a uniform or to stick to most parts of my old schedule. Despite being completely ready to eschew these previous constants in my life, I still found myself attempting to recreate my old meals from high school with as much regularity as possible. I could accept a new wardrobe and sleep schedule, but I drew the line at changing my food and usurping that part of my identity.
While I can’t speak in absolutes, food is hugely important for many people as it communicates a thousand values without saying a single word. Eating Kosher foods becomes a way to signify to the rest of the world one’s religious identity, for example. Similarly, not consuming Kosher foods when in the presence of multiple others who are doing so can be a tangible way of distinguishing different values — religious or otherwise. Refusing to eat the same way as other people creates an “us” and “them” as soon as the food is served. As this relates to pumpkin spice lattes, I can see the extent to which I have used food more than anything else to assert autonomy and establish my identity over the years. The aforementioned school uniform and strict schedule left so little room for self-expression that food quickly became one of my only means of creating individuality as a teenager. Seeing as individuality, by definition, necessitates being different from others, it’s no wonder that I tried to make my food so distinct from the feminine stereotype. While I couldn’t express myself through clothes, I could show that I was special through my food.
With all of this in mind, I suppose that letting myself fully enjoy “basic” foods will take a little time. The “individuality” that marks the food I eat has become ingrained in my identity, so I’m not expecting anything to change overnight. But every time I see the miles-long line at Dunkin’, I get a little calmer knowing that there is no way the baristas have the energy to judge every order that comes through their crowded doors. It’s a sort of exposure therapy, if you will. And who knows — maybe this is an excuse to buy more coffee? It’s all in the name of self-improvement, of course.
Amelia Clute is a current senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She currently serves as the Assistant Dining Editor and can be reached at [email protected].