A recent article published by the Washington Post has prompted mockery on social media for claiming a favorite seasonal fall spice blend is “fraught with colonizer histories.” In the article, titled “the Violent History of Pumpkin Spice,” staff write Maham Javaid links the iconic flavor to racism and genocide.
Pumpkin spice, also known as pumpkin pie spice, is an American blend of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and sometimes allspice. While the blend was first marketed commercially in the 1930s, it has gained widespread appreciation in modern popular culture, especially since the introduction of the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, colloquially referred to as “the PSL,” first introduced in 2003.
But a new article from the Washington Post is attempting to call the famous fall flavor into disrepute, linking it to the bloody history of colonialism in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
According to the article, nutmeg was once a rare substance that could only be found in the Banda Islands of Indonesia. In addition to its taste, it was regarded as having medicinal properties which could ward off or cure the bubonic plague.
In a search for nutmeg, over 1,500 Dutch soldiers and sailors invaded the Banda Islands in the 1600s, forcing the Indigenous inhabitants to surrender. After signing a treaty, the Bandanese were made subjects of the Dutch, and thousands were killed, enslaved, and or starved.
“The population of around 15,000 Bandanese was decimated to just a few hundred in a few months,” explained Adam Clulow, a historian and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “The Dutch company was later accused of carrying out what some describe as the first instance of corporate genocide. And it was all for nutmeg.”
Continuing, the Post claims that while many commodities such as sugar and tobacco have horrible histories, nutmeg, which is a coveted component of pumpkin spice “has the most compressed terrible history” of all.
“Today you can buy a jar of the spice mix, typically made with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, for as little as $2.39, or drink it in Starbucks’s perennially popular Pumpkin Spice Latte, confident that the nutmeg wasn’t grown through means of violence,” the article states.
In addition to nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon are also referenced in the article for their “bloody and dramatic” fight to control the clove trade in Indonesia and the cinnamon trade in Sri Lanka.
“It’s true that if we didn’t consume food that hadn’t been touched by slavery and Indigenous displacement, we wouldn’t be eating a lot of food. But whenever foods enter the pop culture lexicon the way pumpkin spice has in the U.S., it’s important to acknowledge how it reached us,” said food historian Sarah Wassberg Johnson.
The Post’s attempt at disparaging everyone’s favorite fall flavor was met with jeers on X (formally Twitter).
“I regret to inform you that the Washington Post is at it again,” wrote political commentator Lauren Chen.
Sharing her sentiments, Babylon Bee writer Ashley St. Claire joked: “Washington Post hates white women confirmed.”
Another X user who goes by the handle @9mm_smg, made a sarcastic remark, writing: “I told you my pumpkin spice latte I had earlier was based.”
Concluding the Washington Post report, spice historian Adam Clulow explains that despite nutmeg not having any negative connotations today, Starbucks seasonal beverages remind him of the 1627 painting Still Life with a Turkey Pie by Pieter Claesz.
It’s the “ultimate symbol of stunningly opulent, globalized consumption in the 17th century, he said, adding: “It’s the same with these Starbucks lattes. You’re getting stuff from all over the world and repackaging it for wealthy consumers without acknowledging the history of the ingredients.”