In defense of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

By Stephanie Youssef

I have a confession to make: I have never had a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

If you haven’t heard of a Pumpkin Spice Latte yet, then I don’t know what isolated rock you have been hiding under for the last few years. The seasonal, spiced coffee drink has invaded Starbucks sales, scented candles and social media hashtags so thoroughly since its launch in 2003, that even my grandmother knows what it is.

Recently, the popular seasonal beverage became a trending topic as #PSL when Starbucks announced that real pumpkin was added as a main ingredient in the drink’s recipe for this season. And as many of the millennial-aged females of the world shared their #PSL excitement online about this new change, I found myself scrolling through the Internet, disinterested, thinking, “Am I missing out on something here?”

Prior to this week, I had never considered the Pumpkin Spice Latte to be an issue. However, my friend recently expressed to me that when she passes the Starbucks locations on Green Street, the Illini Union, and the Illini Union Bookstore, she has to battle the impulse to empty her wallet on Pumpkin Spice Lattes because she doesn’t want to be considered basic.

In attending a school with a student body large enough to economically support the existence of three Starbucks venues within four blocks, we are all constantly striving to be unique. We all want to fit in with friend groups and succeed academically while still setting ourselves apart from other students. However, upon the realization that my friends are in an internal battle concerning a foamy and sweet beverage, I realized the fear of “being basic,” so to speak, has gone too far.

“Basic,” defined as typical or common, is not something I personally ever feared. I never joined a sorority. I don’t own any Ugg boots, I don’t watch Scandal, I don’t drink Starbucks and I don’t have a Pinterest account. This is not to say I was fighting the urge to do any of the aforementioned; I’m sure if I really wanted to plan out my entire wedding with do-it-yourself quaint, antiqued mason jar pins and recipes for homemade pumpkin spice lattes, I would have by now.

Nevertheless, upon further inspection, being basic is still a staple in the lives of everyone, including me. It is the main reason why hashtags like #PSL started trending in the first place. It’s the reason why Buzzfeed lists are popularly shared and why tweets are retweeted over and over — you can even follow @TheRealPSL on Twitter.

These are online outlets that concern matters exceedingly specific in our day-to-day lives, yet are still somehow universal enough to resonate with a large group. We celebrate our commonality with retweets, reposts and sharing Buzzfeed articles, but we draw the line for the standard of individuality with real life likes and hobbies. As college students, we label our uniqueness with how we dress and what we drink and no one wants to have the same style and interests as everyone else. No one wants to be basic.

I personally find it difficult to keep up with what is considered remarkable and what is considered basic; social convention dictates that uncommon comforts are applauded, but drinking pumpkin spice lattes is frowned upon and I don’t understand why. We are surrounded by weird standards for what constitutes “basic,” but perhaps a solution lies in recognizing that these social standards are only as meaningful as we let them be. Our comforts and hobbies can be a pleasant addition to our lives without completely defining our identity or individuality.

After all, in addition to occasionally enjoying a drink from Starbucks, we are students involved in academics, extracurriculars, sports and other organizations. We are growing as leaders at a highly ranked university and have already accomplished more than most of our generation. Why not revel in the idea that we can define ourselves by our skills and accomplishments and yet share common interests with others?

I will continue living my life ingesting whatever drinks I please and encourage you do the same. If after a hard day of attending lectures and work shifts, we also have to overthink what we order at Starbucks, I say, who cares? Disregard what other people consider basic and celebrate your interests — Pumpkin Spice Lattes and all.

Stephanie is a senior in LAS.

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