If I remember my history correctly, the very first pumpkin spice latté was made and consumed at the first Thanksgiving in 1621 — a sweet, drinkable soup made of chunks of squash and squirrel.
Re-imagined by the scientists at Starbucks in 2004 (now with less squirrel), the pumpkin spice latté has evolved into a delicious drink that warms the empty hearts of millions of consumers across the world every day. And now, it’s only a small part of a pervasive pumpkin spice culture that’s come to dominate our very existence. (Don’t believe me? You can buy pumpkin spice soap now. SOAP. You can literally bathe in pumpkin spice. DO YOU SEE WHAT WE’VE DONE? DO YOU SEE THE HELL THAT WE’VE WROUGHT?!)
To honor the season of pumpkin spice and pay homage to the pumpkin gods that I fully admit to worshipping without question, I set out to cleanse my soul with the pure restoring power of pumpkin by eating nothing but foods imbued with its delicious flavor for 72 hours.
Because our devotion to pumpkin season cannot be taken for granted; it must be tested. If our love is pure, our commitment unshakeable, shouldn’t we be able to entirely immerse ourselves in all things pumpkin for 72 hours and still have the will to live?
RULES OF THE PUMPKIN CLEANSE:
1. For 72 hours, everything eaten must have some essential element of pumpkin: pure pumpkin purée, pumpkin spice flavor, or pumpkin butter. Water is allowed, but any other drink, like coffee, should be sprinkled with a dash or more of pumpkin pie spice.
2. Every day, you must pay homage to the pumpkin spice goddess by burning one empty Starbucks pumpkin spice latté cup in her name.
3. No throwing up.
4. No crying.
5. Make friends and have fun.
8 a.m.: The challenge begins. My body is pumpkin-free, and my skin is its usual translucent white, with no traces of orange aside from the preexisting condition known as my ginger arm hair.
For my first pumpkin treat, I enjoy a slice of Entenmann’s pumpkin loaf, which is very moist and very sugary and very delicious, but mostly moist and loafy, exactly how I like it.
8:45 a.m.: I head into work, full of life and full of loaf, with a small bottle of emergency pumpkin pie spice to sprinkle over my food, a jar of pumpkin butter, and a load of pumpkin snacks. My spirits are high and my will unshaken.
9:22 a.m.: I make myself a delicious meal of pumpkin oatmeal, with about a quarter-cup of pure pumpkin puree, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, a bunch of honey, and a dash of what I like to call love.
I wave the bowl in front of my co-workers, because it smells delicious and I want them to believe in me and my three-day obsession with pumpkin. “CAN YOU SMELL IT?” I scream. “CAN YOU SMELL THE POWER OF PUMPKIN?”
The first bites are actually delectable, and the sweet, creamy taste of pumpkin nourishes my teenage white girl sensibilities. I make my way through the chunky bits and force down the last few bites, because oatmeal is kinda gross to begin with and my body is unaccustomed to this much fiber.
1:31 p.m.: For lunch, I grab a steaming cup of pumpkin corn bisque from Café Medina, a small, crowded shop with a sandwich board outside advertising its famous pumpkin concoction. The line is long, so I assume this pumpkin soup is fucking delicious, because why else would you wait in this crowd if not for a delicious cup of pumpkin corn bisque? I accompany it with a nice, sweet grandé cup of Starbucks pumpkin spice latté, because nothing is better than a warm, sweet drink to wash down a hot and chunky corn soup.
I discover, to my stomach’s horrific displeasure, that literally anything else is better.
Pumpkin corn soup is basically a pumpkin spice latté, except one is kinda sweet, and one is kinda savory, but they both taste like lukewarm pumpkin broth with unidentifiable floating chunks of some mystery spices and sugars and vegetables.
I already want to die.
2:14 p.m.: I start to sweat for no discernible reason. My breath smells like the floor of a Starbucks at 11 a.m., after everybody’s had their morning coffee and nature has taken its course. My hands are shriveled, but I’m not sure if that’s pumpkin-related, because sometimes my hands are just wet. I can only conclude that the pumpkin doesn’t help.
2:45 p.m.: My stomach is still confused by the horrific mixture of pumpkin spice soup and pumpkin corn latté I fed him earlier, but he knows he’s hungry. I break for a snack of Kashi Pumpkin Spice Flax, which is apparently a name that someone gave to a crunchy granola bar. Like, it’s a fucking granola bar, people who shop at Whole Foods. I don’t know what flax is, but it’s a goddamn granola bar, OK?
Anyway, they’re covered in some type of pumpkin dust, and there are little seeds inside of them. I enjoy them only because they’re solid and not floating in broth.
4:58 p.m.: It’s snack time again because pumpkin spice flax is actually cardboard and doesn’t fill me up.
Instead, I venture out to Shake Shack to enjoy the spectacle known as the Pumpkin Pie Concrete, a monstrous freak of nature constructed by a Shake Shack employee who sets an ENTIRE slice of pumpkin pie into a cup of vanilla custard and blends that shit into a tornado of wet pumpkin-y custard goodness. It’s not bad. Despite mixing with the lingering taste of pumpkin flaxseeds, the pumpkin pie goes down just fine.
7:25 p.m.: For dinner, I make a “healthy and delicious” pot of turkey pumpkin chili, which is actually just a regular pot of turkey chili with two heaping cups of pure pumpkin purée, except that it doesn’t change the taste at all, only the color, leaving a weird pumpkin-colored stain on the edges of my empty bowl. But whatever: It’s cold outside, and at this point, I’m desperate. My head hurts from eating nothing but pumpkin flax and a cup of blended pumpkin pie since lunchtime, so I’ll eat anything.
10:56 p.m.: Before bed, I have another moist slice of pumpkin loaf and pray to the pumpkin gods. I can feel their spirit, and the joy of pumpkin season, now more than ever.
8:40 a.m.: Day 2 begins and my body has undergone no visible alterations. My skin is still its normal sickly white. No, my poop is not orange, but there’s still time.
9:14 a.m.: For breakfast, I enjoy another grandé pumpkin spice latté and slather a spoonful of pumpkin butter onto both a breakfast sandwich and two slices of Pepperidge Farm pumpkin spice toast. Surprisingly, pumpkin butter tastes absolutely delicious with bacon and eggs, but absolutely disgusting on toast that’s been chemically altered to taste like pumpkin by the farmers of Pepperidge.
10:49 a.m.: My body is beginning to discover that something is amiss. My tongue yearns for colors that aren’t orange, perhaps a glass of milk or a bite of dark chocolate. My skin yearns for the touch of another human.
12:46 p.m.: I heat up a container of leftover turkey pumpkin chili, which has magically grown MORE ORANGE in the 17 hours since I made it, presumably because the pumpkin gods have sensed my mission and are sending me inspiration. Consider yourselves honored, pumpkin gods.
3:12 p.m.: Another package of pumpkin flax bars and I still have the same set of questions. Whose idea was this? Who thought, You know what would make FLAX BARS more exciting? PUMPKIN SPICE!!! I consider dialing the number on the back of the Kashi box, or just going to the nearest Whole Foods and yelling at a complete stranger, just to watch them cry.
4:17 p.m.: I realize my stomach is holding nearly four to six servings of turkey pumpkin chili and pause to evaluate the life choices that have led me to this moment.
But then, someone at work brings out a container of pumpkin trifle and my troubles are whisked away by the whipped joy of a light, airy pumpkin fluff.
7:50 p.m.: For dinner, I whip together a a dish of pumpkin cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese, which sounds delicious because it’s mostly mac ‘n’ cheese with very little pumpkin. Except that halfway through the recipe I realize I’m missing about 10 ingredients, and manage to create only a dish of undercooked noodles swimming in a loose, soupy pool of pumpkin dressing, covered in chunks of burnt cheddar cheese.
Even though it’s almost entirely my fault, I still blame the pumpkin for ruining this meal.
11:24 p.m.: I go to bed with another slice of moist pumpkin loaf, which has, admittedly, grown less moist in the past two days. Still, it gives me enough hope to go on.
10:45 a.m.: I order myself a heaping pile of pumpkin waffles (covered in whipped pumpkin butter, maple syrup, caramelized apples, and a small side of impending diabetes) from a restaurant called Penelope. I eat the entire thing, because I have no sense of self-control, and because a small voice inside of me is saying, “Don’t worry, you can barely taste the pumpkin, and waffles are a damn delight.”
And you know what? They were a damn delight.
10:50 a.m.: To get through the last day of pumpkin cleansing, I feed my body an extra liquid dose of motivation in the form of pumpkin spice Kahlúa, which is, in fact, a real thing that you can buy at the store.
I drink a good portion of the bottle before lunch.
It’s surprisingly delicious, besides the fact that the suggested mixed cocktail on its label implies that I should stir it with equal parts vodka to make a “pumpkin spice martini.”
I stick to mixing it into my coffee.
12:40 p.m.: For lunch, I heat up a container of leftover pumpkin cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese. The pumpkin bits have congealed into a sticky orange jelly, clutching desperately to their pale noodle friends. But I eat them anyway, because my body has now forgotten what other foods taste like, and I have no will to discover new flavors. I accompany my meal with a plump roll, cleaved in two and smothered with pumpkin butter that I forgot to refrigerate since breakfast the day before, so I will probably die. And at this point, I welcome death.
5:45 p.m.: I heat up a bowl of premade pumpkin soup, and someone tells me it smells like breast milk. I don’t know what breast milk tastes like, but I imagine it’s smoother and more filling than the monstrosity that is this pumpkin soup. I fight back the urge to vomit, mostly out of fear that my vomit will be hot and orange and look exactly like the remnants of the turkey pumpkin chili bits that are most likely still floating around in my stomach juices.
7:18 p.m.: I order a small serving of pumpkin pie dumplings from Dumpling Man, terrifyingly nutritional lumps of pumpkin dough wrapped around warm interiors of pumpkin pie filling, covered in pumpkin spice and served atop a warm pool of creamy pumpkin jizz. The maddening, haunting scents of chicken and pork dumplings swirl around them.
I gag my way through each bite, which I expect each time to be savory, like the smells around me. Instead, I feed myself more and more sugar, growing increasingly ill with each bite.
Pumpkin season is winning. I can feel the air around me grow thicker, and the pumpkin gods stronger.
8 p.m.: I reward myself with a warm slice of classic pumpkin pie, accompanied by a cold dollop of vanilla ice cream, for making it this far without crying or throwing up.
My skin isn’t quite pumpkin, but I’m starting to excrete orange, enough to know the pumpkin has had its way with me. My eyes are bloodshot. The amount of pumpkin pie filling in my body exceeds the amount of blood in it, which I assume is now thick with chunks of raw pumpkin. I’ve told at least three of my friends to go suck a dick, because the pumpkin gods willed me to say it.
But it’s over.
And pumpkin spice season has won.
It always wins.