Drinking candy

I had an unspeakably foul beverage this morning at Starbucks that made me think, hard, about food, about what we choose to eat and drink and what it says about us. And it called to mind some uncomfortable thoughts that have been rattling around in my mind since reading the excerpts from Cory Doctorow’s latest novel on Salon.

I have long maintained that Starbucks is fundamentally a milk company rather than a coffee company. It was around the time that coffee took one of its periodic jumps in price that Starbucks introduced Frappuchinos, after all. Even at the time it struck me as a canny way to react to a coffee supply disruption: create demand for a product that is mostly not coffee. By volume, certainly, Starbucks sells far more milk than coffee.

None of this has ever bothered me, primarily because I stick to drip coffee, Americanos, and “poisonously strong” double espressos. But this week I got a mailer from Starbucks informing me that they had loaded my card with an extra $5, and, since the weather is getting colder, would I like to try a Pumpkin Spice Latte? This morning it was colder—44 degrees when I walked the dogs—so I thought, why not.

Why not is that Pumpkin Spice Latte tastes like ass. Worse, it tastes like sweet ass, and not in a good way. As Cory Doctorow wrote in the second installment of Themepunks about another ubiquitous American institution, IHOP:

Caramel pancakes with whipped cream, maple syrup and canned strawberries. When I was a kid, we called that candy. These people will sell you an eight dollar, 18-ounce plate of candy …

Or a $4, 16 ounce cup of it.

Despite my need for coffee, I tossed the latte after a few sips. It was vile and I’m back to espressos.

But it made me think: what is it that makes us crave this stuff? People, to all appearances, eat lots of candy. (You can certainly tell if you fly with Americans, particularly in the Midwest, particularly when you’re in a middle seat and a couple of 350 pound guys are on either side of you.) Is it that we never grew up? Were we denied candy as kids? Or did we never find out that there was something better?