Stunt journalism, pumpkin spice, and me

Image: Mike Mozart, Jeepers Media, FLICKR

Stunt journalism has always seemed fun to me in a way that acknowledged part of what you were doing was ridiculous and self-indulgent, but you were going to take the reader along for a fun ride anyway.

Sometimes the story is super great, like when Nicole Cliffe tried out Joe Manganiello’s diet and exercise routine for Elle, immediately prompting many readers to Google “cum gutters”. Or when John Jeremiah Sullivan went to Disney World for the New York Times Magazine. Or when Bruce Arthur detailed his multi-day quest to get to Rio for the first day of this year’s Olympics. (Which wasn’t so much a stunt as it was a detailed chronicle of how far travel arrangements can go off the rails.)

But too often, the stories are bad and the reader’s personal comments about their own feelings and thoughts are unnecessary. 

So when I threw out an idea on Twitter recently, about trying every pumpkin-spice product I encountered in the month of October as a kind of lark, I didn’t expect anyone to be enthusiastic about it at all. Why would anyone care about my impressions of the seemingly-endless number of pumpkin-spice related products? Why make it a kind of mini-beat for the month when I could be spending that time doing readings freaking out about the election?

The answer is that I am far from being alone about wondering what would happen if someone really did purchase literally every Pumpkin Spice-related product. What would I encounter? How much would I quickly spend? Would any of them be any good and worth buying anyway? And because I’m a business reporter, what does all of this say about food trends, marketing and how we treat products often derided because they were made popular by unbridled female enthusiasm?

(That last part is messed up, but so are a lot of things women are unnecessarily made fun of.)

I think it also doesn’t hurt that for most of my life I didn’t grow up with pumpkin pie and have never tried the infamous Starbucks latte that started this whole thing in the first place. I  feel like I am coming at this from a much more outside perspective.

So here are the ground rules so far:

  1. If I know of a place that has a Pumpkin Spice product and I pass by it regularly, I have to go in and try it. (For example, there is a McDonald’s by my apartment and someone alerted me to their pumpkin spice fries, so I have to go check them out.)
  2. I must make at least one trip to Trader Joe’s and buy at least five products there.
  3. I must make at least one trip to a grocery store (Target also works) and buy at least five products there.
  4. I will not talk about the condom hoax.
  5. I will try a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks for the first time. (This feels almost like a given first thing to do.)
  6. I will eat at least one slice of pumpkin pie.
  7. Since I am funding this by myself (and am currently in graduate school), I will spend a maximum of $100. However, I am open to donations specifically for this, and will disclose them.
  8. I will take photos of each item whenever possible.
  9. I won’t go deep into the history of pumpkin spice, its economic impact or the debate over its popularity unless it actually comes up. (I would do this if I were actually writing a long feature on it for a place like Eater, but I am not allowed to do this under the rules of my student visa.)
  10. The point is to have fun, not torture myself with mediocre food items.
  11. Challenge ends when I have spent the allotted budget or on October 31, whichever comes first.

Sarah Weinman also thought up the perfect title, so all posts about this will go under The Pumpkin Spice Review.

If you have suggestions on what I should definitely try, let me know in the comments or on Twitter.


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