There was a time not too long ago when you did three things with a pumpkin:
You carved it into a jack-o-lantern, you made it into a pie filling or you baked it into bread.
It was a simpler time.
Nowadays, America has become one giant pumpkin patch.
We are deluged with pumpkin lattes, marshmallows, Pringles, Pop Tarts, cookies, cereal, ice cream, M&Ms, beer, air freshener, lotion, shampoo, candles and, heaven forbid, whiskey. There are even pumpkin dog treats.
Some say this strange obsession with a bulbous orange squash is all about nostalgia. It's represents an idealized idyllic farm life, a place of moral virtue.
Others call it a seasonal thing. Pumpkins signal the advent of Fall, with its colorful foliage and crisp weather.
That tune doesn’t play well in Southern California where Fall means Santa Ana winds, high temperatures, low humidity, brush fires, dry skin and short tempers.
But here in the land of make believe, if we can’t have a real Fall, we’ll pretend. What better way to do that then to have a house full of pumpkin products?
And just to add a touch of authenticity, we adorn our homes and shopping centers to look like an Amish farm at harvest, all within the cozy confines of an impossible megalopolis.
It’s been a long road to popularity for the lowly pumpkin. In the old days, according to one report, pumpkin beer was used when there was no barley. If there was no wheat for bread, pumpkin was used. It was considered food for desperate times.
So what led to pumpkin popularity? On the Rector Scale of Unappetizing Food, it ranks right up there with Brussel Sprouts. Nobody takes a bite out of a pumpkin. At least with sprouts, you can douse them in melted Velveeta.
Most people credit/blame Starbucks which introduced the Pumpkin Spice Latte in 2003. Since then, sales of pumpkin-flavored items continue to soar, rising 11.6 percent to $361 million for the year ended July 25, according to Nielsen.
It is Starbucks' most popular seasonal beverage with more than 200 million sold since it was introduced.
It may be the only beverage on earth with 94,000 Twitter followers.
All of this despite the fact that fresh pumpkin sales dropped in 2011, 2013 and 2014. Last year, volume fell 5.2 percent.
Which means that thanks to the miracle of modern science, we can now make pumpkin-flavored products without an actual pumpkin.
In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Starbucks seasonal beverage contains no real pumpkin; a spokeswoman said it "contains a natural and artificial pumpkin spice flavor."
In what can only be described as an amazing coincidence, Starbucks recently announced that the Pumpkin Spice Latte will be undergoing a change of recipe, now with real pumpkin.
And in all likelihood, at a higher price.
There could be an underlying factor behind our pumpkin addiction.
Alan Hirsch, founder and director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, told Fortune magazine he thinks that there might be something physical going on.
Hirsch said that in one of his studies, he looked at the effects of 30 different scents on the sexual arousal of 31 male volunteers.
He found that the scent causing the highest level of arousal was a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie. Doughnut and black licorice came in second, and the combination of doughnut and pumpkin pie came in third.
So guys, if your yearning for pumpkin pie lasts for more than four hours, contact your doctor.
What does the future hold? At the rate the popularity of pumpkin products is growing, they may become abundant and commonplace.
When that happens, pumpkin will become the new vanilla.
Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.