Down to the “Basics”

Noel Wang, Freelance Editor

Notoriety is often the flip side of fame, and many hugely popular foods, including the pumpkin spice latte, have well-known reputations for being “basic.” According to Vox, the word is “used to describe someone with average, predictable taste that’s usually reserved for women.”

The article points out a couple of problems with its aim at young women. Firstly, the “basicness” of a person’s tastes is usually a combination of their location privilege, access, and exposure to other cultures. Our surroundings, including the internet, often determine our preferences. The pumpkin spice latte is an enticing limited-time offer, and when we are immersed in our friends’ posts and ravings online, we experience a “fear of missing out.”

The term “basic” is also a subtle reminder of gender inequality, as there is no parallel, negative term that similarly describes a man. In an article in Taste, called “Women Aren’t Ruining Food,” the writer Jaya Saxena argues that, 

When men enjoy something, they elevate it. But when women enjoy something, they ruin it.

— Jaya Saxena

In one example, she cites how marketing yogurt as a manly post-workout protein source increased its renown, after being previously aimed at women. Saxena also points out that society ridicules women for their elaborate coffee drinks and smoothie bowls, yet men receive less criticism for their similarly meticulous beer preferences or grilled steaks.

In reference to pumpkin spice-flavored items, as well as salads and smoothie bowls, Saxena says that, “When those foods blow up, we judge women for falling for the marketing or trying to jump on the bandwagon, and we assume that because they like something other women like, they don’t have minds of their own.” Criticism of popular “feminine” foods reveals society’s image of women as gullible and conforming. The frequent use of “basic” to merely insult each other’s tastes actually reveals our blindness to stereotypes that permeate our culture.