Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots along the Pepper Trail
Kraig Kraft, Kurt Michael Friese
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Chasing Chiles looks at both the future of place-based foods and the effects of climate change on agriculture through the lens of the chile pepper-from the farmers who cultivate this iconic crop to the cuisines and cultural traditions in which peppers play a huge role.
Why chile peppers? Both a spice and a vegetable, chile peppers have captivated imaginations and taste buds for thousands of years. Native to Mesoamerica and the New World, chiles are currently grown on every continent, since their relatively recent introduction to Europe (in the early 1500s via Christopher Columbus). Chiles are delicious, dynamic, and very diverse-they have been rapidly adopted, adapted, and assimilated into numerous world cuisines, and while malleable to a degree, certain heirloom varieties are deeply tied to place and culture-but now accelerating climate change may be scrambling their terroir.
Over a year-long journey, three pepper-loving gastronauts-an agroecologist, a chef, and an ethnobotanist-set out to find the real stories of America's rarest heirloom chile varieties, and learn about the changing climate from farmers and other people who live by the pepper, and who, lately, have been adapting to shifting growing conditions and weather patterns. They put a face on an issue that has been made far too abstract for our own good.
Chasing Chiles is not your archetypal book about climate change, with facts and computer models delivered by a distant narrator. On the contrary, these three dedicated chileheads look and listen, sit down to eat, and get stories and recipes from on the ground-in farmers' fields, local cafes, and the desert-scrub hillsides across North America. From the Sonoran Desert to Santa Fe and St. Augustine (the two oldest cities in the U.S.), from the marshes of Avery Island in Cajun Louisiana to the thin limestone soils of the Yucatan, this book looks at how and why climate change will continue to affect our palates and our producers, and how it already has.
baseball team of Baviacora, in the Rio Sonora Valley, is called the Chiltepineros. During years of plenty, impromptu stands and speed-bump merchants hawk their wares. Chiltepines can be found on amulets to ward away spirits and in herbal cures. Much like trying to find the chiltepin plants in the desert, it takes an adjustment of vision to see the chiltepin in Sonoran daily life. But once you get that chile vision homed in, you’ll see it everywhere you go. Kraig “No, not all people here pick
shopping malls, fast-food outlets, housing developments, raceways, and golf courses easily outnumbered them. A quick check of USDA data showed that some Florida counties had slipped from 42 percent of their arable land area in food production at the end of World War II to less than 4 percent today. It sobered us to realize that few of Florida’s heirloom vegetables will have any home to speak of in the future as long as the state’s loss of farmland continues at its current average
de Investigación Cientifica de Yucatán, who had ongoing research projects on climate change in the peninsula. Their campus sits in the midst of a tropical botanical garden begun some twenty years ago on the edge of Mérida. Today its surroundings have been all but swallowed up by suburbs, and the campus itself is like a wild island in an urban sea. There one of the garden’s founders, biologist Roger Orellana Lanza, took us on narrow pathways through the small jungle to see some experiments that
together—seeds, breeds, and fruits; eggs, cheeses, and spices—it seemed like an unsinkable diversity and abundance of foodstuffs had reached the Mayan kitchen. But if we looked at them one at a time, as we had been doing for the various place-based heirloom peppers scattered around the continent, each one seemed to have its own vulnerability. A pepper plant riddled by thrips, covered in aphids, or deformed by curly-top was not a pretty sight to see. Yet most consumers never see these problems.
bullet” biotechnologies being proposed by industry. Gary These rarities give us (and our parachutes) pause, making us reflect on the great diversity of plants nurtured by the people on this continent over the centuries. The question is not simply whether we will keep the heirloom varieties of the past alive as pieces of living history. The question is whether we can keep our crops dynamically adapting to place in the face of impending climate change—no matter how severe—so that this remarkable