Two years ago, The Economist reported that “the diet in the rich world is heating up,” as Europeans and North Americans increasingly began incorporating chiles into their cooking, chasing the adrenaline rush of ever-hotter varieties, and flooding the market with products like chile chocolate and chile-infused olive oil. But climate change could soon render the trend obsolete. In Chasing Chiles, three American chile-lovers - an agroecologist, a chef, and an ethnobotonist - set off on a year-long “pepper pilgrimage” to uncover the cultural traditions and humble beginnings of North and Central America’s own most beloved, and most threatened, varieties.
Setting out in a van they dub their “Spice Ship,” Kraig Kraft, Kurt Michael Friese, and Gary Paul Nabhan invite readers along on their journey through eight pepper-growing states and to Mexico in search of rare chiles, along with the local dishes and cultural traditions they inspire. The voyage takes them to the dusty streets and roadside stands of Sonora, Mexico, where they find the incendiary chiltepin stuffed in old bottles, and to northern Florida where salty growers eke out a living from the endangered datil pepper.
Chasing Chiles is both a rollicking travelogue from three guys on the hunt for authentic food and cultural experience and an adventure with a larger, sobering mission: to understand the effects of climate change by zeroing in on one critical crop and the people whose lives are most deeply intertwined with it. Kraft, Friese, and Nabhan seek out and listen to farmers, chefs, and others who rely on the chile, and document their struggle to protect local foods and livelihoods in the face of unpredictable weather, decreased biodiversity, and sporadic availability.
Chasing Chiles - complete with hard-to-find recipes for place-based cuisineis the story of three unlikely travel companions united by a shared passion and a quest to uncover not only the future of peppers, but the future of food.