Three self-described “gastronauts” plumb climate change through the piquant prism of chile peppers.
The journey is the destination as the earnest trio launch their “spice ship” throughout the United States and Mexico to learn how shifting weather patterns have been affecting the noble pepper's destiny—and the fate of those who rely on the crop. The authors—a chef, an agroecologist and an ethnobotanist—rely on listening (and, of course, eating) during their one-year odyssey, harvesting anecdotes to better understand the global dilemma. “We had a hunch that climate change wasn't just out there—in the polar ice caps and in receding glaciers—but in here, in our food system,” they write. On their travels, the authors meet men like Fernando Niño Estudillo, a spice trader in Sonora who describes his recent quandary: “I've been ten years in the business; most years I drive truckloads of chiltepines to Tijuana myself. Only this last year has the wild chile crop ever failed me...I didn't even make a single trip to the border.” But it's not all serious—the trio relishes chiles, after all. In Florida, as they prepare to dig into a jar of datil peppers in white vinegar, they write, “We smiled at one another like old junkies who have just discovered that someone left a couple of joints in their midst.”
The occasionally florid writing notwithstanding, the book provides well-crafted regional recipes and edifying passages about the surveyed chiles.