Consuming Identity: Cultivating a sense of self with Hatch chiles

Authors: Laura Seifers*, Indiana University
Topics: United States, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: Food, identity, New Mexico, regional foods, chiles, capital
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon Foyer/Common St. Corridor, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In 1826, Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote “tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”. Brillat-Savarin meant this in regards to one’s health, however I amend it slightly in my research to ask how food can tell us not what you are, but who you are. Drawing on fieldwork in New Mexico, my research shows how the production and consumption of specific varietals of chile peppers grown in the Hatch Valley contribute to a unique New Mexican identity. My inquiry revealed several issues, including the problematic nature of legislating a regional food product that until recently was under defined. My research also addresses the intensely globalized food system and the increased interest in food provenance. This has led to a plethora of products introduced to the market touting the inclusion of Hatch chiles. The production and consumption of Hatch chiles has been a New Mexican staple for decades, so how does the experience change with the growing popularity of this food and the exportation of the cultural practice surrounding it? I propose that while consumers outside of the region do not fully understand the history and tradition of chile peppers, they are still developing their own culinary identity by incorporating foods that hold some measure of prestige and unfamiliarity. This work is focused on helping producers in the future navigate a global food market with autonomy, giving them the ability to share their product and the significant cultural aspects while growing their presence in new regions.

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