While it is amusing to defend the honor of New Mexico-grown green chile via social media — those pesky folks from Colorado keep trying to steal our thunder — the lighthearted nature of the back and forth over whose chile tastes best should not overshadow the importance of the chile crop for the Land of Enchantment.
France has Champagne. Italy has its Parmesan. And in New Mexico, we have Hatch green chile. It is a singular product from our state, beloved by foodies, gourmands and plain ol’ people who just want green chile to slap on their cheeseburgers.
The latest round of chile wars began when Colorado Gov. Jared Polis insulted New Mexico chile, insisting that green chile grown in the Pueblo, Colo., area is superior. The misguided governor went so far as to call our green chile “inferior.” His tweet was in reaction to a decision by Whole Foods Market to sell Pueblo chile in many Rocky Mountain region stores, rather than New Mexico-grown from Hatch and Southern New Mexico.
The tweet from Polis said, “About time! Whole Foods Market will soon offer Pueblo Chile, widely acknowledged as the best chile in the world, in Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Whole Foods will stock 125,000 pounds of Pueblo Chile in Colorado, Kansas, Idaho and Utah. New Mexico stores will unfortunately not be offering the best chile and will instead keep offering inferior New Mexico chile.”
Those are fighting words.
New Mexico must not allow another state to horn in on chile.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has proudly defended our chile’s taste and reputation — she even corrected Polis’ spelling of chile when he challenged New Mexico to a taste-off in a tweet sent Wednesday (the offending chili tweet was taken down and replaced quickly). As for the site of a cook-off? New Mexico, of course. We’re the chile champions.
Tweets aside, the governor should have her economic development chief ask Whole Foods management why it decided not to order more New Mexico chile. Most chile fans do not buy their stash in fancy markets, it’s true. That’s what grocery store parking lots, or farmers markets, or trips to Moriarty and the farm stores are for — but for Whole Foods’ buyers to say, “Now, it’s all about Pueblo” is bad for our brand.
It must not be about Pueblo.
It’s about Hatch, as well as chile from Lemitar, and the flavorful varieties grown around Nambé and other points north.
As we diversify our economy — Lujan Grisham’s No. 1 goal — growing already successful sectors will be essential. New Mexico should be helping farmers continue to plant and harvest chile, while using its smart marketing teams to promote our brand of chile the world over. The state also can assist members of the New Mexico Chile Association, which claims that as much as half of the chile promoted as coming from Hatch is neither from Hatch nor New Mexico.
The chile industry in the Hatch region down south already has suffered in recent decades, with acreage declining to about 8,100 acres from 34,500 acres in 1992. It is fortunate that better farming techniques increase the yield, even as acreage declines. Meanwhile, across the border in Mexico, the Chihuahua area has some 90,000 acres.
There have been drought years, a labor shortage, the problem of overly salty soil and the aging of farmers, all affecting the crop. What’s more, NAFTA helped damage the New Mexico chile industry, according to the association, and now is the time to regrow it — using the New Mexico Certified Chile program to teach consumers that when they ask for chile, they specifically request a grown-in-New Mexico variety.
More demand should increase the ability of farmers to plant more chile — and growing this important industry should help ensure New Mexico is associated with chile just as certainly as Santa Fe is with adobe architecture. So squabble with the misinformed governor of Colorado. Have a showdown pitting our chile against all comers, if necessary.
And while we’re arguing about whose chile tastes best, continue to put resources into promoting and expanding chile production. That’s the best way to shut down chile upstarts.