⤓ Download a transcript of the Episode as a PDF // → Subscribe


We begin this episode with a land acknowledgement.

In this podcast episode, Phil Arnold and Sandy Bigtree interview Victor Valle, an author and professor, about his book The Poetics of Fire: Metaphors of Chile Eating in the Borderlands. Valle discusses his research on the history and cultural significance of chile peppers in Mesoamerica and the borderlands. He explores the use of metaphors and poetics in understanding the culinary arts and how different cultures perceive and use chile peppers. Valle also delves into the racialization of chile peppers and the impact of industrial agriculture on their genetic diversity. He emphasizes the importance of maintaining diversity in food crops and the need to recognize and respect Indigenous knowledge and perspectives in culinary arts. Valle also shares his personal background and experiences as a journalist covering issues related to immigration and labor rights.

Don’t forget to leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts.

Show Notes

In our latest podcast episode, we take an in-depth look into the cultural, historical, and culinary significance of chili in Indigenous cuisine. We unravel the transformative journey of chili, a simple yet powerful ingredient, from its humble beginnings in the Mixtec mountains to its place on dinner tables around the world.

Our guest, Victor Valle, the author of “The Poetics of Fire: Metaphors of Chili Eating in the Borderlands,” shares his insights on the aesthetics of Indigenous cuisine, the metaphors that shape it, and its intriguing genesis. The chili’s role in shaping cultural identity and its importance in Mesoamerican medicine is also discussed. Valle delves into the doctrine of discovery and how chili was domesticated, shedding light on its role as a symbol of struggle and identity.

Chili, more than just an ingredient, is a centuries-old metaphor that has shaped cultural identities. The narrative takes us beyond the borderlands and into the heart of Mesoamerican medicine. We peel back layers of history, revealing the transformative power of chili. The conversation explores the complex relationship between land, culture, and violence, highlighting the need for preservation and respect for indigenous knowledge and practices.

In a fascinating chapter, we explore the significance of land to different cultures, particularly indigenous communities. We delve into the history of violence against Indigenous peoples in the Southwest, using metaphors of chili and wolves to dehumanize them. The discussion analyzes these metaphors and their reflection of the colonists’ lack of understanding of place and nature.

We then journey into the fascinating history of the domestication of chili peppers and the development of industrial varieties. The genetic basis for these varieties was created by a man named Garcia, who used strains from Chihuahua, Mexico. The influence of California’s industrial agriculture on the development of New Mexican chili varieties is discussed, as is the critique of the racialized logic used to describe chili peppers.

The podcast episode concludes with a look into the world of journalism, activism, and immigration politics. We discuss the role of borders in shaping labor prices, the power of journalism in exposing societal issues, and the lasting impact of the Chicano movement. The discussion provides valuable insights into the power of journalism and activism in creating tangible change in society.

Throughout the episode, we highlight the importance of preserving native languages for a better understanding of indigenous practices, the importance of diversity in creating a good cuisine, and the need to consider the perspective and gaze of the Mesoamericans when discussing culinary art.

This episode is not only about chili, but it’s also about understanding the complexities of culture, cuisine, and history. It’s about redefining how we see food and its significance in our lives. It’s a testament to the power of storytelling, the power of food, and the power of culture. We invite you to join us on this enlightening journey that promises to redefine how you see culture, cuisine, and chili.



  • Music: Onondaga Social Dance songs performed by Orris Edwards and Regis Cook
  • Producers: Jordan Loewen-Colón and Adam DJ Brett
  • Show notes: Adam DJ Brett


Philip P. Arnold and Sandra Bigtree, “S03E06: Exploring the Cultural, Historical, and Culinary Significance of Chilis with Victor Valle,” Mapping the Doctrine of Discovery (Podcast), December 7, 2023. https://podcast.doctrineofdiscovery.org/season3/episode-06/.

This podcast is licensed under the Creative Commons by the Indigenous Values Initiative.
This site was created with Stackbit and is maintained by Adam DJ Brett.