The Green Chile Controversy

Kim Davis is a 2003 graduate of REL. She moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2020 and became an avid explorer, hiker, and trail runner much to the surprise of everyone who knows her. She invites everyone to come experience the Land of Enchantment.

When I moved from Alabama to New Mexico, I became an aficionado of New Mexican chile. New Mexican chile is not the meat and beans stew that is prepared in the Southeast, but rather it is the pepper grown from Capsicum annuum ‘New Mexico Group.’ Green chiles are prepared by roasting and then chopping them to use as a topping and the ripened red chiles are pureed to make a sauce. They are often spicy, but with a sweet finish. You get them in everything here from breakfast burritos to enchiladas, but the green chile cheeseburger and the 505 pizza (green chile and pepperoni) from Dion’s are this author’s personal favorites. New Mexican chile is a source of great cultural pride and identity for New Mexicans, and its history predates contact with the Spanish. The city of Hatch in southern New Mexico is known for its terroir when it comes to green chile and the official state question is “Red or Green?”

According to ABQ news station KOB4, a class action lawsuit was filed in May 2023 against Florida-based Badia Spices on the grounds that it is deceiving consumers by labeling their product “New Mexico Chili,” but importing and packaging chilis from Mexico. The lawsuit argues that the labeling is falsely using the reputation of the New Mexican chile to sell an inferior product at a premium price, which is in violation of New York’s consumer protection laws (meant to protect consumers from fraudulent marketing and advertising). 

While most New Mexicans would be mad at the label’s use of Chili with an “i” (which is Texas bean chili and vastly inferior) instead of chile with an “e,” classification does indeed matter beyond a wound to state pride. There are real economic benefits in protecting the claim to authentic “New Mexican Chile.” The New Mexican Chile Association has long advocated for protection of the designation “New Mexican Chile” so that all profits from that label will go back to New Mexican chile growers. Farming in the desert ain’t easy, and it takes great risk, labor, and precious water resources to grow this culturally and economically important crop. It makes sense that New Mexican chile farmers are mad that their reputation was co-opted to sell what they claim is an inferior product at a higher price point causing economic harm to New Mexican growers. In fact, the New Mexico State Legislature passed the Green Chile Advertising Act in 2011 to protect the trademark “New Mexican Chile” at the state level. The New Mexican Chile Association also believes that federal protection is necessary to protect New Mexican farmers and their crops. In this instance, claims of authentic “New Mexican Chile” that can only be grown in New Mexico serve to protect the economic interests of farmers and the state of New Mexico.

So, the next time you see “New Mexico Chile” on your grocery store shelf, check the label. Consider that classification matters to the hardworking farmers of New Mexico who face ongoing drought and unpredictable weather in the face of long term climate change. And if you are ever in New Mexico, make sure you bring the antacids and eat plenty of chile!