Michael Leppert: Getting hot about ‘chili season’


Something has been bothering me more as I have gotten older.

No, it’s not typical old man stuff, like electric scooters on the sidewalks or those mobile bass machines disguised as cars that vibrate everything within 50 yards of them.

This one is important, and come to find out, it matters to plenty of people.

About five years ago, during an innocent what-are-we-having-for-dinner conversation with my wife, I became aware of the most disturbing thing. She believes chili — the food, the American staple — has a season. What? Does that mean there is an offseason? Come to find out, in my house, after being married for several years, the apparent ridiculous answer to that ridiculous question is “yes.”

Since becoming aware of her oppressive perspective, I have noticed a tension, an unexplainable sadness in the household every year. It begins in mid-spring and lasts until September. Until she confessed to covertly enforcing a season I didn’t know existed, I couldn’t identify the problem.

It is a disagreement that is immune to my persuasiveness.

So I decided to take my plight to the streets. Surely, I could find people to back me up here. I asked the question, “Is there a chili season?” on a couple of the social platforms, and the answers surprised me.

My anecdotal results show about two-thirds of my network believe chili does have a season. Within this disturbing majority, none see the season starting before September or later than October. Some connect their first pot of the season to cool weather, while others connect it to football season in some way.

My own niece, a woman of otherwise impeccable taste and a pillar of her community in Nashville, Tennessee, believes in a season but argues limiting chili makes it more special, comparing it to her favorite spiced pumpkin latte. I give her points for not being mean about it.

I had one married couple answer separately, were passionately on opposite sides and seemingly haven’t had “the talk” with each other yet. Yikes.

But chili talk is fascinating and unique in many other ways. When I asked a few thousand people if chili had a season, half of them immediately went off into rants about how their chili was the best. Some of them offered their résumés of chili cookoff victories, even though I didn’t ask.

One responder says she only eats her own chili. Period. She eats no other. I can’t decide what I think about that, but since she’s with me on eating it year-round, I’m going to endorse her here.

After reading more than a few recipes, I could no longer avoid the other obvious debate question: What makes that pot of wonderfulness “chili” in the first place? Is it beans? Is it tomato-based? Does adding noodles break a rule?

Oh my. This is like asking the proverbial chicken or the egg question and then also asking what church the chicken goes to. I’ve had this talk many times during controversies at chili cookoffs, never getting anywhere near an agreed-upon resolution.

Chili’s passions are what has led our culture to compete at it. And while I think food contests are conceptually dumb, a room full of different chili should rank above Disney as the happiest place on Earth.

In the coming weeks, kitchens across America will return to life with what I think is our most important food. I’m glad this annual darkness, known as the offseason, is nearing its end.

However, it is important to report to my year-round chili lovers that the people who believe chili is a seasonal food walk among us. They are hard to identify, impossible really, but wherever you go, they are near.

I am one of seven kids, and both of my parents were great cooks, particularly at making large pots of hot food. The pot they used was the “chili pot.”

The year-round crowd has room for you. Join us now. You’ll thank me later.

Michael Leppert is an author, educator and communication consultant in Indianapolis. He writes about government, politics and culture at MichaelLeppert.com. This commentary was previously published at indianacapitalchronicle.com. Send comments to [email protected].

No posts to display