Home Video Hovel- Genetic Chile: The History of Genetically Modified Food, by Chase Beck
I love spicy food. At every dinner table I set, there is a bottle of Tabasco brand pepper sauce resting next to the more conventional salt and pepper shakers. I cook with chiles on a regular basis. I enjoy incorporating them into my efforts to create authentic Latin American and Asian cuisine. I recognize their importance, not only in a culinary sense, but additionally in a broader cultural sense. So, you can imagine my interest when I was made aware of a film called Genetic Chile: The History of Genetically Modified Food. Don’t let the title fool you though, it’s not about the history of genetically modified food at all. Instead, it is a documentary about the efforts of the Plant Genetic Engineering Laboratory at the New Mexico State University to genetically engineer a breed of their local chile.
The film takes the stance that this is bad, nay, in fact, genetic engineering is bad; genetically engineering the New Mexico chile is downright evil. For many people, the New Mexico chile is a cultural icon, representing a way of life that dates back hundreds of years. It is a cultural heirloom and defines New Mexican cuisine. To manipulate its genome in a laboratory is tantamount to sacrilege. They could be right, who am I to mock someone’s religious beliefs. On the other hand, neither Jews nor Muslims eat pork, but that won’t cause me a moments hesitation before I gleefully fry up and eat a few delicious strips of bacon on a lazy Saturday morning.
What you won’t hear or see in the film is that New Mexico State University is responsible for many of the varieties of New Mexican chile that exist today, and have been breeding these varieties for over 130 years. You will see someone explaining that genetic engineering is bad because it crosses different species. What you won’t see is that many plants readily breed across species both in agriculture and in the wild. But, my purpose here is not to defend or criticize genetic engineering. No, what I expect you want to know is whether you should watch/buy this documentary.
The DVD is bare-bones. It contains several trailers for similarly themed documentaries, all of which look far more exciting and entertaining than Genetic Chile: the History of Genetically Modified Food. For instance, one featured Woody Harrelson passionately proclaiming the many benefits of hemp production, another cautions you to distrust your doctor and conventional medicine if you find yourself diagnosed with cancer. For Genetic Chile, there are no subtitles available and no alternative languages either. I would expect that Spanish subtitles, or language option would be a priority considering the subject matter, but perhaps those extras were cost prohibitive.
What is provided in the way of DVD extras is important, but in no way exciting. Throughout the film, director Chris Dudley edits in footage from two interviews. One of the interviews is of Dr. Stephen Hanson, a New Mexico State University geneticist; the other interview is of Dr. Gilles-Eric Seralini. One is pro-genetic engineering, the other is firmly against. Dudley decided to include the complete interviews he conducted of both men. I found this bit of fairness interesting, but not nearly interesting enough so as to make me actually want to watch the interviews in their full forms.
Overall the film is dull and its sixty minute runtime feels like three hours. However, If I could say a few words in its favor. Despite obvious bias, the material is prevented matter-of-factly and with very little emotion. It’s refreshing to see some restraint in the use of ominous musical cues, demonic color-correction, or any of the other effects you’ve come to expect from documentaries of this type. Overall the film feels more like a local news expose made by that quiet girl who always wears printed kitten sweatshirts, or a video your science teacher made you watch when she was too hungover to teach that day. Ultimately though, I recommend that you save your fifteen dollars ($4.00 Amazon Instant Video) for something else, unless you feel really passionate about the topic.