Bowers Chile Pepper Food Festival unites cultures


Art by Mandy Zhang.

Elliot Munson, Former Culture Editor

This previously ran in our September 2022 issue. 

The Chile Pepper Food Festival in Bowers PA, a celebration of capsaicin and flavor, takes place every year in Bowers park. 

Bowers stands for more than a bunch of people trying hot sauces and flavored pickles, however. Bowers is a symbol of American culture, bringing like-minded people together with a common hobby, with enough variety to let them explore new things. Just as Europeans celebrate their culture with festivals every other week, engaged citizens walk through the aisles at Bowers, boasting about how spicy the last sauce they had was and humorously elbowing their friends for not trying it. 

The festival unites everyone from the Mennonite farmers who come to sell their peppers to the Italian-Americans coming in from New Jersey to sell hot sauce. 

The USA is very young on the global stage, and has been behind on the culture game since 1776. The Chile Pepper Food Festival, and others like it such as Baconfest or Garlic Fest in Easton, are hopeful symbols of a brighter future, where people get together to celebrate their hobbies and interests. They slowly but surely unify themselves as people with shared experiences, instead of driving each other apart with Stan Twitter and Facebook flame wars.

And so, even with this pseudo-sociological nonsense, what is this culture, this common ground the United States is slowly developing? 

Well, in the case of Bowers Chili Pepper Festival, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Everything is Chili-themed, from the cheese vendor’s spicy Gouda to the pickle guys who sell spicy hoagies with giant, split open pickles instead of buns. 

One vendor of note is Carl, who has been bringing Carl’s Kickin’ Chili to Pennsylvania with his team since the last century. Anyone from the vendors to customers will tell you it’s a must-have for every meat-eating spice-lover. It packs a punch, to be sure, but no more than your average eater can handle, and the flavor behind it is incredible. A layered masterpiece of culinary art that rolls over your tongue like Niagara Falls. 

But ultimately, what’s important isn’t any of that. It’s not how hot you can make one of your sauces, how scary you can make your packaging, or even how much flavor you can fit into a bowl of meat, beans, and peppers. 

What’s important is having something, anything, to bring people together. Something that people can agree on: where their greatest disagreement is how spicy something should be, where they can walk hand-in-hand as friends and family, making and sharing experiences. What’s important isn’t Bowers — it’s what Bowers means.