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Tucson’s Foodie Designation by UNESCO

Tucson’s Foodie Designation by UNESCO

You may have heard that Tucson was designated a World City of Gastronomy by UNESCO last year. Many are still scratching their heads and asking “why?” Sustainable Food Systems scholar at the UA’s Southwest Center Gary Nabhan was instrumental in getting Tucson recognized for its unique place in gastronomy and ethnobotany.

Gary Paul Nabhan has made a reputation among ethnobotanists and locavores with his book Why Some Like It Hot where he explained the relationship between genetic traits and our taste in foods as well as positing that there was a relationship between locally grown foods and health benefits that help residents cope with specific ailments endemic to that region. Examples he gives in the book include the interdependence between inhabitants on the Mediterranean island of Corsica and the fava bean and the relationship between tepary beans and the Tohono O’odham and their ability to help one another survive in the Sonoran Desert.

And it is here, in the Sonoran Desert where culture after culture have come to farm the basin lands for literally thousands of years that a local collection of cuisines has given the inhabitants a culinary style worthy of recognition by UNESCO. Nabhan has gone a long way to help preserve some of the oldest contributions in his co-founding of Native Seeds/SEARCH in attempting to save indigenous agricultural plants and the knowledge about their use.

Nods to this designation appeared in The Guardian and The New York Times.

You can view the papers of Gary Nabhan at Special Collections (MS 337  Gary Nabhan Papers) and get insights into the thinking of a man who has gone far to put Tucson and the greater region on the map of unique cuisine.


- Douglass Welch