In our January issue two years ago, we wrote an open letter that proposed nominating Tucson as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, saying such a designation could help build a vibrant local food economy and make Baja Arizona a worldwide destination. As a result of the subsequent hard work of many dedicated people over the last two years, on December 11 we received word that Tucson had received the first such designation of any city in the United States, becoming part of the UNESCO Creative Cities network. The 116 cities in this global network are intended to work together toward a common objective: placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level.
“The Tucson Basin deserves this honor not only for having some of the oldest continually farmed landscapes in North America, but also for emerging as a global hotbed for ideas on relocalizing food economies and growing food in a hotter, drier climate,” says Gary Paul Nabhan, an ethnobotanist and professor at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center. “From food banks, seed libraries, and farmers’ markets, to community gardens, community kitchens, and literary luminaries writing on food and culture, we are serving as a nursery grounds for new innovations, not merely for preserving our food heritage.” Megan Kimble’s essay “Our City of Gastronomy” on page 10 gives you the full context regarding what this designation can mean to our city and the Baja Arizona region.
It was Nabhan who originally initiated Tucson’s application to the Creative Cities network, in what is now a joint effort of the University of Arizona and the City of Tucson, with support from many businesses and nonprofits, including Edible Baja Arizona, the official media partner of the project. Thank Mayor Jonathan Rothschild for his stalwart support of the effort, and the dogged work of Jonathan Mabry, the city’s Historic Preservation Officer, who twice shepherded the application through the process. Congratulations to all of us in Baja Arizona for an honor that has the potential to transform what is already an amazing gastronomic landscape into something truly exemplary.
“The Tucson Basin deserves this honor not only for having some of the oldest continually farmed landscapes in North America, but also for emerging as a global hotbed for ideas on re-localizing food economies and growing food in a hotter, drier climate.”
~ Gary Paul Nabhan
If you’re a regular reader of this magazine, you know we spend a lot of time and ink thinking about where and how food comes to our plates. “We who eat meat,” writes Megan Kimble, “worry a lot about whether or not we’re eating the right meat and how much we’re eating and where it comes from and if it wears the right adjectives—local, organic, humane, free-range—and if these labels are even true.” In her feature story, she introduces us to three local producers of animal protein: a ranch run by a father and son, a pork farm operated by a husband and wife, and a poultry operation managed by two brothers. All three are involved in a process where the animals they raise are considered integral to a community of interdependent parts.
Contemplate this radical notion: If you consciously choose to buy “ugly” produce, you are actually supporting real food, which is more likely grown locally and sustainably. The American produce industry, “a beauty pageant with an insistence on homogeneity,” dooms 25 percent of fruits and vegetables the scrap heap before they reach the retailer, simply because the produce doesn’t meet an acceptable cosmetic standard, writes Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland. That means billions of pounds of produce are wasted annually, a travesty on so many levels. Perhaps Steven Meckler’s photo essay of portraits of forlorn vegetables will make you think twice about choosing “less than perfect” the next time you’re shopping for produce, especially at a local farmers’ market.
Maya Kapoor writes movingly about her experience after brain surgery; after years of taking medications to control her epilepsy, she had long lost her sense of taste as well as her appetite. “My first clear memories, after the anesthesia wore off,” she writes “were from the recovery room … to my surprise and everyone else’s, I realized I was famished. Eat, my friends said.” And so begins a two-week period during which her friends would arrive every day bearing meals that Kapoor consumed with gusto. “I remembered … how food could be more than another medicine we take to say alive—how in the best possible situation, food embodies love, joy, art, community.”
As always, there is much, much more to discover in this issue. Please enjoy and we’ll see you around the table. ¡Salud!
—Douglas Biggers, editor and publisher