You eat food. You read about food (obviously). How would you like to study food? In December, the University of Arizona launched a new Center for Regional Food Studies, which will enable undergraduate and graduate students, southwestern farms and food businesses, and members of the community to coalesce around regional flavors, food traditions, and sustainability.
The program, founded by the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Southwest Center, hopes to enhance Tucson’s recent designation as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy. The program’s goals are many, but focused largely upon improving southern Arizona’s regional food economy, heritage, and security.
“The UA’s launch of the Center for Regional Food Studies comes none too soon,” says Gary Paul Nabhan, a researcher at the UA’s Southwest Center and the director of the new center. “Already a third of the residents of our metropolitan area suffer from some of the highest levels of poverty, food insecurity, obesity, and diabetes in our nation. Time is ripe for the university to strategically work to vanquish these societal problems in its shadows. Such work is fully aligned with why our land grant institution was created in the first place.”
The Center’s site at UA Downtown will host visiting scholars from other UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy and work with the city’s Commission on Food Security, Heritage, and Economy, among other local business leaders, to establish educational and scholastic programming in regional food heritage studies. The center will work in concert with existing UA programs, and will help place motivated undergraduate students in internships with local food- and farm-related organizations.
Working with the UA Institute of the Environment, the Center’s founders plan to develop projects to take on a variety of challenges, such as adapting urban food production in Tucson to use more rainwater, shade bare ground, and reduce the city’s heat island effects. Another intended project involves establishing an Arizona Borderlands Food Systems Network where technical and business plans can be shared, aiming to build a resilient food system in the face of climate change and water scarcity.
Central to that endeavor, the Center for Regional Food Studies will offer short continuing-education courses to help skilled citizens in southern Arizona more capably seek jobs in food and farm sectors. During the 2016 spring semester, the Center is offering four four-day courses. Fruits of Your Labors, offered Feb. 16-19, is a hands-on field course teaching the care and maintenance of the region’s desert trees. Greenhouse and High Tunnel Management will be taught March 29-April 1, and will instruct backyard food producers and commercial greenhouse workers in the basic principles of food production in the Desert Southwest climate. Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land will focus on adapting small-scale farming to the region’s changing climate from April 26-29. The final course, Food Safety Compliance: Strategies, Permits, and Regulations, from Field to Table, will involve a comprehensive overview of food safety in fields, orchards, gardens, and livestock pens, including discussion of environmental conditions pathogen proliferation, and food preparation with an emphasis on preventing food spoilage in the desert. ✜
For more information, visit FoodStudies.arizona.edu.
Shelley Littin is a science journalist and anthropologist. She spends her free time running unreasonable distances in beautiful places.