After this morning’s announcement that Tucson had been designated a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and other community partners discussed how the designation is “just the beginning” for Tucson.
“One of the things that I’ve learned about our community is that when a group of people come together who are talented, who are dedicated, and who love our city, and are prepared and willing to promote and show what’s best about our city, great things happen,” said Mayor Rothschild. “It’s a great day for Tucson.”
“When you hear the word gastronomy, think food culture and food economy,” said Gary Nabhan, a professor at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center and who initiated and supported the application. “It’s not so much the great thing that did happen today, that we received the designation—it’s what we do with it.
“I hope that we use this to fully recover our community’s economy, to use our creativity, to bring some of our ideas into fruition that [addresses] food insecurity, hunger, obesity, and other issues … so that the well being of our community is celebrated throughout this region and the world.”
One of the ways the City of Gastronomy designation can directly contribute to Tucson’s wealth is by helping to increase tourism. “Every year, more than seven million people come to southern Arizona to enjoy our community,” said Felipe Garcia, the executive vice president of Visit Tucson. “Twenty thousand people right now are being employed by the restaurant industry. A designation like this one is going to help us even better to sell Tucson. And culinary gastronomy is one of our top sales.”
While the designation does not come with financial support from UNESCO, it does offer some technical assistance, said Mayor Rothschild, connecting leaders in Tucson with those in other Creative Cities around the world.
The City of Tucson partnered with the University of Arizona, Edible Baja Arizona, and many other community organizations to submit the application.
“The University, of course, is intimately tied into the local community,” said JP Jones, the Dean of the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. He pointed to the food-themed Downtown Lecture Series in 2015 and the 30-year-old culinary and folklife festival Tucson Meet Yourself as only two of the many ways the University of Arizona has contributed to Tucson’s gastronomy.
He also announced the creation of a new regional food studies center at the University of Arizona Southwest Center, directed by Gary Nabhan. The purpose of the center, he said, “is to enhance and focus our local outreach with our community partners around issues having to do with food.”
Doug Biggers, the publisher of Edible Baja Arizona, spoke about the magazine’s intent in supporting the application to UNESCO. “We’ve have the opportunity in the past two plus years to tell the story about our connection to this place and its food over the past thousand years,” he said. “At Edible Baja Arizona, our raison d’etre is to help change the food system here, so that it is more sustainable, so that everybody has a place at the table.”
“We are just getting started,” he said. “We’re absolutely worthy of this designation, but it also calls us to aspire to an even higher level. Of diversity, of quality, artistry, connection.”
“I say it often, but finally we’re starting to believe that Tucson is a world city, an international city,” said Mayor Rothchild. “Recognitions like this help put us on the map, for that recognition. I’m very proud of our partners, and our city. I encourage everyone to celebrate tonight.”
Visit Edible Baja Arizona’s source guide for a directory of local restaurants, markets, breweries, and wineries to begin your celebrating.