Heritage City

Tucson’s nomination as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy can help build a vibrant local foods economy—and make Baja Arizona a worldwide destination.

January 1, 2014

EditorialIssue 4: January/February 2014

Few people would fail to place the Southwest borderlands cuisine of Tucson and Baja Arizona among the top three most influential culinary traditions that have emanated from North America to the rest of the world. To celebrate the unique multicultural cuisine of our city and its regional foodshed that extends into all of Baja Arizona, we propose nominating Tucson as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, part of the Creative Cities Network fostered by the United Nations around the world. We would join cities in Sweden, Colombia, China, South Korea— and perhaps, soon, New Orleans—in sharing such an honor.

In addition to touting the singular cultural amalgamation and cross-pollinating innovations in our local cuisines, such a designation can directly contribute to our community’s economic prosperity. Our extraordinary food traditions, and the innovations that are still emerging from Baja Arizona, can play a huge role in helping to grow a strong and vibrant local foods economy, building upon our traditions to benefit everyone who lives here.

Tucson—and the ring of rural communities that help to feed it—continues to be an incubator for culinary innovation by promoting the use of unique regional ingredients of the Southwest borderlands. This city has more street food carts and wagons per capita than any other U.S. city except Los Angeles. And notably, the Tucson area has more heritage foods on the Slow Food International Ark of Taste grown within 100 miles of it than any city in North America.

In the last 50 years, Tucson has become the epicenter of transnational Sonoran Desert food traditions, bringing together many influences: Native American, Northern Mexican or Sonoran, Mission-era Mediterranean, and American Ranch- Style Cowboy cuisine—to name just a few. Chimichangas, prickly pear margaritas, and flat enchiladas are but three of the many signature foods of the Southwest that can now be found on every continent—from Almaty, Kazakhstan to Cuzco, Peru,

We wish to celebrate this epicenter of desert culinary traditions by working with the mayor and our many cultural institutions, tourism agencies, businesses, and food organizations to designate Tucson and its surrounding regional foodshed as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2014. In doing so, we hope to galvanize the many talents found in our chefs, farmers and ranchers, our educational and cultural institutions, non-profit organizations, and many food-related businesses, to make Tucson the most attractive culinary tourism destination point for Southwest borderlands cuisine on the planet.

Why is such a nomination for Tucson as deserving as the one that Iowa City, Iowa received as a UNESCO City of Literature?

The Tucson basin may be the oldest metropolitan area in North America (north of the Tropic of Cancer) where agriculture has persisted uninterrupted for four millennia. A continuous history of 4,100 years of farming and gardening of annual and perennial crops has been found in the archaeological record within 12 miles of downtown Tucson.

Local know-how and culinary practices surviving from the pre-industrial era have been retained, passed down, celebrated, and innovated upon. Many local, regional, or “endogenous” ingredients are still incorporated into the cuisine of Tucson and Baja Arizona.

Tucson boasts a vibrant gastronomic community, with well-known and award-winning chefs, restaurants, food writers, publications, tourist destinations, and annual events that celebrate local food.

There is respect for the environment and active participation in its stewardship demonstrated among the region’s food producers and purveyors—with farmers, ranchers, chefs, and food artisans tangibly advancing their commitment to sustainability. There is also widespread promotion of a glorious biodiversity in the foods of the region for their nutritional value and contributions to community health, advanced by the city’s educational institutions, cooking schools, beloved nonprofits, and public events.

We encourage all Baja Arizona citizens, farmers, food educators, historians, chefs, enthusiasts, and food writers to contact us at Edible Baja Arizona with your willingness to support such a nomination, and your ideas for explaining to an international panel of evaluators what makes Tucson’s gastronomic traditions and innovations so worthy of recognition. We will work with the mayor and other institutions to pursue this objective in 2014. Are you with us? Email info@ediblebajaarizona.com.

—The Editors

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