Tucson: UNESCO City of Gastronomy

By Melissa Kruse-Peeples, NS/S Education Coordinator.

In 2015, Tucson was the first city in the United States designated as a World City of Gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Native Seeds/SEARCH celebrates this important honor and the local ingredients, cuisine, farmers, and chefs that contribute to this designation.

When people hear the word gastronomy they often think of upscale restaurants, but this plays only a small role in the designation. The concept of gastronomy encompasses foodways – the intersection of food in culture, traditions, and history. Tucson has rich and diverse foodways. There are many unique crops and wild food traditions that have been a part of regional foodways for centuries and continue to be kept alive today, particularly by Tohono O'odham and Yoeme (Yaqui) farmers. Among these unique foods are tepary beans, cholla buds, mesquite, prickly pear fruit and pads, and chiltepin peppers. Tucson's gastronomy has also been greatly influenced by the Spanish who introduced foods from the Old World such as wheat, fig, pomegranate, pork, and beef and also brought food traditions from farther south such as chocolate and many chiles. The blending of Indigenous, Spanish, and Mexican cuisine has resulted in a truly unique borderlands food culture. Tucson’s  foodways continue to be shaped by fresh and new ways to use ancient ingredients, a thriving local food movement, and its concentration in innovative food biodiversity conservation programs such as those at Native Seeds/SEARCH.

To celebrate the City of Gastronomy designation we have compiled several tasty selections of foods that are central to Tucson's rich gastronomic history. The gift baskets come in several sizes and include tepary beans, cholla buds, chiltepins, and Mano y Metate Mole. Other ingredients important for Tucson's culinary foodways include prickly pear, wheat flour, whole and ground chiles, mesquite, teas, and corn and are also available from our website and retail store in Tucson. At the retail shop you can purchase Tarahumara or Mayo baskets and assemble your own gift collection! Highlighted City of Gastronomy foods are perfect gifts and can be the cornerstone of unique dishes in the borderlands and beyond.

City of Gastronomy Gift Basket (Grande)

If you are a gardener or farmer interested in celebrating the City of Gastronomy designation we encourage you to plant some of the amazing seed diversity that has contributed to the gastronomic culture and history of the Tucson area. For example, Chapalote Pinole Maize, tepary beans, Ha;l (O'odham squash), Yoeme Purple String Beans, and Sonoran Chiltepins have deep roots in the region. They are all well adapted to the area and their flavors evoke placed-based food memories.