Arizona’s unique desert diet: Tucson becomes a first entry in UNESCO’s Creative Cities for gastronomy

ORTILLA FLAT, Ariz. — It’s just a roadside burger joint, but it may have the most expensive wallpaper in America.

Every wall in this rural restaurant at a former stagecoach stop in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains is plastered with American bills. They range from $1 to $20 and new bills get stapled to the walls nearly every day.

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Food from Somewhere: The power of place-based labeling to support a local food economy

Imagine walking into a market with shelves stocked full of food products labeled as made in Baja Arizona. There’d be packages of velvet mesquite pod flour, beer made with White Sonora wheat, whiskey made with barley malted over mesquite wood smoke, sourdough bread made with heritage grains, olive oil smoked with pecan wood, and soup mixes with dried cholla cactus flower buds and tepary beans.

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Grassroots Community Initiatives Revitalize Tucson’s Food Economy

Tucson, Arizona is host to a rich agricultural history as well as a rapidly expanding local culinary scene, helping earn the city of more than half a million people the coveted title of UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015. But what makes Tucson unique is how their thriving food scene came to be—by leveraging the efforts and innovation of community members from all parts of the food system and building from the ground up.

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Feeding Our Future: Incubating Food Start-Ups in the City of Gastronomy

The City of Gastronomy designation shines a new light on Tucson’s food scene. Independently owned food businesses are the largest-growing sector in Tucson’s economy, from food trucks to independent restaurants to salsa makers. The food industry accounts for 14 percent of all jobs in the city. But launching a successful food business takes more than just a good recipe, especially for low-income entrepreneurs.

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Tucson Gets HUGE New York Times Shout Out For City of Gastronomy Designation

“To an outsider, Tucson’s star turn may be a bit of a head scratcher,” states yesterday’s New York Times feature “Tucson Becomes an Unlikely Food Star.”

It’s a conversation I’ve had countless times regarding the UNESCO designation, which many mistakenly believe is primarily tied to Tucson’s restaurant scene. That’s not to say we don’t have amazing chefs and restaurants doing great things. It’s just a lot more comprehensive than that.

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New York Times surprised Tucson has a food scene that isn’t Chipotle

“Coaxing a vibrant food culture from this land of heat and cactuses an hour’s drive north of the Mexican border seems an exhausting and impossible quest. But it’s never a good idea to underestimate a desert rat. Tucson, it turns out, is a muscular food town,” says the New York Times in another disbelieving article about Tucson being named a Unesco City of Gastronomy.

También. Cactus?

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Tucson’s status as a City of Gastronomy could be paying off

Tucson’s designation as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy last year seems to be paying the dividends the city had hoped for.
Tucson is the only city in the United States with the distinction. Eight other cities have the designation worldwide.
While the estimates on how much the designation has helped the tourism economy and the economy in general are not yet known, early indications are it could be substantial. 

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Tucson, Arizona, cultivates its foodie reputation – with a nod from UNESCO

The desert surrounding Tucson, Arizona, is filled with soaring Saguaro cactus, their bright red fruits long a delicacy here. The abundance of this native food is one reason why, last December, Tucson became America’s first Unesco city of gastronomy, joining just 18 others worldwide, despite having fewer fancy restaurants than many US cities, and being one of its poorest.

“It’s a city whose food heritage is a big part of its identity,” says Gary Nabhan, director of the University of Arizona’s Center for Regional Food Studies. “Yes we have award-winning chefs, but the vitality of our farm-to-table food system is a key reason why we were recognised.”

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A World of Gastronomy

When Tucson became the first city in the United States to be designated as a City of Gastronomy last December, one of the few obligations it consented to was to participate in international exchanges through the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

But just what would we find of tangible use to our community from the different food systems, educational strategies, and native cuisines of cities in Iran, South Korea, Brazil, Norway, Turkey, Spain, Japan, Sweden, Thailand, and Italy?

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UNESCO recognizes Tucson as a City of Gastronomy

In December 2015, Tucson, Arizona, was named a City of Gastronomy in the Creative Cities Network by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is the first city in the U.S. to receive the designation.

Gary Nabhan, W.K. Kellogg Chair in Southwest Borderlands Food and Water Security at The University of Arizona, explains what that means for the city.

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Tucson Gains International Food Fame

Tucson has been in the international spotlight since December, when it became the first and only city in the United States to be designated a City of Gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Tucson got the nod not only for its thriving culinary scene, but also for its rich agricultural history and its potential to incubate sustainable food-related businesses.

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Intangible Heritage

You probably heard the news. After a two-year application process, on Dec. 11, 2015, Tucson joined the international Creative Cities Network of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World City of Gastronomy, the first such designation in the United States.

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What Makes Tucson Deserving of the Title of the United States’ First Capital of Gastronomy

Every day, tens of thousands of cars barrel down Interstate 10, a highway that hugs the western edge of Tucson, Arizona. Many of these drivers may not realize that they are driving past a region with one of the longest food heritages on the continent. Often considered the birthplace of Tucson itself, this swath of Sonoran Desert  nestled at the base of the Tucson Mountains is where the O’odham people settled, planting crops of maize, tepary beans and other produce amid a landscape punctuated by prickly pear cacti and sagebrush

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