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UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Launches New Center for Regional Food Studies

Gary Paul Nabhan. Photo by Michelle Burley

From agricultural sciences to folklore, cutting-edge nutrition to ancient food systems, UA researchers have a long history of researching, documenting and promoting the borderland culinary heritage that makes Tucson a distinct food city. To coincide with Tucson’s designation as the newest UNESCO City of Gastronomy, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Southwest Center have established the University of Arizona Center for Regional Food Studies. The new center will advance food justice, food security and food systems innovations in the border states and will play an essential role in helping the City of Tucson carry out the educational and outreach commitments connected with being a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.

“We are excited that the City of Tucson has been named a City of Gastronomy,” said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “When people think of food studies, they often think of nutrition, but the environmental, historical, cultural, and social justice aspects of food are also important to our community. This new center will be a collaborative effort to better understand and improve our region’s food culture. The issues it will address range from food deserts and food security to sustainability and identity.”

The center will coordinate applied research involving faculty and students in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Science, and the Eller College of Management. Projects include addressing pollinator scarcity, food systems innovation, and nutritional status in borderland states.

As part of the UA W.K. Kellogg Program on Borderlands Food and Water Security, researchers will evaluate the best means for providing new green jobs in the food and farm sectors of the economy. They will also monitor how the new City of Gastronomy designation helps Tucson with its economic recovery and struggle to vanquish food insecurity, hunger and poverty.

Gary Paul Nabhan, the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems in the Southwest Center, has been named director of the center. Nabhan is recognized internationally as a desert food scholar and farming activist. He is a pioneer in both the food re-localization movement and in heirloom seed conservation. Nabhan co-created Native Seed/SEARCH, received a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award, and is a senior contributing editor to Edible Baja Arizona Magazine, the media partner for Tucson’s City of Gastronomy news. He has written nearly 30 books on food and agriculture.

“Tucson is deserving of the City of Gastronomy title not only because it’s the city in the U.S. with the oldest agricultural history of food crop production, but because of its current vitality with regard to fostering local food culture through food business start-ups, urban agriculture, food festivals and university-level interdisciplinary food studies,” said Nabhan. “We are thrilled that UNESCO has bestowed this honor on our city and are proud to launch this new center to fulfill the research and educational aspects of this designation in partnership with the City of Tucson.”

The center’s main office will be on the second floor of the UA Downtown space at 44 North Stone Avenue, where it will share space with the Southwest Folklife Alliance, which has a related mission. The Alliance is a partnership with the Southwest Center and in addition to other activities, it puts on the annual Tucson Meet Yourself festival, which has a mission to showcase local and international food in the city. The new center’s proximity to other partners in the UNESCO City of Gastronomy management—including the Mayor’s Office, City Historic Preservation, Edible Baja Arizona, and the Pima Association of Governments—will facilitate administration, training and outreach activities related to the designation.

Training will include executive seminars in food systems change for thought leaders from many countries and metro areas, as well as a series of continuing education courses on rural development and food systems innovation.

Outreach and public service will include working alongside and in support of the UA’s Community and School Garden Program, the Garden Kitchen nutritional education outreach program, the Tucson Village Farm, Compost Cats, and the Food Justice Lab. The center will facilitate a graduate student network of food justice scholars to work with community groups such as the Pima County Food Systems Alliance and the Mayor’s new 20-member commission on Food Security, Heritage, and Economy. The unit will also host the Sabores Sin Fronteras Foodways alliance through a public participation platform and website, and it will co-host an annual Arizona Food and Farm Finance Forum.

The Center will report to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Its leadership will be comprised of a director, an associate director, an interdisciplinary and inter-college Faculty Advisory Board, and a Community Advisory Board.

Learn more about the Center for Food Studies at


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