Food Heritage and History

Tucson a Model in Food Biodiversity, Report Says

A report on Tucson food systems done by The Center for Regional Food Studies at the University of Arizona shows 14 community organizations make Tucson a leader in conserving food biodiversity.

Gary Paul Nabhan is the founding director of regional food studies at the UA. He said nonprofits like Desert Harvesters are thinking long term.



“Many of these organizations are, in a sense, sewing our future food security by bringing this diversity into our food ecosystem,” Nabhan said.

Jonathan Mabry is ...

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New Report: Tucson is a Leading U.S. City in Food Diversity and Access

Tucson is one of the top cities in the United States conserving and disseminating edible biodiversity and local heritage foods, a new report reveals. Released by the University of Arizona Center for Regional Food Studies, the second annual “State of Tucson’s Food System” documents Tucson’s rich variety of common, heritage, native, and heirloom plant species and varieties available, often at little or no cost, in its local economy.

“This report shows that Tucson’s community organizations have done ...

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UA Report Details Tucson’s Excellence in Providing Food Diversity and Access

A new report on the state of Tucson’s food system – produced by the UA Center for Regional Food Studies – shows that Tucson is one of the top U.S. cities in its high diversity of edible plants affordably accessed, grown and eaten as means to reduce food insecurity.

Marking the December 15 second anniversary of Tucson, Arizona’s designation as the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States, the University of Arizona Center for ...

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Mirror Images

Two UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy, located across the world from each other, offer distinct insights on desert terroir.

I am sitting in an outdoor café on a hot summer day. The café, in Zahle, Lebanon, is on the edge of a broad desert valley that stretches out between two mountain ranges, one of them high enough to capture snow every winter and suffer forest fires most summers. Out of the mountains flows enough snowmelt to allow some irrigation from ...

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To Be an Ethnobotanist

Now, being an ethnobotanist

Is not all that different

From being a musician,

Ballerina or chef:


You’ve got to practice

Your licks and chops,

Your forms and foot positions

Your dicing, slicing

And making a roux

Every day (or else)

You get rusty.


No one I know

Likes a rusty ethnobotanist

One who is constantly hoping

To discover some herbal WD-40


So make and take

Some time each day

To go on out

And eat the flowers

Drink their nectars

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The chiltepin pepper has a special home in Santa Cruz County

After enduring a bouncy drive up a rough road heading into the Tumacacori Mountains last Tuesday morning, the group of hikers crossed a shallow rocky canyon on foot. Then, after bushwhacking through spiky desert plants and looking under trees, they found their prize: a single bright red, shriveled chili clinging to a dry chiltepin plant.

The fruit of the chiltepin isn’t always so hard to find at this spot, said Kevin Dahl, an ethnobotanist specializing in desert plants. The ...

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Tortilleria Arevalo’s secret to a healthier tortilla is Peruvian mesquite flour

Esperanza Arevalo wakes up at 3 a.m. every day to make tortillas. She sometimes receives help from her husband and sister-in-law, but for the most part, she’s a one-woman show.

Tortilleria Arevalo started with Esperanza’s father, Javier Arevalo, shortly after 9/11. At the time, Esperanza had just been laid off from her job, so she began helping her father. Years later, when Javier was diagnosed with cancer, Esperanza stepped up and took over the business.

Although making tortillas as a business ...

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Tucson’s seed library fosters food sovereignty in a desert

With help from Pima County’s public libraries, Tucsonans grow urban gardens.

In front of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library in Tucson, patrons can claim round concrete landscaping beds for free and create their own gardens with seeds from the library’s seed collection. Some of the three-foot-wide planters are festooned with exuberant jungles of squash, flowers and trellised bean plants, while others look more Zen garden than vegetable garden.

In addition to books and DVDs, in 2012 the Pima ...

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An Ecumenical-Interspecific Communion

The so-called Last Supper was not the last we know that nourished Yeshua of Nazareth and his motley crew of ne’er-do-well friends from Galilee. The other ones had fish swimming into them. For two millennia, Christians all around the planet have faithfully practiced the Ritual of the Open Table—one where everyone has a place at that table to have their hunger curbed, their thirst slaked, and their dignity respected. Other faiths have similar rites of sharing food among both friends ...

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Janos Wilder: A Chef’s Journey from Pizza to Paris by Way of Tucson

When UNESCO named Tucson, Arizona a World City of Gastronomy in Dec. 2015, the first U.S. city so named, it put this small desert city on the global map. It also gave a boost to one of its top chefs, Janos Wilder.

In June, Wilder, a James Beard award-winner (2000, Best Chef: Southwest), represented Tucson at a reception in UNESCO’s Paris headquarters before the annual Creative Cities Network conference. In preparation he crafted the menu at his restaurant, Downtown ...

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Activists Envision a Border Wall Made of Solar Panels

President Trump has requested prototypes for what he calls a “physically imposing” and “beautiful” border wall. This week in a meeting with congressional leaders he floated the idea of covering it in solar panels. That’s not a new concept. Quite a few people have been working on solar wall designs. Arizona author and ecologist Gary Paul Nabhan says a solar installation would create clean energy and sustainable jobs for the U.S. and Mexico. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with him about ...

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A Future in the Ancestral

Mesoamerican culinary traditions spanning millennia have influenced the gastronomic heritage of Baja Arizona.

Tacos, tostadas, burritos, sopes, menudos, cazuelas, enchiladas, licuados—the typical foods of modern Mexico that are familiar in the borderlands—are but one set of spinoffs of an ancient Mesoamerican diet.

Since the mid-20th century, two kinds of Mexican diet have been diverging from one another. One is deeply traditional—think tamales, atolespinoles, moles, tepaches, caldos, and nopalitos—while the ...

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Agave Heritage Week: Greg Starr, Ana Valenzuela, David Yetman, Wendy Hodgson, and much more!

It would be hard to find a group of plants which offer such architectural grace and morphological symmetry as agaves do. That’s why Tucsonan Greg Starr’s book from Timber Press, Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers, is one of the most-lovely horticultural classics ever published.

Greg has spent so much time with the many agave species at his Starr Nursery in the Tucson Mountain foothills ...

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Four Vows for Food Justice: An Earth Day Prayer

Although the many beings lost or wounded in our foodshed,
somehow seem nameless & numberless,
we vow to remember their names,
to hear their needs & to never forget their faces.

For the many children who are hungry daily,
while perfectly useable food is thrown away,
inundating landfills & making methane,
we vow to curb our consumption & end of our waste.

For the many immigrant farmworkers
who harvest the bounty with their sweat & blood.
but are seldom offered a place ...

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Did you know that mezcala and tequilas were bottled and savored in Tucson over a century ago?

Did you know that mezcala and tequilas were bottled and savored in Tucson over a century ago? Ironically, only a small percentage of the current residents of Tucson realize that these wild plants were artisanally processed for food and beverages up through recent decades.

Most have never heard of Old Pueblo pioneer Julius Goldbaum who, from 1886 to 1903, distilled, bottled and marketed local mezcals and imported tequilas on the corner of Congress and Meyer in what is now downtown Tucson.

Also known as Julius ...

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Gary Nabhan: Solar idea is a viable, job-creating option to border wall

Because I have lived within 20 miles of the U.S./Mexico boundary much of my life, the complexity of the debate regarding President Trump’s border wall proposal is not lost on me. I have worked in communities on both sides of the Arizona-Sonora border, the border in the world with the greatest disparity for dwellers on its two sides.

There are horrific differences in access to clean water, healthy food and jobs with livable wages that currently divide Mexican and U.S. citizens. ...

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Howard Scott Gentry memory recognized the week of April 28th to May 7th

Let us now praise famous mezcaleros! It was 75 years ago that my mentor, the great plant explorer Howard Scott Gentry, published his Rio Mayo Plants, and 35 years ago that he published Agaves of Continental North America.

As a kid, I worked one summer at the Desert Botanical Garden in Metro Phoenix helping Dr. Gentry check herbarium specimens for localities of the ...

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Put a little wildness back into your food and drink, and you will likely become healthier for it!

Put a little wildness back into your food and drink, and you will likely become healthier for it! Ethnobotanists and archaeologists have uncovered cultural and culinary uses of wild agaves, prickly pears and mesquite that reach back at least 8000 years in the U.S./Mexico borderlands.

Just think about that for a moment: a nitrogen-fixing legume tree, a cactus and a succulent agave have offered food and drink to the hungry and thirsty of our region for a duration at least 25 ...

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How can Tucson and surrounding Sonoran Desert communities revitalize a legacy of using plants such as mezcal both for food and for drink?

“Welcome to the Agave family!” was the way that late Arizona botanist Howard Scott Gentry used to greet aficionados of these wondrously-shaped and deliciously-tasting desert-adapted plants. Of course, many Americans are aware of the fact that is the popular name of a distilled alcoholic beverage, but how many newcomers to Southern Arizona know that it is also the common name for several kinds of native plants that are as good to eat as they are to drink?

Also known as the ...

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Biodiversity food expert speaks

Gary Nabhan, an internationally-celebrated nature writer, agrarian activist and ethnobiologist, was the Convocations speaker Thursday in the Gilbert Great Hall in the R. Haze Hunter Conference Center.

Nabhan’s presentation was titled “Conservation You can Taste: Restoring Biodiversity to the Farm and Table” and focused on efforts that are being made to bring back species of edible food crops.

Nabhan also spent Wednesday making classroom visits and visiting with local farmers.

The Convocations started with a showing of a short documentary that ...

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