If you’re thinking that Tucson received this prestigious designation as a Creative Cities Network City of Gastronomy because of our amazing array of chimichangas, well, you have about 5% of the whole enchilada. In fact, our entire plethora of amazing food choices are yet just another slice of the pie. Here, with the guidance of CityofGastronomy.org, we list the top five reasons Tucson received the 2015 City of Gastronomy designation.
1. Of course, the Food!
The ladies and gentlemen at the helm of this ship like to say that we have “a culturally layered cuisine” here. This means food that is widely considered Tucson cuisine is influenced by Native American, northern Mexican (or Sonoran) Mission-era Mediterranean, and American ranch-style / cowboy food traditions. It’s pretty interesting that a description of our cuisine is incredibly close to the description of our traditions, people, music, and architecture. It’s essentially, or literally, like tasting Tucson!
Congress Street in 1920, Tucson Arizona. Image from Southern Arizona Guide.
2. Our history as a food cultivation site.
The land in and around Tucson has been cultivated for over 4,000 years! Ancient native people began to use the fertile lands in riparian areas to purposefully cultivate, and eventually even irrigate crops. These ancient farms are the oldest found in North America. Additionally, in the last 300 years the area has fostered orchard, vineyards cultivation as well as livestock ranching. Fast forward to today and find that more foods listed on the Slow Food International Ark of Taste are grown here than any other U.S. city.
Cattle Ranching in Tucson Arizona. Image from The Unviersity of Arizona Library
3. We are a Food Boom Town.
An unusually high percentage of Tucson restaurants are privately owned (63% as compared to a 41% national average.) This means that our city fosters an environment of success for restauranteurs and allows the money spent and made here to stay here. Of interesting note is that Tucson boasts twice the food truck and street food offerings per capita than New York City! By the numbers, $122 million in crops and $73 million in livestock and food products are sold annually from our humble, historic, little food hub. The “experts” say we have a “Fast-growing food economy.” We just like to say that if your really into food, and want to make a career of it, this is the place for you.
The Award-Winning Grill at Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort
4. We make it affordable and accessible!
The Tucson area boasts 43 community gardens, 57 school gardens and thousands of home gardens that educate and feed our residents. There are numerous efforts to ensure affordable availability of heritage products to plant, grow, and eat. Five seed banks including the renown Native Seeds/ SEARCH, conserve more than 2,000 varieties of desert-adapted seeds. Our county libraries provide, free of charge to cardholders, 28,000 seed packets of 141 domestic food crops and nine wild edible species. Additionally, low-income residents, food-insecure refugees, and Native Americans have access to a large variety of food crop and native perennial seeds or live plants.
Tucson High Magnet School Garden. Image from Edible Baja Arizona.
5. Stewardship of food relief, activism, and policies.
Members of our community make unparalleled effort to ensure everyone is fed and fed well. They are also taking incredible steps and setting governmental policy to ensure residents learn to cultivate their own food for life. There are 32 food banks, pantries, soup kitchens and mobile outlets of food relief in and around Tucson. At least five farmers markets accommodate and even double federal SNAP food benefits. Annually, the Tucson Food Bank provides more than 20,000 individuals education in nutrition, gardening, and cooking. Within our local government, revisions of regulations for urban growing and food service allow for easier cultivation and sale here. In 2015 Tucson City Council voted to establish the Commission for Food Security, Heritage & Economy. The 17-member group’s mission is primarily to advise Mayor and Council on food related issues such as security, heritage and economy. Members represent Local First Arizona, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Native Seeds/SEARCH, and Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance, to name a few major players in Tucson’s heritage food league.
Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson Arizona. Image from Busy Bee Traveler.
We at the Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort are incredibly proud to be part of this community and its long-standing and multi-tiered support of our food heritage and future. We’ve long taken pride in serving locally and seasonally sourced ingredients in our restaurants – long before the practice became newsworthy. We are also thrilled to organize and host the Tucson Heritage Foods Festival – a celebration and introduction to Tucson’s heritage foods and its purveyors – September 30, 2018.
If you’re a heritage foods expert or are newly heritage foods curious – please join us. It is an amazing time for all to come together, eat, drink, chat, and learn about Tucson heritage foods.