Foodways at Tucson Meet Yourself

If you haven't heard the news by now you probably have your face in a burrito.

Last winter Tucson earned the designation of World City of Gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

It's the first designation of its kind in America and all the foodies in town are pretty excited about it. Part of why Tucson got the designation was because of Tucson Meet Yourself, the folklife festival happening this weekend downtown in El Presidio Park and Jacome Plaza.

The festival was mentioned in the application to UNESCO as an example of the city's long-term engagement with foodways, or the intersections of food, culture, and history, said Maribel Alvarez, executive director of TMY.

"TMY has been showcasing foodways since long before that term was in vogue," Alvarez says.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild lauds Tucson Meet Yourself for its contribution to the designation. "When Tucson gains national or international recognition for something we're doing, people sit up and take notice," Rothschild says. "But food and our local food economy have been significant factors in our city's economic development for a number of years now. Tucson Meet Yourself has been a big part of that movement."

And while food has been the magnet that's attracted audiences to the festival for decades, Alvarez says, "TMY is actually the ultimate anti-foodie event. It features the other side of the trendiness of food: the working-class, make-do spirit of home cooks and church potlucks."

The festival is commemorating the designation with the City of Gastronomy Kitchen Stadium, a large arena in the center of the festival offering demonstrations, conversations, recipes, and tastings for all three days of the Festival.

Liane Hernandez, a trained chef and Community Life Director at the YWCA, curated the Kitchen Stadium by asking, "What could this designation mean for the producers who are working to make more sustainable food, accessibility and justice part of the tale of food in Tucson?"

It was important for Hernandez to highlight the contexts in which food is produced, prepared, shared, consumed, and understood in our community. One of her goals was to showcase aspects of a local, Tucson cuisine. "When you think of Parma, Italy you have certain ideas emerge in your brain about that cuisine. Could Tucson be that someday?"

With help from Tana Fryer, owner of Blu, a wine and cheese store, Hernandez gathered participants. One session will explore connections between beer, baked goods, and the Sonoran Desert. It features a conversation with Ema Peterson, who uses beer from local breweries in her company, Beer Geek Bakery; and John Adkisson of Iron John Brewery, who has used mesquite flour, green chiles, and creosote flowers in his brews.

Hernandez also wanted to highlight local food justice and sustainability efforts. The groups Flowers and Bullets and Tierra y Libertad will share their work in neighborhood organizing and backyard gardening, sharing ways we can improve access to healthy food for low-income households.

Additional conversations and presentations will address coffee culture, wine, cheese, farming, health and nutrition, ethnobotany, cooperatives, and more, Hernandez says.

The City of Tucson Mayor's office has granted the official permission to use the City of Gastronomy logo to mark this as a city-sponsored celebration of the UNESCO designation. Jonathan Mabry, of the city's Office of Historic Preservation, will also speak on a panel.

—Kimi Eisele

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