This year’s Tucson Meet Yourself festival celebrated Tucson’s first year as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, the only city in the United States to receive such a designation. The Southwest Folklife Alliance and the UA Food Studies Institute commissioned a curated exhibition narrating the factors behind Tucson's designation and to answer the question so many have asked - “Why Tucson?” The exhibit featured a section on Local Food that highlighted the impact on local foods by Local First Arizona and Visit Tucson. As part of the exhibit, Local First AZ displayed an image created for Edible Baja Arizona magazine by illustrator Katya Granger, that posed the question “Why Shop at a Locally Owned Business?” Visitors were asked “where do you see yourself in the picture?” and given a short survey of what choices they make to support local. Over 150 responded.
134 of the respondents answered that they shop at Farmer’s Markets, 174 support Arizona-owned businesses, 104 actively seek out products made in Arizona, and 189 choose local restaurants, breweries, and wineries.
When given space to elaborate, respondents also shared more creative and intimate ways in which they support local. Native Seeds Search was mentioned several times as a source for personal gardening, while others said they encouraged friends and family to visit Tucson to experience its unique local culture for themselves.
The full exhibit also included sections on Biodiversity, Water Harvesting and more. A section on Food Justice showed how social systems played another role in Tucson receiving this unique designation. Programs through the Community Food Bank, UA School and Community Garden Program, Iskashitaa Refugee Network, and the Seed Library, all help to bring healthy food to families in need and encouraging a shift in how we think about food. Other groups like Desert Harvesters, Mission Gardens, Native Seeds Search, Trees For Tucson, Slow Food Southern Arizona, the UA Southwest Center for Food Studies, Edible Baja Arizona and many others were part of the exhibit showing the rich variety of resources and organizations working in Tucson to strengthen our local foods system.
The exhibit shared the tens of thousands of Tucson Meet Yourself attendees, that Tucson is one of 116 cities in the UNESCO Creative Cities network recognized for its ability to creatively utilize its cultural diversity to develop a local system of sustainability in its food development and culture.
More than anything, the designation tells Tucsonans and others across the globe that Tucson is among the leading cities in innovating sustainable living by using creative methods to produce and distribute foods that come from our soil to make the most of our diverse ecosystem.