Tucson Becomes an Unlikely Food Star

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23 Aug Tucson Becomes an Unlikely Food Star

Loaves from Barrio Bread, a community-supported bakery in Tucson owned by Don Guerra.CreditChris Hinkle for The New York Times

TUCSON — There are food deserts, those urban neighborhoods where finding healthful food is nearly impossible, and then there is Tucson.

When the rain comes down hard on a hot summer afternoon here, locals start acting like Cindy Lou Who on Christmas morning. They turn their faces to the sky and celebrate with prickly pear margaritas. When you get only 12 inches of rain a year, every drop matters.

Coaxing a vibrant food culture from this land of heat and cactuses an hour’s drive north of the Mexican border seems an exhausting and impossible quest. But it’s never a good idea to underestimate a desert rat. Tucson, it turns out, is a muscular food town.

Eight months ago it became the only place in the United States designated a City of Gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known by its acronym, Unesco.

Photo

Megan Kimble, the editor of Edible Baja Arizona magazine, shopping at a farmers’ market in Tucson.CreditChris Hinkle for The New York Times

A half-dozen years ago, the international agency began including food as a part of cultural heritage worth protecting, recognizing the importance of things like Armenian lavash, the Mediterranean diet and the gastronomic meals of the French.

In 2004 the group began a Creative Cities Network to link places where folk art, literature, music and other creative pursuits are being put to use to guide sustainable urban development. In the gastronomy category, Tucson joined 17 other cities, among them Parma, Italy; Bergen, Norway; and Ensenada, Mexico.

“They want towns where the designation will make a difference,” said Jonathan Mabry, Tucson’s officer for historic preservation and an author of the application.

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