Winter 2020

Celebrating Tucson’s Food Heritage

Tucson was named the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the U.S. in 2015. That word “gastronomy” isn’t about fancy restaurants but instead refers to our region’s entire food system. Carolyn Niethammer ’66 ’80 draws from thousands of years of Tucson food history to explain how it came to warrant the designation.

Niethammer’s 11th book, “A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary History,” traces the influences of Native American, Mexican, mission-era Mediterranean and ranch-style cowboy traditions. It’s a food pilgrimage, full of stories and recipes stretching back to the earliest residents of the Santa Cruz Valley. 

It describes how the earliest farmers in the region learned to grow corn around 2100 B.C., where the Hohokam built their elaborate irrigation canals and why the arrival of the Spanish changed everything. 

More than 100 photographs illustrate the edible wild plants that fed the earliest inhabitants and how today’s young people are learning to grow food at school with help from University of Arizona students.

Niethammer introduces Tucson farmers, small-scale food entrepreneurs and top chefs at restaurants and food trucks who are dedicated to growing and using heritage foods — even local brewers who are using wild foods to give a local flavor to their beers and ales.