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10:05  Serving Up Authenticity: Marketing the Culinary Heritage of a Desert City

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This paper will examine the tensions and concomitant consensus-building processes inherent in creating, performing, and ultimately marketing food-based heritage claims as a driver for positive socio-economic change in the city of Tucson, Arizona, USA by gaining international recognition under the UNESCO “Creative Cities” brand. The principal author, an archaeologist by training and head of the Historic Preservation Office in the City of Tucson, is the primary architect of a complex nomination file intended to designate his city as the United States’ first UNESCO “City of Gastronomy,” in the hope that the designation can create further socio-economic benefits for that city; as the paper will argue, heritage not only can be “marketed’ to outsiders in the hope of generating tourist traffic and enhance economic profits for the town, but also can be promoted within the local society to create an affective sense of valorization and pride in their culture and its “cultural resources.” In many ways, this particular endeavor represents the culmination of a more lengthy revitalization program within the town in which residents and local officials organically embraced and reinterpreted their traditional foodways in response to growing societal and economic tensions. 

Located in the Sonoran Desert in the southwestern United States near the border with Mexico, Tucson has the longest archaeologically-documented agricultural history of any city in North America. Cultivation by Native Americans extends back more than four thousand years, and vineyards, orchards, and livestock ranching were introduced more than three hundred years ago by Spanish colonists. Many ancient crops and historical breeds are still raised today, and more heritage foods listed on the Slow Food International Ark of Taste are grown within one hundred miles of Tucson than any other city in North America. These heritage foods are representative of many living traditions, and are perceived as a source of identity and vitality for residents, who have often retained—or reinvented—food preparation practices, traditions, and cooking techniques unique to the U.S. Southwest. 

In an effort to leverage its food heritage and culinary assets on an international scale, and indicating the perceived success of its heritage foods revitalization movement, the City of Tucson partnered with the University of Arizona in applying to become the first City of Gastronomy designated by UNESCO in the United States. Motivations to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Gastronomy include bringing increased recognition to the region’s rich agricultural heritage, thriving food traditions, and distinctive cuisine; highlighting Tucson’s unique heritage and cultural products on a global platform; promoting Tucson as a culinary tourism destination in international markets by drawing attention to the heritage foods and culinary assets of the city and its region; and facilitating international exchanges of best practices for using food heritage and culinary distinctiveness as drivers for economic development and strengthening sense of place. 

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