Gary Paul Nabhan, an ethnobiologist, literary naturalist and local foods advocate was a lecturer in the downtown "Food" series.

Gary Paul Nabhan wants to put Tucson on the map as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, joining places like Popayán, Colombia, Chengdu, China, and Östersund, Sweden, as outposts of gastronomic excellence.

“We’re … prematurely celebrating what I think will be a major international designation for Tucson,” he said.

Nabhan hopes this title will bring recognition to Tucson’s vibrant, multiethnic gastronomic community and to the fact that the city has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation. In spite of Tucson’s standing as a city with considerable food diversity, many Tucsonans lack access to sufficient quantities of safe, nutritional food.

Nabhan is an internationally celebrated nature writer, food and farming activist and W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Arizona Southwest Center. He’s also a local food movement pioneer, an advocate for the preservation of heirloom seeds and the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant.”

On Wednesday evening, in front of a packed Fox Tucson Theatre, Nabhan described his strategy to ensure that everyone in Tucson has access to quality food and proper nutrition. He spoke about his work as part of the free Downtown Lecture Series on Food sponsored by University of Arizona’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Underpinning Nabhan’s work is a keen sense of community and an awareness of the unmet needs of the poor, particularly in relation to food. Nabhan’s conviction that Tucson can root out poverty and food insecurity inspired the audience. At the end of his presentation, Nabhan asked all in attendance for their commitment not only to enjoy Tucson’s rich food culture but also to see that everyone can share in the region’s bounty.

The delighted audience recited Nabhan’s affirmation with gusto.

Within about two weeks, UNESCO will announce a new City of Gastronomy. If all goes as planned, Tucson will gain the well-deserved title.

Contact UA journalism graduate Susan E. Swanberg at