UA Hosts the 2016 ITKI UNESCO City of Gastronomy Conference

The conference is free, but registration is required. Space is limited. To register, click here.

In early November, international experts in food and water systems will arrive in Tucson to meet with UA scholars and community members invested in food and water sustainability.

The University of Arizona is the host of the 2016 ITKI ● UNESCO ● City of Gastronomy Conference titled “Food and Water in Arid Lands: Dialogues across Contemporary and Traditional Knowledge.”

The conference is co-hosted by the University of Arizona, the City of Tucson, and Pima County, along International Traditional Knowledge Institute (ITKI)/UNESCO, and other local and global partners. The conference is organized by the College of SBS.

The conference is free of charge to attend, and will be held at the Student Union Memorial Ballroom November 4 and 5, 2016. The organizers expect around 230 attendees, including students, faculty, community members, and international dignitaries interested in hearing and participating in a dialogue that incorporates Traditional Knowledge, academic science, and citizen science. Attendees also include guests from other UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy.

Tucson is the logical site for the conference. It is located in one of the most biologically diverse and culturally rich regions of the world, with plenty to share with – and learn from – those living in other arid regions. Much of this learning can come through broader explorations of traditional knowledge around dry farming techniques, water conservation, and sustainable desert harvests; such cultural history is essential to food security in arid environments.

Last December, the city of Tucson was selected as a World City of Gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), becoming the first city in the United States to receive such a designation. At the same time, the UA launched the Center for Regional Food Studies, which plays an essential role in helping the city of Tucson carry out educational and outreach commitments connected to being a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.

“In Tucson, we have many people in our neighborhoods and schools trying different ways to harvest water and grow food,” said John Paul Jones III, dean of the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, which is a presenting sponsor of the conference. “We have practitioners and scholars of Traditional Knowledge, academic scientists looking at emerging technologies and synergies, and citizen scientists testing new ideas.”

During the conference, expert panelists from Oman, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Peru, and Mexico will discuss their experiences with water management and water scarcity, their work toward just food systems and sovereignty, and their insights on the roles of local knowledge in adaptation and climate change. They will be joined by representatives of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum; the San Xavier Cooperative Farm of the Tohono O’Odham Nation; Waterlock LC3; the NGO Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), and the Black Mesa Trust, as well as by University of Arizona affiliates across multiple units including Soil, Water, and Environmental Science; Geography and Development; American Indian Studies; Mexican American Studies; and the Center for Regional Food Studies.

“We are interested in fostering more productive dialogue and long-term collaboration among those conversant with both Traditional Knowledge and “modern” knowledge of desert food and water resources,” said Gary Paul Nabhan, the founding director of the UA Center for Regional Food Studies and the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Food and Water Security. “Such collaborations can potentially move us all toward a more just and resilient future in the face of climate change.”

The central role of food heritage will also be reflected in the conference menus, which will feature traditional crops that have sustained peoples of the region for centuries. Additionally, the conference will be offering excursions to San Xavier del Bac and the San Xavier Co-op Farm, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and a dinner in downtown Tucson, to enable conference attendees visiting from around the globe to connect to the richness of foods, cultures, and environments in the Tucson region.

With a grant from the Arizona Humanities Foundation and in partnership with the Southwest Folklife Alliance, a group led by an up and coming filmmaker will document the experiences of three of the distinguished panelist/participants as they weave the conference panelist perspectives with audience discourse. This documentation of the conference allows future generations to be aware of the critical importance of Traditional Knowledge, both for the rich cultural and environmental heritage it embodies, and for the potential such knowledge has to inform contemporary practice.

UA groups sponsoring or partnering on the conference include the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; Center for Regional Food Studies; Office of Global Initiatives; Agnese Helms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice; College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Graduate College; Department of American Indian Studies; Department of Linguistics; Institute of the Environment; Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry; College of Humanities; Water Resources Research Center; Office of Tribal Relations; and the Institute for LGBT Studies. For a full list of sponsors, go to

Published Date: 

10/21/2016 - 5:04pm