UArizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Partners with Agave Heritage Festival

Feb. 2, 2024
Montage photo of a mug, women smiling, hands holding food and a farmer

The University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences is partnering with the Agave Heritage Festival to offer a series of Masterclasses and a kick-off event. The festival, now in its 16th year, explores and celebrates the cultural, sustainable and commercial significance of the agave plant through curated events and seminars. The festival has grown into a much-anticipated Tucson event, spotlighting the Southwest region, and showcasing the diverse uses of the agave plant. 

Leading up to the festival, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences will host a Masterclass Series on agave and heritage as part of its Community Classroom Program. Running from February 9 to April 16, the series covers topics such as food writingcultural history of agave, and food sovereignty. The Masterclasses are part of existing undergraduate courses, allowing community members to learn alongside UArizona students. 

By registering for the full series, participants will have VIP access to the Agave Heritage Festival opening reception on April 18, 2024. Additionally, SBS Community Classroom participants will have access to 10% off the Agave Fiesta Grand Tasting on April 20 and exclusive access to an AHF Pass Flash Sale.

Registration is open to the public

SBS faculty Luis Coronado Guel will present the keynote at the kick-off reception, “Agave and Mezcal Culturescapes: Ever-present Cultural Dimensions of Mexican Identity.” Guel holds a doctorate in Latin American history and is the director of SBS Mexico Initiatives. In April 2023, Guel wrote about the agave plant’s cherished place in Mexican culture and identity in “Culturescapes of Agave and Mezcal.”

For millennia, agaves have been associated with North America – more specifically with Mexico and the southwest region of the United States. Agave and its products have embodied not only landscapes, but culture and identity in these vast areas represented in art, cuisine, architecture, narratives and music. The keynote presentation will guide the audience through popular culture snapshots, symbolic and historical experiences, and constructed narratives containing an ever-present array of icons around the agave and mezcal. The kick-off event will include agave spirit cocktails, local wine and beer, culinary delights from the Cup Cafe and a historic performance from Som do Sisal.

The College of SBS has a long history of involvement with the Agave Heritage Festival, beginning when Gary Nabhan, research social scientist emeritus with the Southwest Center, joined the initiative in 2018. Nabhan, known for his expertise in desert flora and strong community ties, significantly expanded the festival's outreach and partnerships.

“This year, we are excited to expand our collaboration with the Agave Heritage Festival,” said Lori Poloni-Staudinger, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “In the College of SBS, we support lifelong learning, providing opportunities for community members and UArizona students to learn and be in conversation together. Through our Masterclasses and kick-off lecture, we are pleased to contribute our faculty expertise related to the agave plant — including storytelling, culture, identity and food sovereignty — to the impressive line-up of activities at the festival.”  


Masterclass Schedule

Savoring Story: Writing Our Food Memories
Feb. 9, 9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.
Instructor: Mele Martinez
In this creative writing lecture, reflection on food memories will introduce participants to storytelling that engages the senses. Melani “Mele” Martinez is a lecturer in the Creative Writing program, where she teaches first-year writing and food writing courses. Her upcoming memoir, The Molino, is a personal narrative of her family’s tamale and tortilla factory in historic downtown Tucson. 

Agave: The Cultural History of Food and Power in Mesoamerica 
Mar. 27, 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
Instructor: Ryan Kashanipour
This course will explore the cultural history of the agave plant in ancient and colonial Mesoamerica. Ryan Kashanipour, an assistant professor in the Department of History and the Center for Latin American Studies, is an ethnohistorian of medicine and science of Latin America with specialties in the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica.

Global Movements for Food Sovereignty
Apr. 16, 9:30 a.m.-10:45 a.m.
Instructor: Laurel Bellante
This lecture will explore the concept of food sovereignty and how it has been mobilized by farmer movements throughout the Global South. Laurel Bellante is an assistant professor of practice in the School of Geography, Development & Environment, director of the Food Studies degree program, and assistant director of the Center for Regional Food Studies.

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Media contacts: 
Stephanie Noriega
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences