Food Systems


Gary Paul Nabhan is a Research Social Scientist and Kellogg Chair at the Southwest Center. He also works for the Alliance for Reconciliation Ecology at its headquarters on Tumamoc Hill. His international studies extend from Central Asia and the Middle East to Latin America. He is author or editor of some twenty books, and a frequent contributor to many journals and magazines, including Journal of the Southwest, Nature, Orion, Natural History, Audubon, Sierra, Yes!, Ethnobiology, Conservation Biology, Economic Botany, and Restoration Ecology. Active in the disciplines of conservation biology, biocultural geography, agro-ecology, literary natural history, and borderlands studies.


Recent Research and Community Service:

1. Sabores Sin Fronteras/Flavors Without Borders: A farming, ranching and foodways alliance that documents, celebrates and promotes the shared agricultural and culinary traditions of the U.S.-Mexican border states. This research collaboration hosts symposia, festivals, agri-cultural tours, publications and field studies.

2. Saving the Wide Open Spaces: An applied research collaboration and public forum regarding the causes and trends in the fragmentation of working landscapes in the American West, and means to avert further agricultural, ecological, cultural and economic losses (with Tom Sheridan, David Seibert, Baron Orr and others). Its initial event occurred at White Horse Ranch in Marana, Arizona, in 2007, and an edited volume has been published as Stitching the West Together Again (Chicago, 2014). Nabhan also collaborates with Quivira Coalition, Western Folklife Center and sustainable ranching advocates such as Dennis Maroney, Mandy Metzger, Mike Stevens, Ivan Aguirre, and Duncan Blair on particular workshops held in the state, at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and elsewhere.

3. Renewing America’s Food Traditions: An alliance of food, farming, conservation, and culinary advocates, RAFT‘s mission is to “identify, restore and celebrate America’s biologically and culturally diverse food traditions.“ Founded by Nabhan in 2005, RAFT partners include, among others, Slow Food USA, Chefs Collaborative, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Native Seeds/SEARCH (including graduate student Kanin Routson and adjunct professor Dr. Suzanne Nelson). Its work involves conservation, restoration, education, promotion of sustainable production, and regional networking. It co-sponsors participatory workshops to assemble the first-ever list of foods unique to North America which are at risk of falling out of the American food system, recover of particular foods in collaboration with their communities of stewards, and sponsor America Traditions Picnics. The RAFT database of place-based foods at risk by foodshed is being used to test whether geographic patterns of endangerment for domesticated food varieties in North America is similar to or different from that for endangered wild species, and why. RAFT encourages all individuals and organizations to become allies to the original stewards of both wild and domesticated foods who are seeking to achieve their food sovereignty. The book from Chelsea Green Press, Renewing America’s Food Traditions (2008), is the most comprehensive expression of the RAFT work to date.

4. Southwest Regis-Tree: This documentation and conservation effort is focused on the in situ conservation of perennial fruits, nuts and succulent populations in the border states in the Southwest. Since founded by Nabhan and Kevin Dahl in 1994, it has documented over 100 sites of abandoned homestead orchards, hedgerows, historic farms, ranches and prehistoric terraces that still harbor plant materials of historic and horticultural significance. Recent work has included graduate student Kanin Routson’s survey and identification of heirloom apples of the Southwest. We have also had a strong collaboration with Native Seeds/SEARCH, the Kino Fruit Project (spearheaded by Jesus Garcia of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum), and the National Pak Service. Nabhan was a keynotespeaker at the National Park Service conference, “National Parks, Partners and Heritage Products,” in autumn of 2008 at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and Western National Parks Association will publish his booklet on Heritage Farming the same season.

5. Trading Spices: Arabic and Sephardic Jewish influences on crop geography and cuisines from the American Southwest and northern Mexico to China. This historical geographic research project focuses on the role spice trade carried out by Moslem and Christian Arabs and Sephardic Jews has had upon globalized patterns of distribution of certain foodstuffs, crops and culinary preparations. In particular, it seeks to elucidate the presence of Moslem and Jewish conversos in the U.S. Southwest and Northern Mexico following the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion of these groups from the Iberian Peninsula. The diffusion hypothesis to be tested is whether their culturally-specific recipes, terms and techniques arrived in border states, not merely their crops. This project has elements that involve former UA-graduate student Rafael Routson and University of Arizona Press author-historian Greg Orfalea.



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