UA Downtown Lectures Series to Offer Yummy Topic – Food

September 23, 2014


Prof. Maribel Alvarez will explore how food influences family, nation & community.

by Brad Poole


You eat. I eat. Your dogs, cats and horses eat. Every living thing on the planet eats, so food is firmly entrenched among the top three Things We All Need. Food is an integral part of our lives on every level.

It affects everything from our health and finances to culture and geopolitics, so some very smart people at University of Arizona College of Social & Behavioral Sciences decided to talk about it at the Fox Theater in the annual (free) UA Downtown Lecture Series from Oct. 15-Nov. 12.

“Every year, we explore a different topic. Last year it was happiness, and this year, it’s food,” said Lydia Breunig, outreach director for the college.

The series aims to show how food is connected to our culture, health and the environment – from intimate, personal moments in our lives to sweeping global environmental changes. The series includes:

Oct. 15 – Prof. Diana Liverman, co-director of the UA Institute for the Environment, will explore the ways food production, trade and consumption choices change the world around us. Our habits have political, environmental and financial impact halfway around the globe, and events there likewise affect our food choices.

Oct. 22 – Prof. Gary Nabhan of the UA Southwest Center will offer a glimpse of Tucson’s role as a center of food diversity. We’ve been nominated to be North America’s first UNESCO Global City of Gastronomy. Nabhan will explore why.

Gary Paul Nabhan

Prof Gary Paul Nabhan discusses Tucson role as a center of food.

Oct. 29 – Prof. Maribel Alvarez of the Southwest Center and School of Anthropology will look at the deep links between food and the concepts of family, community and nation. We really are what we eat, physically, emotionally and collectively. She’ll explain how.

Nov. 5 – Prof. Emma Blake of the School of Anthropology will address some food lessons we can learn from the Roman Empire… yes, there are some. As they did with much of their culture, the Romans took food to never-before-seen heights. Their mass-production and distribution of food spread their influence over thousands of miles, obliterating local food culture and tradition. Blake says we can learn from that.

No. 12 – Prof. Victoria Maizes of the College of Medicine and Center for Integrative Medicine will demystify the mind-boggling array of nutrition information we get from every direction. Eggs are good. No, eggs are bad. Cheese is good. No. wait… cheese is bad? Maizes will use current science to help you make the right choices in your quest for health, happiness and the pursuit of yumminess.

Although there is no charge for the lectures, tickets are required, because the events are über-popular. Tickets will be available at the box office after 4 p.m. the day of each lecture. Last year, the lectures quickly outgrew the 1,200-seat Fox. Tucson Electric Power offered an auditorium in their Downtown headquarters for overflow crowds. This year, there are bigger plans. The lecture series is encouraging businesses everywhere to show simulcasts of the talks.


Prof. Emma Blake will talk about what we can learn from ancient Rome about food.

Green Valley Recreation will screen the lectures, as will the Phoenix Marketplace, an open-air downtown market. In Phoenix, the talks will air on a giant screen during a farmer’s market. UA Campus Recreation is onboard for screenings, as are Maker House and the Playground, Breunig said.

“It really extends the reach. It kind of takes downtown other places,” she said.

The series came about because Social & Behavioral Sciences Dean J.P. Jones III wanted to strengthen connections to the community and make sure researchers’ work doesn’t languish in filing cabinets and scholarly journals on campus. He wanted to bring it to the masses.

“Because the University is so strongly dedicated to Downtown revitalization, it made perfect sense to do it at the Fox,” Breunig said.

No public money goes toward the Downtown Lecture Series. It’s funded and otherwise made possible by dozens of sponsors from throughout the community. Key sponsors include Cox Communications, the Southwestern Foundation for Education and Historical Preservation and the Zuckerman Family Foundation. For more information, go to