Over a decade ago, my then-boyfriend and I arrived in Tucson. We had traveled in a 3,000-mile arc—from North Carolina to upstate New York to Ohio and then to Arizona. It was July and our car air conditioner was iffy. We had two cats in the backseat. Kansas seemed a never ending blur. At four in the morning, we were welcomed by the glow of the Waffle House sign on 22nd Street and I-10. We drank watery coffee and inhaled plates of hashed browns. Outside the window, a giant prickly pear was lit up by the moon. We took turns napping on the yellow formica table until the sun began to rise.
We rented an apartment next to a raspado shop and ate raspados for days on end. Half the town had fled to less sweltering locations, and I remember thinking that the streets looked so empty and wide. That summer was filled with Tucson firsts of all kinds—my first tumbleweed, my first monsoon, the first car I saw submerged in a flooded 6th Avenue underpass, my first Grill tater tot drenched in creamy pesto sauce.
In the last ten years, I’ve seen enormous changes in Tucson–and I know that people who have been here for twenty and thirty years have witnessed even more. Downtown is now home to loft-style apartments, a streetcar, and approximately three bazillion new restaurants. We can buy $13 drinks from mixologists wearing suspenders in underground bars. We can now consume fancy ramen noodles. Pinball is back. And that’s interesting and all, but here’s why I really love you, Tucson.
I love our farmers continuing a 4,000 year tradition of growing food in the desert. I love our ranchers raising ethical meat. I love our chefs and food workers working their asses off in the kitchen. I love all of the people who go to work before the sun comes up and after the sun goes down. I love our desert harvesters and medicine makers and conservationists and beekeepers. I love whoever is watching out for El Jefe the jaguar. I love our innovators installing hydroponics systems in alleyways. I love our teachers connecting kids with real food. I love our artists and writers giving voice. I love our community organizers installing neighborhood gardens and teaching small business classes and getting local produce into hospital cafeterias.
Tucson, I love you.
But you know what? I think we can be better.
I mean, isn’t that what love is? Shouldn’t we be invested in one another enough to challenge and encourage growth, even when it feels hard? Shouldn’t we be checking in with each other, saying, How are you doing? Do you have what you need to thrive?
If we’re so into each other, shouldn’t we want to do the uncomfortable work of recognizing where and how our food culture is still holding people back? Shouldn’t we abandon our terrible environmental habits so that we can cohabitate until we’re really fucking old?
On that note, I love you so much—you know what I want to see?
I want the local food hype to trickle down to the human beings who grow that food—in the form of actual money, so they can pay their mortgages and go to the dentist. I want food workers to get paid a living wage. I want farmers’ markets to stop allowing people to resell cheap produce that undercuts our farmers. I want childcare available at community meetings. I want everybody to be able to celebrate our City of Gastronomy designation. I want someone to give a bunch of money to Flowers & Bullets. And Casa Libre. And Iskashitaa Refugee Network. And all of the other groups working to create space for people to feel safe, heard, and empowered.
So, as one of your committed and loving partners, I say this: Tucson, I love you. And we still have work to do together. I’m so excited for our future. Happy Valentine’s Day.