“Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably,” said C. S. Lewis. We agree. And just as there are books to satisfy every type of reader at the 2023 Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB), March 4-5, the event’s food court caters to all culinary tastes.
Sure, there’s the typical fair fare, including lemonade, cotton candy, kettle corn, and pizza (though no humongous fried turkey legs). But you’ll also find an array of snacks that’s as distinctive and eclectic as Tucson’s food scene. Among the sweet treats are Hawaiian shaved ice, berry kabobs, and churros. Chickpea pesto sandwiches and falafel are vegan-friendly, while carnivores can chow down on everything from barbecue to spam musubi.
The focus on local businesses has been part of the plan from the beginning, as was the diversity of food options. Stephen Ochoa, the festival’s Food Committee Chair, explained, “Typically what we do is we have an open invitation and then narrow down the applicants. We don’t like to have competing vendors, so we only have one sandwich place, one barbecue place, one Mexican place, Indian place, etc.”
As co-founder of Frost Gelato, Ochoa joined the TFOB as a vendor from its first year on; Beyond Bread and Tucson Tamale were also festival originals. That means Ochoa knows the ins and outs of the mechanisms that make food booths run smoothly.
He pointed out, “Food vendors are unique. Author committees prepare far in advance but food vendors are always finalizing things the week of or the week before. We have to anticipate the weather. We buy all the food ahead of time and if it’s raining, we don’t sell it.”
Ochoa gives a lot of credit to the host venue, the University of Arizona, for the success of the food court — and everything else. “It’s probably the most professional festival that I’ve been a part of, in terms of the different groups they put together for entertainment and for literature. Chris Kopach [Facilities Management Director at the U of A] and his team do a wonderful job making sure that food tents are set up correctly, and other details taken care of,” Ochoa said.
The festival’s many volunteers also help make grazing the food court — a major debris generator — a surprisingly tidy experience.
If an army of bibliophiles marches on its stomach, it’s an army of volunteers — some 1,200 in total — that helps to clean up after them. Mystery writer par excellence and regular festival attendee J. A. Jance wrote in her love letter to the festival, “Twas the Month Before the TFOB”:
I’m a U of A alum, and I more or less expected that the mall would turn into a trash heap. I’m happy to report that didn’t happen — not during the first TFOB and not during any of the subsequent ones, either. The festival runs on an army of volunteers, and some of those, the ones on the trash detail, make sure those boxes are emptied and the bags hauled away LONG before they overflow.
The Tucson Festival of Books takes place at the University of Arizona. For additional details on the participating businesses and their locations, see Food Vendors at the 2023 Festival.
To learn more about the food-focused authors at the festival, read our article, “Tucson Festival of Books: A Reading Feast.”
Also, for a schedule of who’s presenting on this year’s Culinary Stage, read our article, “Tucson Festival of Books: What’s Cooking on the Culinary Stage.”
Edie Jarolim has worn many hats, including a sombrero on a one-too-many-margaritas night. She earned a Ph.D. in American literature from New York University and was a guidebook editor at Fodor’s (Random House) and Frommer’s (Simon & Schuster) in New...