From its inception as a land-grant institution, the University of Arizona has been the center of food research in Arizona. From agricultural sciences to folklore, cutting-edge nutrition to ancient food systems, UA researchers have played an important role in documenting and promoting the borderland culinary heritage that defines the Sonoran Desert region and makes Tucson a distinct food city as well as the first in North America to be named a City of Gastronomy by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 

Gary Paul Nabhan, the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems in the Southwest Center, founded the Center for Regional Food Studies. Nabhan is recognized internationally as a desert food scholar and farming activist. He is a pioneer in both the food re-localization movement and in heirloom seed conservation. Nabhan co-created Native Seed/SEARCH, received a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award, and has written nearly 30 books on food and agriculture.

Megan Carney was named Director of the Center in 2017, and Laurel Bellante joined as Assistant Director in 2018.