TUCSON, Ariz. — Over 100,000 people are expected this weekend at a uniquely Tucson food and folk festival known for its wide range of international cuisine, art and performances.
Tucson Meet Yourself was founded in 1974 and has grown so much that it’s at about capacity at its downtown location. It started Friday and runs through Sunday.
Director Maribel Alvarez said the festival has drawn about 100,000 to 120,000 people each year for the past six years.
“Festivals are everywhere. There’s tons of them. But Meet Yourself happens to be kind of this unique festival. It’s sort of considered one of the longest-running folk life festivals in the country. And this is a little mini-Smithsonian experience in the desert lands,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said most go to Meet Yourself for the food, but that this is no foodie haven.
“It’s a little bit of the anti-foodie event,” she said. “It’s sort of experimental and bold and working class. It’s more of a potluck culture that it embodies.”
The festival is also unique in its emphasis on being environmentally sustainable.
Some of the festival’s 600 volunteers stand at disposal stations all over the festival to explain to visitors whether something should go in the trash, recycle bin or compost container.
Clarisa Avalos, a member of Compost Cats, a University of Arizona group focused on keeping food waste from landfills, was standing in front of three bags used to collect trash, waiting for a guest to come along.
“A lot of people are kind of scared at first,” Avalos said. “They don’t know what to do. But that’s why I’m here to help them, so it’s not as scary for them.”
The festival recycles and composts 44 percent of its waste. Last year’s event produced 8,000 pounds of food that was composted at a farm on the Tohono O’odham Nation just south of the city.
Mark Alan Fabros, a member of the Filipino-American Student Association at the University of Arizona, said his organization has been participating for years, selling its popular “lumpia,” a fried egg roll, and other staples.
“I’ve noticed that there isn’t really that much Filipino food around the community so we’re just using this is an opportunity for us to share our culture with those within in the community also.”
This year Meet Yourself will showcase Tucson’s recent designation as a city of gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the only one in the United States.
Organizers have set up a “City of Gastronomy Kitchen Stadium” that will feature demonstrations, recipe sharing, food sampling and lectures.
Alvarez said that while the event has grown each year and is pretty much at capacity, organizers don’t have plans to make it bigger.
“We are going a little bit deeper as opposed to just wider,” she said.