A warm welcome: How food brings comfort and connection


It’s a month into the semester and you are sowing the seeds of your future. You hope the projects you do, classes you take and papers you write will germinate into a completed degree and a future career. In most parts of the world, autumn is the harvest season. But in places like Arizona, where summertime temperatures are hot, September is also when a winter harvest is planted — much like your semester at ASU. What fruits do you want to grow and nurture by winter break? Now’s the time to set your intentions.

This coming year, the Graduate College will have food as an overarching theme associated with many of our events. Food includes access, sustainability, culture, resilience and even art. 

Food as a form of welcome

As you embrace the semester, think about how food is embedded in the culture of welcoming. You probably haven’t attended a kick-off event or social hour that didn’t have something to eat. And if you did attend one without food — were you disappointed? Most occasions like birthday parties, baby showers and holidays are centered around the cuisine. Bonding over a shared meal is typical if you want to get to know someone. All these examples are part of how people say, “Welcome into this space. You’re part of the group now.” 

If you’re feeling homesick and overwhelmed, food can be a way to find a familiar group or introduce your culture to a new one. Cooking something you love or trying out a local restaurant can help you feel centered as the semester progresses.

Nourishment for mental health

Sometimes, a particular dish can bring me back to a more mellow baseline and provide that dose of familiarity I need to get on with my day or focus on a complex project.

As you build your routines, consider how food plays a role in your life. Are you creating healthy habits? You would be surprised just how quickly fatigue, brain fog and irritability (to name a few) can creep up if you go, go, go without stopping to eat properly. By focusing on nutrition before and after the busiest parts of your day – you’ll notice a sense of balance and stability in your body and overall functioning.

I reach for sweet potatoes, yogurt and nuts to curb my hunger and maintain my energy. And chocolate is my go-to when I’m stressed.

Food also has a dark side. People sometimes turn to or away from food to distract themselves from stressful situations. Eating disorders are real and serious concerns. If you feel challenged this way or need support, connect with ASU Counseling Services

Food events this fall

Speaking of food and fun, I invite you to two events this fall: the Graduate College Distinguished Lecture on November 3 and A Celebration for Resilience on November 8.

The Graduate College Distinguished Lecture will be performed by the hilarious and highly decorated artist, comedian, actor and writer Kristina Wong, who is currently ASU Gammage's Artist in Residence. 

Acclaimed chef and food justice advocate Chef José Andrés will discuss the importance of promoting community resilience through food security at A Celebration for Resilience.

Chef Andrés’ work with World Central Kitchen has shown us how food can be used for positive change. We hope his message will inspire people to act in their communities and promote urban agriculture initiatives.

— By Vice Provost and Dean Elizabeth A. Wentz


Written by Dean Libby Wentz, edited by Marjani Hawkins