Roza Ferdowsmakan learned how to experience food when she was 13 years old. At a party hosted by her mother's professor, she was taken aside and given quiche for the first time.
"The professor's wife brings out all this food that she's cooked herself, and she sat down this one dish that I'd never had before and she said, 'This is quiche,'" Ferdowsmakan said. "She just stopped and sat down, and she cut a little piece of it, and she put it on a little plate for me. She stuck a fork in it and said, 'Close your eyes. I want you to experience quiche.'"
Today, Ferdowsmakan, an ASU alumna, is sharing her love of food by creating access to home-cooked meals for people through her food app, Bites. On Bites, students can offer their cooking services to other students or request a home-cooked meal.
Ferdowsmakan found a sense of belonging for the first time at ASU. She came to the U.S. from Iran as a child and grew up in Logan, Utah, a place that did not celebrate diversity or inclusiveness, Ferdowsmakan said.
When she came to ASU, she joined a club of international students. The club gave her a sense of belonging and she wants other people to experience that same feeling when using her app.
"Everyone was different, there were no two people from the same place, and because everyone was from somewhere else, it felt very normal to be from somewhere else," Ferdowsmakan said. "It made me feel normal and grounded for the first time in my life."
Before founding Bites, Ferdowsmakan was a technology attorney; she knows technology can be harmful and offensive. When creating her app, she wanted to inject her values of inclusiveness and belonging into Bites.
Ferdowsmakan designed the app as a way for users to reach out to one another and share meals. People should participate as their authentic selves while using technology just as they do in their communities, she said. Users cannot request or offer meals until they have completed their profiles.
"This is really meant to be tech for good, in the biggest sense possible," Ferdowsmakan said. "So we can share it among students, have them share, participate and create their profiles so that the other students can see them."
At ASU, Ferdowsmakan was a part of the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network Incubator, a business accelerator for entrepreneurs.
"Back in 2017, Bites was still in the early stages at that time, but I could see the vision she was putting together," said Surya Iyer, a member of Ferdowsmakan's cohort at RISN Incubator. "This is her life's mission, she grew up on a farm, and she's been trying to share this concept of healthy eating."
Richard Kerry, a chef at Tspoons Cooking School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. and a friend of Ferdowsmakan, moved to the U.S. from England and said he appreciated Bites more once he moved to California because of how different the food system is in the U.S.
"I remember when she was first telling me about it, and I was like, this sounds like a really good idea, but actually, it's only since I moved here that I can appreciate it," Kerry said. "The need for something that's going to drive people into healthier eating habits, and also, sustainability for farmers."
Ferdowsmakan wants cities like Phoenix to utilize small farms and community gardens to supply people with seasonal and healthy foods.
This semester, as part of her partnership with ASU, Ferdowsmakan is launching the nonprofit side of the app, a goal she has worked toward since its creation. ASU is the first University to test out this feature, Ferdowsmakan said.
The revenue Bites receives from students using the app will then go to the University to fund a free food garden for students.
Ferdowsmakan started the nonprofit side of the app on college campuses because she is aware of the pressure students feel to fix the problems they inherited from past generations, she said.
"They're the generation that has the most stress on their shoulders, so if you can help alleviate the most stressed-out generation, you're taking the pressure valves, and releasing that for them first," Ferdowsmakan said.
Bites has been featured by Food Tank as a potential solution to help solve food system problems in the U.S., like access to healthy foods and sustainable farming.
At ASU, she hopes students will use Bites to learn new skills, become active members of their community and help lead the food movement.
"In my eyes they are like pioneers, like they're leaders, leading the food movement in the U.S. from a university," Ferdowsmakan said.
Edited by Kaden Ryback, Piper Hansen and Kristen Apolline Castillo.