During the week of Thanksgiving, we will share the reflections of students in Dr. Lisa Ottum’s rhetoric class.  This fall, they focused on what it means to eat well, including a number of interesting field experiences that challenged many students to consider issues of food justice.

If I were to stop a person on the street and ask them what they believed the purpose of food is, it would be a safe to say that most people would respond with something along of the lines of it providing nutrients and energy for our bodies to function. Yes, when looking at food from a scientific perspective that is exactly what food does, but what about the social aspect of food? My mind thinks back to my family dinners, pasta parties before a big track meet, or just simply sharing a bag of chips with my friends while hanging out. How many times do we unite with others over food? More often than we pay attention to, I would argue. I was able to experience this communal aspect of food first hand during fieldwork for my Rhetoric class at the Nexus garden here on Xavier’s campus.

Before this class, in which the theme focuses on what it means to eat well, I knew that there was a garden located on campus, but was unaware of what it was all about. I believed that is was just a club who grew produce in a garden simply for their personal enjoyment, but after talking with students and faculty who are involved in the garden I soon learned it was so much more. In discovering that the garden’s name NEXUS is an abbreviation for Norwood-Evanston-Xavier Urban Sustainability showed to me one of the main purposes of this garden, bringing people together on a common ground.

One of the male students who regularly works in the garden explained to my class that this garden is helping to form a crucial relationship between the Xavier community and the surrounding neighborhoods of Evanston and Norwood. With such a drastic difference in the lifestyles of these two communities, often it is hard to form a connection, but food provides a common ground to start that conversation. While our class got our hands in the dirt harvesting things like spinach, arugula, potatoes, tomatoes, cilantro and other leafy greens from the public plots in which anyone can harvest and eat the food grown in them he told us of the men, women, and families that rent plots of land to grow food at the garden. In listening to him talking, telling stories and referring to them by their first name as if they were old friends showed to me that something as simple as this garden is able form relationships and establish a community.

We then took our freshly harvested and cleaned produce over to the local food pantry at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church and I admit I snacked on a few sun-warmed cherry tomatoes along the way (they were just too good to resist!) To my surprise the food pantry was only a block from Xavier’s campus, it was there that I learned that the NEXUS garden donates their harvested goods on a regular basis during the main growing and harvesting seasons. I amazed and humbled think of Xavier students putting in hard work to grow and harvest  fresh produce and then donate it to those  in need. So again, relationships and community were being formed through the simple necessity of food.

I always find it so warming when hearing of Xavier students and programs investing their time and resources to help those in the neighborhoods surrounding campus. I feel like sometimes there is a focus on traveling to new and different countries to help those in need, but there are people who need our help just as much in the communities surrounding Xavier’s campus, these people who are our neighbors. To me it reinforces Christ’s teachings on helping and loving your neighbor.

Not only did I learn a lot about the NEXUS garden itself, but I learned about the surrounding communities of Xavier and the effort being put forth to build a community on common ground with them. I also learned an aspect of what it means to eat well. A part of it is sharing food with others to form fulfilling relationships and what better is there to form a relationship than over food, something that every person needs to survive.

Annie Erhart is a sophomore occupational therapy major at Xavier. She is from Dayton, Ohio and loves her family, friends and the Reese’s Puff cereal in the cafeteria.