Student Blogger Study USA

The Importance of Sharing Meals

Bowl of Pho with colorful leafy greens and red ingredients

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Dustyn Montgomery is HECUA’s student blogger for the Environmental Sustainability: Ecology, Policy, and Social Transformation program this fall. Dustyn is a student from The University of St. Thomas majoring in Justice and Peace Studies. Read on for his next post!

At HECUA we share many things. From classroom lectures to field visits, personal stories and experiences. Most importantly, we share meals. For me, personally, this is something that I find myself seeking out when building community. Not only do I want to learn together, share together, and grow together, but I simply want to take a step back, relax, and share a meal together. In our day-to-day lives, amid all the busyness we find ourselves surrounded by, I often see myself and many others forgetting to take time to sit down and share a meal. Food is often overlooked and not seen as a way to build community. But in my experience, I have found myself in community with others most while sharing a meal.

Sharing meals is a time for reflection and a way to deepen our learning through conversation and storytelling. In my time with HECUA, we emphasize the importance of this by always leaving space within our time together to sit and eat among one another. This allows us not only to take a break from the learning, but to reflect deeper and begin to have meaningful conversations with each other. In doing this we move past surface level thought and generate ideas and solutions as a learning community. In most of my time as an undergraduate, there is no time made within class for sharing meals, or even having discussions around the importance of food in our learning. Much of my experience in college thus far has felt very surface level. I feel as though I have never been given the space to connect with my peers in the way that HECUA has allowed me to.

Much of our learning in the Environmental Sustainability program focuses on permaculture design on land and in communities. In permaculture design, land is broken into zones. These zones are a way of intelligently organizing different design elements on the basis of the frequency of human use and plant or animal needs. There are five zones that are referenced in permaculture design, starting at zone one, which is the home, moving outward to zone five, which is often the part of land that is least tended to. Ultimately, the health of all zones lie codependent upon one another, especially the first few. Many permaculture practitioners, as well as literature about zoning in permaculture, focus heavily on zone one being the focal starting point. Zone one usually references the area closest to your house, but zone one also extends along frequently-travelled paths. What I have learned through the Environmental Sustainability program with HECUA is that all of the zones within permaculture design rely most heavily on zone zero, which is our inner selves and our own bodies and the way in which we interact with all outer zones. One of the best ways to serve zone zero is through being intentional about how we nourish and regenerate zone zero. One of the best ways to do this is through sharing meals, having intentional conversations, and building community among one another. By eating together, we not only serve ourselves, but we serve all of those around us.

From sharing snacks in class to shopping at Seward Community Co-op in Minneapolis, and preparing and sharing meals together on Lily Springs Farm, meal time is one of the most important parts of the HECUA Environmental Sustainability program. I see permaculture design as a practice not only usable on land, but also in education. When we focus our energies around the regeneration and preservation of zone zero, we allow ourselves to positively influence all other aspects of our learning. In my previous experiences, college has been nothing more than rushing from one class to the next with little time for interaction with my peers in between. But at HECUA, education is different. HECUA focuses on the holistic educational experience, an emphasis on all aspects of growth from the food we put in our bodies, to the way learn in community with one another. Meal time is the time in which we come together to not only nourish ourselves, but nourish each other through food, conversation, and community.

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