Welcome to Kentucky’s Kitchen Table

Kentucky’s Kitchen Table is a project of Citizen and Self, a class in the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University. Students gather together friends, family, and neighbors to have conversations around the kitchen table about what matters to them and what it means to be part of a community. Here you can see some pictures from the shared dinners, and read about what people learn when they gather together for conversation about who we are and who we want to be.

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Kentucky Kitchen Table


By Cole Constant

Late in the evening on the 12th of November, my mother, sister and I all gathered around the kitchen table of our home in Elizabethtown for a meal of sloppy Joes and steak fries (I had warned mom beforehand that there might be a lot of gesticulating over the course of the night). After some questions, I gave them a general overview of what they might expect or look to achieve over the course of the meal. I explained the central ideas behind the class and some things we discussed in there, as well as how that might relate to what we’d talk about.

My younger (16) sister, Lily, felt that citizenship was primarily about being guaranteed certain rights, while my mother (45) felt that American citizenship was unique in the amount of freedoms afforded to everyone, relative to many other less privileged/developed countries. She also noted a sense of comradery or “family” that comes with being what she believes is a “truly active” citizen. My sister cites a similar feeling, but having more to do with social media and increasing interconnectedness with her peers. She lists this as one of the best things about our world today; feeling that social media has caused much advancement in the areas of knowledge accessibility and general public awareness. My mother agreed that the advances in technology over the last twenty years have been amazing.

When asked about future living preferences, my mother and sister both demonstrated that, despite their aforementioned ideals about community, they would prefer to keep mostly to themselves.  My mom felt that, within your community, the best way to contribute is to have everyone work their hardest on improving their own situation; which would collectively mean a more “put-together” neighborhood. My sister felt that it was no-ones’ responsibility to help anyone else, and that everyone should just try their hardest to help themselves. My mother said that the older she got, the less hope she had in humanity and the more she would like simply to be “left the f*ck alone”. They immediately demonstrated their hypocrisy in this by revealing that their favorite thing about where they currently live is the sense of security they have, due to diligent and kind neighbors.

As an educator, my mother felt very strongly that her job did relate to her role as a citizen. She finds much pride in preparing the minds of the youth, and is very content with her ability to “push the envelope” as far as content, especially within a rural/conservative community. She also wanted me to note specifically that she feels cheated, as a government worker and citizen, by a new piece of legislation which completely changes how retirement works for educators. Apparently, government borrowing has totally expended the money from a system she has been paying into her entire life. And what can she do? My mother feels her voice is not heard. I remember voicing similar concerns about my own future to the class.

Neither my mom nor my sister considered themselves spiritual or religious, instead looking to their own set of values when making decisions or interacting with other people. My mom wouldn’t feel more obligated to help someone from her community over anyone else, but reasons that, due to the proximity, she would be more able/likely to. This is in line with her previous feelings of non-obligation to any particular group of people.

When asked about the kind of person she would like to be, Lily indicated that this question was the source of much stress in her life. She knows she would like to be a “good” person, but is unsure what exactly that entails beyond not being a “bad” person. She is comforted, however slightly, when mom tells her that she has changed who she is in life, before. To politicians seeking office, my mother advises they keep an open mind. I tell her that this is more or less the mantra of the class, explaining how refreshing it is to be surrounded by people who all do have an open mind. My sister lists transparency and honesty as very important qualities.

I admittedly was not expecting the response my sister provided concerning conversations she had with people of vastly different backgrounds. She recalled dinners she’d had at the home of her ex-boyfriend, who was part of a very conservative family. My sister was appalled at the normalcy with which they regularly talked down on people of other races and religions. She even went as far as describing them as brainwashed to a “scary” degree. She likewise feels that inclusivity and acknowledgement for underrepresented or oppressed groups is the most pressing social issue. My mother listed the tumultuous state of the government as the social issue closest to her heart, and between the two I’m sure you can see the similarities between my family and myself. I rarely missed an opportunity in class to blame a wicked problem or social issue on the intolerant, broken government.

By the end of the meal, my sister felt emotionally drained, but Mom was very relieved to learn the demographic of WKU (and this class specifically) was liberal-leaning. She has a lot of hope that our generation can rectify the mess that has been left for us to inherit. I must hope she is correct, and that Honors 251 class hasn’t artificially inflated my confidence in my generation’s ability to be kind, intelligent people.

Brian’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Brian

On November 23, 2017, a Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in Louisville, Kentucky on Thanksgiving Day. The participants involved included my mother Mary, a 1st grade teacher who enjoys time with her family, Alexa, the just-graduated-college girlfriend of my cousin, Jeanne, a fun, loving aunt, Katie, a smart and determined woman a couple years out of college who is my cousin, Emma, a silly cousin adopted from China who is still in high school, Elizabeth, another cousin a couple years out of college who loves traveling the world, Rhonda, an aunt who enjoys the company of others, Donna, the mother of Alexa’s boyfriend, and myself. Together we stood around the table and ate various snacks and veggie trays before making ravioli to be eaten on Christmas Day, a family tradition. While most of their husbands either made the ravioli filling or cooked chicken outside, we all flattened out the dough and filled it with its filling before cutting it into bite size pieces and storing them in containers. I chose this group of people to discuss citizenship with because it contained a diverse group of young, middle aged, and older women who have all taken different routes in their lives and never fail to impress me with their own unique wisdom. I approached the table to help make the ravioli and it was then when the Kentucky Kitchen Table really began. I started off with a simple question with not so simple answers. “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Answers included themes such as holding those in your community accountable, being a part of a larger group, thinking about others in a selfless way, and creating the best possible environment for everyone to live in together. Mary, being a teacher in a public school for years, understands the importance of making others feel welcome in our community. She’s taught kids from multiple countries, who speak different languages, and believe in various religions. No matter where they were from though, she always considered it her duty not only as a teacher, but as a citizen, to welcome them in and make them feel just like everyone else. Emma, being from another country, personally knows what it’s like to be welcomed, despite not being born here. Donna herself has brought in her son’s friend from high school to live with them for years due to his own family life at home being unfriendly. She felt like it was her duty to take care of those who need help. Not only take care of him, but hold him accountable when he got in trouble or struggled in college. Citizenship is not only about making others feel welcome, but making sure they are doing their own part to be a successful citizen. A community like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link.

The next question was what kind of community do you want to live in? Rhonda felt like a community you can feel safe in and be able to enjoy being a part of without any doubts was the best kind. Alexa wanted a community filled with friends and loved ones where you always have a place to go. Katie liked the idea of a place where everyone is accepted and not judged based on their appearance or beliefs. The overall theme of the answers to this question were the ideas of love, acceptance, and safety. The idea was your home should not just be the building you live in, but the community you are apart of. Luckily, everyone present felt like for the most part, they did live in communities described. No one was afraid of where they lived, and no one felt they were alone. Although not everyone can be as fortunate, I’m very grateful that my family seem to all live in healthy and successful communities.

I then got more personal and asked what kind of person do you want to be? Elizabeth just wanted to be someone who can make others laugh and feel good about themselves. She wants to leave others with a sense of warmth within. Jeanne said she wants to be a person who is loving and forgiving. She wants to leave her impact on the world as someone who just radiates with love. She feels like she’s tried to do this so far in her life and will continue to try to be this way going forward. Emma gleefully said she wants to be someone who is always happy and never hurts others’ feelings. Not one person said they wanted to be a rich and successful or something more self-focused such as that. Everyone talked about how they wanted to impact others or how they want to be a beacon of joy. This personally gave me a sense of joy and almost a pride to be apart of the family that I am.

The next question asked was what kind of advice would you give to people running for office in our country? I knew various members of the Kentucky Kitchen Table has different political interests, so I was interested to see what kind of answers were going to be said. Mary just hoped that whoever is in charge of our country governs with compassion and love. She wants our leaders to be thoughtful and caring even when tough decisions have to be made. Donna claimed she believes that the leader of a country should listen to the people and make clear decisions with honest intent. Those leaders should be open with the people about what they are doing and stay true to what they initially said they stand for. Emma admitted while she does not know a lot about politics, she still hopes that our president is kind and caring. She doesn’t want a malicious person leading our country who acts without remorse. Alexa wants those in charge to be thoughtful and accepting but also decisive. She prefers our leaders to act together and be confident in their decisions: not indecisive and arguing among themselves all the time. A successful government is one that is unified from the inside.

The last question asked was is there anything you can think to do that might make things better for you or your neighbors where you live? Jeanne believed trying to get more youth properly educated would result in healthier communities across the country and we should try to get more people aware of what a healthy community looks like. Emma said that you could get together a neighborhood event filled with bouncy houses and fun games in hopes that it draws people out of their homes so that relationships are built, and you get to know those living next to you. Elizabeth says just stopping to say hi or introduce yourself to neighbors you see while outside or on a walk will promote a more loving and unified community. All of the responses to this question dealt with people and making their lives and relationships better. It was not about building new facilities or anything physical but rather getting people together and fully aware of a caring community where all are welcome.

Once the conversation was over I could really see why we were required to be apart of a Kentucky Kitchen Table for our class. It reminded me of “Practicing Democracy,” in Smart Communities by Suzanne Morse. In the reading, communities such as those in Jacksonville or Oregon formed councils and groups that helped inform citizens of certain issues and helped decide how the local government should act. It was ordinary citizens who banded together and discusses local issues. Although this was a much smaller scale, it was similar in the sense that regular people sat down and talked about citizenship and real-life problems. Because of it, everyone involved had a better understanding of each other and the issues brought up. Questions that Honors 251 is centralized around like “How do we live well together?” and “How do solve problems?” were addressed and this project really did feel like the class was being applied to the real world.

The general themes I noticed from my Kentucky Kitchen Table was that of love, compassion, and human interactions. Each answer throughout felt very similar in the since that they shared a theme that everyone seemed to agree on for the most part. It was interesting to see how the same couple ideas could be present no matter how different the questions were. Never before have I had these kinds of conversations with my family and I am very glad I got the chance. It gave me a new understanding how these family members think, and I became proud of their ideals and beliefs. It makes me glad to be part of the family while also helping me understand a new meaning to citizenship. Now I have a new appreciation for these family members and it might not be the last time we sit down and have a down to earth conversation.KKT

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Kelsin

The meal took place in my hometown, Shepherdsville, Kentucky, which is located about 20 minutes south of Louisville. Right on the outskirts of the biggest city in Kentucky, the similarities mostly end after proximity is accounted for. Louisville is a hub of racial, ethnical, political, and ideological diversity, while Shepherdsville is not. To put everything in perspective, it made headlines in our local paper when my old high school hired its first non-white faculty member during my sophomore year. Even when my brother and sister went to school there less than 10 years ago, you could count the number of non-white students on one hand, even though our school had over 1,200 students. However, progress has been made. My dad was a band teacher at our local middle school up for 30 years until he retired two years ago. When he first started working there, his students would bring in pictures of their dads in KKK uniforms and hand him pamphlets inviting him to join. Now, the most offensive behavior I have witnessed was a parade of 20 or so trucks sporting confederate flags parked in front of our school and driving around Shepherdsville for a week or so and the occasional racist comment. I hate that I reference these actions in such a dismissive way when others are deeply offended by these actions, but I like to think that they stem from ignorance, not true hatred. It’s difficult discussing these matters and hard to find the balance between optimism of the improvements that have been made and the reality that every act of racism is horrible. I say all of this to give the setting for this dinner, and describe what me, my brother, and sister grew up around.

For this dinner, my brother, Ben insisted on cooking everything for the simple reason that he loves to cook. While he usually likes to try making some fancy new dish, he decided to be more reserved and make something he expected everyone would like- Mexican. At the dinner was my mother Angie, my father Kirby, my aunt Lois, my uncle Bob, my sister Lauren, my brother Ben, a friend of my brother named Tess, and me, Kelsin. Angie and Kirby are both devout Christians who aren’t very political, but happen to identify as Republicans for social reasons. While they both are ideologically on the same page today, they grew up with different backgrounds. Kirby grew up in a part of Louisville called the Highlands in a liberal, Catholic household along with 6 other kids. He ended up going to EKU where he met Angie and then became a middle school band teacher, which he just retired from. Angie grew up in Eastern Kentucky living a seemingly simpler life with what could be called religiously extreme parents that didn’t allow the celebration of any holidays or for her to cut her hair. She grew up to become a computer programmer and then substitute teacher after having kids. Lois grew up with the exact same background since they are sisters only separated by a year of age, however she has diverged even further from her parent’s beliefs than my mother has. She now attends what she calls a progressive church and leans further left than Angie. She became a preschool teacher and also just retired from that. Her husband, Bob, grew up in Hopkinsville, considers himself to be a libertarian, an atheist, and works in management at Humana. Lauren is recently married, works as a high school German teacher in Hardin county even though she lives in Louisville. She is very conservative and identifies as republican. Ben on the other hand is harder to define. He had always identified as republican, however after the past election he said he was going to switch to democrat, however, I am unsure if he ever did. He works at a public relations company in Louisville, but would rather be off writing short stories. I never got to meat Tess until he brought her to this dinner but she is also from Louisville, attended U of L for an art degree, currently works at Heine brothers, makes leather bound books on the side, and is a vocal feminist. This dinner was filled with diversity in background, age, and ideology which led to a very good discussion.

After a few months of eating fast food almost daily, I really appreciated being home, having a home cooked meal, and getting to talk with people from my hometown. When starting our conversation, I tried really hard to start the conversation off well and set the tone because I didn’t want to make these people feel like it was some sort of interview. To do this I described to them the purpose of the class by going through our three central questions and talking about the bridge that takes us from where we are to where we want to be. I also mentioned some of our readings that emphasized the importance of deliberation and talking through issues so that they could better understand the purpose of the class and assignment.

When inviting people to come eat dinner and help me with a class project it always came out that I was going to ask what citizenship meant to them, so everyone was very prepared for this which meant I got a lot of answers. Angie was quick to point out that citizenship unfortunately does not have as significant of a meaning as it should because there are so many people taking advantage of our country and getting the perks of citizenship without taking on any responsibility or costs that come along with it. While many didn’t agree with the severity of this issue they agreed with the structure of there being benefits and costs, but some saw costs more in the light of what a person is able to give back. Bob felt like a civilly productive member of society since he had just finished serving jury duty the week before, but felt that he gave even more than that back. He really embraced the idea that you get just as much out of citizenship as you put in because his citizenship allows him to benefit by having the security clearance he does which then allows him to help every US citizen by assisting the military in their effort to defend us. Lois however, felt that service was the key to citizenship: doing as much good for others as you can. Ben, who has traveled across four different continents, attended GSA and GSP, and loves to debate, questioned her on this though. If you measure how good of a citizen you are by your service, how do you know if your service is good. Ben graduated with a double major in Chemistry and Spanish and seriously considered joining the Peace Corps until he questioned if his motives were to make himself feel good about himself or if it was truly to help others and if this was even actually helping these people. An all too giddy me jumped at the opportunity to share how perfectly this aligned with a whole week of our readings in class. This is almost the exact same message that Illich presents in, “To Hell With Good Intentions,” when he talks about the dangers of jumping in to help solve a problem without fully considering the potential consequences and repercussions that could come about from these actions.

ess then combatted this by arguing that following this train of thought is what is making our government so stagnant and doesn’t allow it to actually solve problems and what makes our democracy ineffective. Bob jumped on the bandwagon to bash our democracy’s ineffectiveness but justified it by having two sides that just don’t listen to the other. He said that people inherit their belief systems from their parents and will do anything in their power to justify what they think is true. This just proves what we learned in class as the importance of critical thinking as well as deliberation, however, it also relates very closely to the reading, “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail.” In this reading the author talked about how people are guided mostly by their emotions, but mostly use their logical side to try and justify their intuitions. This has the ability to lead to a political disconnect like Bob was saying because it proves the difficulty for most people to be persuaded through facts and logic which then makes having political conversations more difficult to have and then polarizes our country. Ben then disagreed with the thought that democracy wasn’t working and thought that having two sides is good. He said that having the ability to express your own opinion is exactly what makes our nation great. What he would find alarming is if everyone felt the same way about something and the implications it would imply.

This last comment is what stuck with me most from the entire discussion because whenever I think about disputes and disagreements I automatically correlate this discomfort with a lack of progress. I never really considered the importance of divergent thinking which a reading said was the key first step in starting to solve a problem. This entire dinner gave me a unique opportunity to see people with vastly different opinions and backgrounds come together and discuss very big ideas civilly and come to agreements. In this assignment I learned everyone has a unique perspective and that I want to hear it.

A Night of Reflection

By Ashley

My dinner went a little differently than a typical Kentucky Kitchen Table due to some difficulties in making plans and plans being cancelled so I used my families Thanksgiving dinner for my conversation. Because my mom’s side of the family is so large, we aren’t able to all fit around one table so throughout our Thanksgiving meal I table hopped to ask everyone for their thoughts on some of the discussion questions. The meal took place at my house in the fairly small town of Crestwood, KY which is about 20 minutes from downtown Louisville, however, those in attendance were not all from our town. Kent, my mom’s brother, and Pru, Kent’s wife, are also from Crestwood but they live in a more remote, quiet part of town than we do. Kent was raised in Louisville and is now a pipe fitter and a preacher at his and Pru’s small church. Pru was a rock and roll disk jockey for nearly 30 years till she retired. She now works in the Papa John’s international headquarters located in Louisville in marketing. They are married with one son named Kenny who was also at the dinner. Kenny is currently living in Florence, KY near Cincinnati working as a photographer at a studio. Laura, my mom’s sister, is from Richmond, KY along with her two children Sue and Jay, and Sue’s husband Anthony and their kids Molly and Brock who were also all in attendance. Laura is now retired and spends most her time with her grandkids. Sue is an elementary school teacher, Anthony is a police officer and apart of the armed forces, and Jay is an auto mechanic. My mom’s sister Lisa was also there. She lives in Louisville and works with an insurance company. She shares a house with my Grandma Jean, who was also at dinner, to help her in her old age. My grandma never had a job since her and my grandpa, who has passed away, had 5 children which was a lot to take care of. My mom, dad, and sister were also there. My mom Stacy is flight attendant for Delta and has been flying with them for over 30 years. My dad John works with Humana in their offices in downtown Louisville in the IT department. My parents have been happily married for 29 years now. My sister Rachel is four years older than I am and is going to school at the University of Louisville for English.

To start the conversation with everyone I got around to talking with, I would ask the required question; “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following the laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Almost everyone had the same initial response that was something along the lines of ‘Wow that’s a though question!’ However, after a little goading, I would get an answer out of them and most enjoyed talking about it. I talked to Kent, Kenny, and John all together and Kent and John were thinking similarly in that citizenship meant being apart of a community and helping your neighbors. In addition, they brought up the other benefits we have such as our many freedoms and our ability to run for office, which was a sentiment also shared by Pru. Kenny agreed with those things, but pulled from different life experiences as he is about 30 years younger. To Kenny it meant that so long as he was paying his taxes and following the laws, he had as much value as a person and the ability to use his life however he so wanted to. I found these responses very interesting because of the generational difference and their different life experiences. Neither Kent or John had the perfect life, but they both grew up as your typical boy. They enjoyed playing and watching sports and had good friendships in high school and college. Kenny on the other hand, has been through some tough times. In high school he started having homosexual feelings and he didn’t know what do because he wasn’t sure how his parents would respond as his dad was a preacher. One thing led to another and instead of telling his parents this, he turned to drugs and alcohol and by college, was doing these things quite regularly. He finally got the help he needed and over the last several years has been figuring out who he is as a person, but these experiences have made him grateful for the freedoms he has because he said in other countries he may have been persecuted for living this lifestyle. Instead he’s be able to take his time figuring out who he is and what he wants to do which is what he felt like citizenship meant to him. Sue and Anthony said that to them, citizenship was about being a part of something bigger themselves and being able to come together in times of need, which they really understand because of Anthony’s time in the service. Rachel felt that citizenship was apart of our identity. It is something that has been apart of shaping many different parts of us from obvious ways such as our language and the way we dress to how we view the world and our morals and values. Pru also talked about citizenship shaping how we view the world some. She told us about how working in the international headquarters she was led to many people from other countries, as well as when she was a disk jockey she would work with many artists who were not from America. In these interactions, she learned that so many of them view our citizenship in much higher regard than we do and that they would even know the privileges we have better than we do. This made her realize how many things we take for granted because we live in this generally calm, peaceful place where we don’t feel like we have to worry about these privileges being taken from us because we have citizenship.

From there, I would normally look at the list of questions and ask them one or two more depending on where our conversation about the first question had gone. For example, with John and Kent since we had been talking about benefits of being a citizen, I asked what they thought the best thing about the world was right now which they answered with things such as the availability of information, medicine, and healthcare. It was interesting though because they struggled with answering this question and kept going back to negative things and I would have to remind them I asked about the best things in the world not the worst. It struck me that so often this is how society works and it rubs off on us personally. The news and other media outlets always focus on the bad things in the world, senators write legislation to try and keep making things better, technology companies keep coming out with new and improved products, people always try to make more and more money because what we feel like what we have is never enough. The more society does this, the more I see people in my life changing to this negative outlook on everything, myself included. This is one downfall of citizenship. We are so interconnected that we sometimes struggle to be our own person and not simply become the person society has deemed as ideal. This interconnection can also be a great thing though. When I asked Sue and Anthony what type of community they want to live in, they said a smaller one where the saying “it takes a village to raise a kid,” was reality. One where they would feel safe sending their kids outside to play and where people are helpful. This got me to thinking about my childhood and how many people I have been impacted by, and all the little parts of people that I have adopted as a part of me that have shaped me to be the person I am today. Even now, I realized, I am still growing and changing and being affected by the people who now fill my life.

Overall, this experience was really awesome, and I got to do a lot of reflecting on my own life and learn more about my family and talk to them in way I haven’t before. The central idea of our class I can best relate my personal Kentucky Kitchen Table to is how we can have more say over our lives. I feel like for everyone that I talked to, the questions I asked required a lot of reflection which is a great way to have more say over your life. When you are able to recognize the good things in your life, you can become more grateful and a more joyful person and have a more positive outlook on life. When you are able to recognize the bag things in your life, you can start working on either fixing those bad things or removing them from your life. One reading this related to is the article by Jennifer Roberts, “The Power of Patience: Teaching Students the Value of Deceleration and Immersive Attention.” Reflection requires a lot of patience. It is not always the most fun thing to sit there and look back at our lives when we feel like there are so many things we need to be doing or could be doing to keep moving forward. However, we have to keep in mind that history contains many great lessons that we can learn from to move forward. So as Roberts discussed, by taking time to sit and observe something for a long period of time, the more you will learn and see in that thing. Even during my Kentucky Kitchen Table, the longer I would talk to someone and pry answers out of them, the deeper and more reflective they were able to get.


A Kentucky Kitchen Table to Be Thankful For

By: Natalie

The Kentucky Kitchen Table was conducted in St. Louis, Missouri at my family’s Thanksgiving party. Since the Table took place over the holidays, the participants were family. Seven people, including myself, were generous enough to eat their turkey while talking about their views of the world, themselves as citizens, and the social issues that we as Americans and global citizens face. Those at the table were my great aunt, my sister, two of my aunts, my mom, and my second cousin. My great aunt, Crazy Aunt Joyce, is 64, unmarried with no children, and works for American Optometric Association, and, as her name entails, she is the life of the party. My sister, Emilie, is 21, a student at Missouri State University, a Global Studies major with a minor in Spanish and Geo-tourism, and an avid world traveler. My Aunt Teri just turned 50, married into our family, mother of three boys who are all in college, works as a kindergarten teacher, and is a phenomenal baker. My Aunt Kristi is in her late forties, married into the family, is mother to a daughter and son both in college, works as an administrator in a daycare, and loves to visit her lake house. My mom, Ann-Marie, is in her late forties, is mother to two girls who are both in college, has been a stay-at-home mom since her kids were born, and loves to craft and camp. My second cousin, Emily, is an 8-year-old who loves to dance, but happily ate her turkey and listened to the conversation.

During the Kentucky Kitchen Table, we discussed several different questions and how they related to our lives. First, I asked, beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? Responses included carrying on traditions, having the freedom of speech, defending freedom, protecting those who don’t have freedom. Emilie said, “being a citizen is being apart of the community of Americans as a whole”. She went on to talk about all of the communities you are involved in, like your school, church, work, and neighborhood. Emilie described that even though we are connected and involved in the same or similar communities, we are all completely different at the same time. Our different religions, ethnicities, educational background, upbringings, and others make us all unique, but builds on to our communities as a whole. After this was said, the group related their experiences to being a citizen. Kristi spoke about how women have more rights and freedoms in America than most other countries. As a woman and as a society we should work towards granting those rights towards all women across the globe.

When I asked the group what social issue was closest to their heart, and why, their answers related closely to their professions or to their political beliefs. Kristi, a former preschool teacher and current preschool administrator said that early education for children was important to her. As a country we do well as educating our children at a young age, but she says that we could do better. Kristi advocates for getting kids into social setting and beginning their education at a young age. Ann-Marie spoke about due process and why it is vital to the country. This fundamental right protects our government from locking up anyone for any reason. Through this building block of our country, you can’t do what you want, but other people can’t do what they want to you.

Furthermore, the question revolving how their spiritual identity relates to how they view and treat other people sparked a good conversation. Joyce, Emilie, Teri, and Ann-Marie were all born into and continue to practice Catholicism. Kristi is, a not practicing, Christian, but has similar fundamentals as those at the table. The table agreed that their faith does relate to the how they view other people. Joyce brought up the how she was taught the Catholic Golden Rule to treat one another as you would want to be treated. She says this has taught her to be understanding, compassionate, forgiving, and loving towards other people. Ann-Marie brought up that the Constitution and Bill of Rights fundamentally relates to the Ten Commandments in terms of right and wrong. Teri thought that she has learned and taught to be accepting of others because we she was taught that only God is perfect. We are mere humans who cannot judge the faults and the actions of imperfect people. Although, she emphasized that this does not give people a “free pass” to act how they please. It simply explains why people make mistakes. Also, Emilie says that the values she has learned through her faith, such as compassion and empathy, has driven her to volunteer for her community throughout her life. She says that she has been blessed with so much in her life and that she has also been taught to give back to other through material needs and since she is an able-bodied individual. Therefore, their faith has shaped how they see other around them.
Additionally, I asked if anyone ever had a conversation with someone from a different background than them. The immediate response of everyone at the table was, “of course”. Ann-Marie and Emilie have meet people of different backgrounds while traveling and living abroad. Emilie said that during one of her many trips abroad she lived with a host family for a semester. She not only spoke to the family about their culture, daily life, and heritage, but she was able to experience it first-hand. Teri and Kristi meet individuals of different backgrounds through their respective jobs. Ann-Marie spoke of how her family serves at the soup once a month for the past three years. There she has meet people of different background than herself. People without loving parents, people who were unsure of where their next meal came from, and various other people. After detailing her various encounters, she said that the people weren’t that fundamentally different than herself. She has bonded over “knock knock” jokes, soccer, and Christmas presents; things many people can relate to.

Through this Kentucky Kitchen Table I learned about that the older members had different upbringings and community relations than I do. For example, family dinners were mandatory each night for my great aunt and almost always took place at my aunts’ and mom’s homes. When I was living at home my family made it a priority to have family dinners. However, with each of our busy schedules, including practices, meetings, and my dad’s traveling for work, our family dinners would happen about 4 times per week. Also, growing up they knew their neighbors very well. Ann-Marie would play with the neighborhood kids all the time when she was younger. She and her brothers would meet up with the other kids to play every sport imaginable in the summer and build long snow forts in the winter. As adults, Kristi and Teri, know their neighbors very well. They have been friends with many of them since they first moved into the neighborhood. Everyone agreed that the only neighbors they didn’t know were the ones that didn’t come out of their house very often. This shows a difference within the structures of our families. Therefore, there seemed to be a change within the participants families. Even though they grew up with structured family meals, as matriarchs, they encouraged, but did not require their families to have meals together every night. While the change isn’t necessarily negative, the priorities of the family changed from one generation to another.

Lastly, the aforementioned conversations greatly relate to the themes of this class, readings, and deliberations. First, the conversation reflecting on what it means to be a citizen relates to the central course question, how do we live well together? Those at the table spoke about how as citizens we must defend our rights and our freedoms. Not only do we have to defend our own rights, but those of others. We can live better, together, if everyone is treated equally and granted to the same basic freedoms. As discussed, each person is not just a citizen within their own community, but they are a global citizen. They have similar responsibilities as a citizen of the world as they do a citizen of their community or nation. For this reason, Kristi spoke about defending the rights of women in other countries and creating a greater equality within our own country. Additionally, our discussion about viewing the world according to our faith relates to Jonathan Haidt’s chapter, “The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail” in The Righteous Mind. Haidt writes about each person’s rider and elephant. The elephant, the dominant side, represents emotion and the rider represents the logical thinking. Sometimes, when individuals make decisions based on their faith they let the elephant make the initial decision and rider justifies it. Logistically, a person cannot be forced to treat others with respect and dignity. However, our elephant tells us to accept the teachings of a religion because it is the right thing to do. Our rider justifies this choice by saying we want to be treated with these qualities, and we can’t expect it from others unless we practice the same things. Therefore, the conversations with those at the Kentucky Kitchen Table validate the themes of this course through the opinions and discussion of others.IMG_6468

Kentucky Kitchen Table: Change is a Good Thing

KKTBy Sara

The sound of laughter and chatter filled the warm air outside as guests began to arrive. Attention was focused around my two-year-old niece as she implored the guests to play ball with her while they were waiting. I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table at my home in Barren County, Kentucky. Barren County, which neighbors Warren County, is a rural area consisting mainly of farmland. As of 2015, only 43,570 people called Barren County home. Those guests who have decided to wait outside in the warm October air admire the rolling hills and roaming cattle surrounding the home. They chatted and caught up and for some, spoke to one another for the very first time. Inside the house, the smells of pot roast, fresh bread, vegetables, and warm cake mingled in the air. The table was set for ten, with filled glasses of sweet tea and lemonade already claiming spots for each guest. I went outside and announced that the meal was ready, and my guests began to make their way inside.

Bobby Joe, a seventy-year-old farmer from Green County, Kentucky and his wife, Donna, a fifty-four-year-old factory worker from Somerset, both smile as they talk with everyone else at the table. Bobby Joe grew up incredibly poor in a small community in Hart County, Kentucky and received no more than an eighth-grade education. He married young and had three children with his first wife, making an honest and hard-earned living as a farmer growing tobacco, raising cattle, chickens, mules, and mares, and repairing farm machinery for others in the community. His first wife, Glenda, worked in the local hospital, Jane Todd, for practically her entire life until she passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Bobby Joe remarried years later, marrying Donna, who worked in the same hospital and was friends with Glenda. Donna was a single mother who raised her son while working to provide for them. These two individuals have very different backgrounds that offer two unique perspectives at our table.

Eva Mae, Bobby Joe’s sister and a recently widowed eighty-one-year-old, lives in Hart County, Kentucky with three of her grandkids. She has dealt with her children’s drug usage and many medical hardships that both she and her husband endured in their thirty-six years of marriage.

Drew, a thirty-four-year-old recovered, (but always recovering, he emphasized), alcoholic and father to a fifteen-year-old son offers a unique perspective at the table. Drew speaks from a place of someone who has hit rock bottom and bounced back. While he expresses regret over these wasted years of his life, he also expresses appreciation for the new outlook on life that recovering from this situation gave him.

Andrea, the twenty-five-year-old newlywed wife of Drew and newly named step mother to his son, also expresses a lot of her outlook on life as being influenced by her new husband. She grew up in a lower-middle class family that was never hungry but didn’t have much more than they needed. Growing up, she struggled with wanting what everyone else had but also feeling privileged to have what she did. She worked minimum wage jobs throughout high school. After graduating, and since, Andrea has worked a factory job. Jacob, the also twenty-five-year-old twin of Andrea, also sat at the table. Growing up in the same situation, he joined the National Guard straight out of high school. He underwent basic combat training at Fort Benning, Georgia and advanced individual training at Fort Lee, Virginia. Returning home after AIT graduation, he went to work in a factory while still attending monthly drill trainings for the military.

These drill trainings were stationed in Central City, Kentucky, where Jacob met his newlywed wife Kylie. He and Kylie share a two-year-old daughter that they have raised in Barren County, Kentucky. Kylie grew up in a home with a mother who abused various substances and created dangerous situations for she and her siblings. This placed a strain on her relationship with her family that she continues to battle with today. In her teenage years, Kylie struggled with accepting herself and admitting to her family that she was bisexual but eventually found the courage to feel comfortable with herself. She also joined the National Guard directly out of high school, effectively removing herself from the situation she had felt so stuck in. She now works at the local hospital and focuses her attention on being the best mother that she can.

Tristan, a nineteen-year-old Mexican-American, sits awkwardly at the table as he is unfamiliar with the majority of people he is sitting with. Tristan was raised in a Mennonite community until he reached the end of their educational system, that does not extend past eighth-grade. He works with his father at their family owned construction business and on their family owned farm in a small community called Fountain Run, Kentucky. He and his sisters help their father tend to their unique herd of cattle, horses, donkeys, and zebras. To help him feel more comfortable during the meal, Tristan’s girlfriend Leah came along with him. Leah is an eighteen-year-old student of Southern Kentucky Community and Technical College. Leah grew up in a rather affluent household in Barren County with her married parents and two brothers. She leans toward the Democratic side of politics, a contrast from many others at the table.

I, Sara, an eighteen-year-old first-generation college student, sat at the table and absorbed every word said by my guests. I recognized that every single person at this table had a different story and had lived their life in a way that I would never be able to fully understand. In the moment I took a moment to appreciate the way that this assignment brought me closer to some of my family members, a friend, and a new friend that I had the privilege to meet that day.

I had decided that to make the most of the meal, I wanted to cook everything by myself. I prepared a meal made of many homemade Southern comfort foods, something that was sure to go over well with all of my guests. Beginning the meal, I allowed everyone to fill their plates and talk amongst themselves before I initiated the most important part of the project. I asked the one required question but requested that my guests didn’t answer until I asked it again at the end of the meal. Instead, I prompted them with the question: “What kind of person do you want to be?”

It was silent for a few moments, as could be expected. I waited and allowed my guests to think it over rather than trying to break the silence with another question. After a few awkward moments, Drew decided that he would like to be a person that others could depend on and someone that is never known to speak negatively of other people. Eva Mae agreed and added that the best thing she could strive to be is someone known to love other people, no matter their situation. The conversation continued as Jacob assured Eva Mae that she was exactly that kind of person and thanked her for the lessons that she had taught to him and his new wife.

As the discussion on that question died down, I moved to ask if what my guests enjoy most about where they live. Everyone in attendance lived in rather small communities but Leah had experienced the lifestyles of bigger cities. While practically all of the others talked about enjoying that they had room for their children to play outside their home and were never far from family, Leah expressed appreciation for the safety and the true sense of community that a small town provides.

I continued asking other questions, not only the ones offered on the handout but also ones that came to mind while I heard my guests reminisce and reflect on their lives. The discussion went smoothly and by the end, Tristan and Leah both felt so incredibly comfortable with these people who just an hour ago had been complete strangers. After getting a sense of where my guests stood on certain issues, I decided that I would soon wrap up the conversation. I arose and offered dessert and reminded everyone of the question that I would soon be asking again. I had to repeat myself as my voice was drowned out by the chatter and laughter just a few feet away. When everything settled down, I asked the question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”

Kylie was the first to answer, sharing that to her citizenship was a sense of belonging—a sense of true belonging—and what led her to enlist in the National Guard. Jacob agreed, adding that citizenship took an entirely new meaning to him when he joined the military. Tristan, who asked that I mention again his Mexican-American decent, said that to him, citizenship is not something that you learn but something that you feel. To him, citizenship is a feeling of safety and assurance in life. We all nodded in agreeance and began to stack our plates and get up. Right before everyone left the table, Bobby Joe chimed in and said, “Citizenship is everything.”

Reflecting on the meal, it is made clear in my mind that this project relates heavily to one of our classes’ central questions: “How do we live well together?” It was obvious that everyone at the table wanted nothing more than everyone to accept one another and who they were, no matter how they lived their life. It is not surprising that current politics came into the discussion but every single person at the table agreed that our political climate and how we discuss politics are entirely wrong. It was mentioned that it was extremely difficult to have a political conversation without someone or a group of people being attacked for their views. When this was said, not only did I remember the importance of guided deliberation, but the imagery of the rider and the elephant immediately came to my mind. In our society, everyone wants to defend their side of the idea without even trying to understand where their “opponent” is coming from.

During this project, not only did I get to learn many things about people who I thought I knew completely, but I also got to learn that what most people really want is a genuine world peace. Most members of our society, or at least the ones that sat around me at my Kentucky Kitchen Table, are tired of the way things are. The world needs to change, and discussion is the first step.

Buffalo Kentucky Kitchen Table


By Virginia

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in the town of Buffalo, KY. A small town outside of a small town, Hodgenville. My attendees included:

  • Kim- A mother of 5 boys, she is currently going back to school. She insisted that she cook all the food, but allowed us to set the table.
  • Rob- A disabled veteran, he is also currently going back to school.
  • Cameron- A freshman in the nursing program at Western Kentucky University. He is Virginia’s boyfriend, he’s really cool.
  • Virginia- That’s me, I’m a Spanish major at Western Kentucky University.
  • Jacob- A senior at LaRue County High School, he is a wrestler. Virginia and Jacob were in marching band together for 2 years.
  • Tristan- A 6-year-old, he’s in second grade
  • Alex- An 8-year-old, he’s in 4th grade at
  • Khyce- He is 15 years old, and a sophomore at LaRue County High School. He recently moved to Kentucky from Florida.

We went through the question list, and I’m going to retrace the steps of the conversation through these questions. They helped to structure the dinner, and to keep conversation moving. This first question was, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Kim responded with, “It means you belong somewhere, you have a group of people you are connected with. It comes with the freedom to be you.”

This question was the only question to get an answer out of the kids, “What do you think are the best things about our world today? Tristan replied, “Bacon pizza… God and Jesus… and my family!” Alex boldly stated, “Life itself.” Which is pretty deep, coming from an 8-year-old.

A question that I already knew the answer to was then put on the table, “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?” Rob chuckled and let out a single word, “Privacy.” This family does live in what most people would consider, “the middle of nowhere.” They have a miniature farm and decent sized garden, with a house full of exotic pets. They’re earthy people, people who appreciate life and what they can create.

Cameron asked the next question for me, “Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” Kim said, “Yes, I believe that everything is connected. My work may seem small but it is meaningful.” Which caused me to think of the big puzzle of a country we live in. It’s a puzzle in the fact that it’s made up of pieces. Constantly moving around to find their right spot, but trying to create the bigger picture. Rob responded with, “I believe that my service meant something to this country, so yes.”

Does your religious or spiritual identity relate to how you think we should treat other people? Does it relate to how you see yourself as a citizen? Kim smiled and responded with, “Yes, of course. I model myself to be like Jesus. I strive to be like him in every way of my life, regarding helping those around us.” Cameron then went into a rant on how religion isn’t real and how it’s all just a play on the cycles of the sun. However, he was not scolded for his beliefs, his family allowed his views to be heard. I saw in this family what had always been lacking in mine, an ear to the abstract thought.

Cameron threw out, “Do you think we have any obligations to other people in our country? In our community?” Jacob quipped, “I don’t owe any of these people anything.” Kim rolled her eyes to that response and broadcast, “Yes, we do. If we want others to help us we have to help them.” The golden rule is very much alive in this family. Kim understands more than anyone that hard times can come quick and unexpectedly, she helps people in hopes that if she was ever in their shoes, they would help her. I believe that does put a lot of faith in people who may not be trustworthy, but it reminds me of the video that was watched in class where the little girl was hit by the car. Individualism has dulled human compassion, the want to help others just to help. Being a shoulder to lean on does not make you weak, it makes you a citizen. A part of something greater, the power to help those who are connected to you.

The question, “What advice would you give to people running for office in our country?” was asked. Kim and Jacob handled this question, both saying something upon the lines of, “Tell the truth, do not just say what people want to hear.” This connected me to Ivan Illich’s reading, “To Hell with Good Intentions.” He told the volunteers that they were making things worse. This is not what a bunch of sweaty, comparably rich, white people want to hear. They want to be patted on the back and told their doing great. To be spoon fed positive notes and “everything’s going to be alright.” However, the truth is needed to get things done, quite frankly. Upon the recent presidential election, the entire country is in a state of political turmoil. People are biased, and unwillingly to educate themselves. It’s easy to “bait” voters by telling them things they want to hear, and once in a position of power, the baiters change their mind.

We then moved on to the question, “what social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Kim’s take on this question caused me to go into a downward spiral of self-reflection, “I live in a bubble. I don’t want to know what’s going on in the outside world, because it makes me sad. I can’t help everyone, and I can’t change anything.” Is self-aware ignorance bliss? Or is it foolish ignorance? I would be happy not knowing the perils of the outside world. But, it’s necessary to feel the pain of the world to truly be a part of it. Siddhartha Gautama spent the beginning of his life inside the walls of a palace, held from the darkness of the world. Upon finally adventuring out to see what had been outside his world’s edge, he found the disappointments of the world. They saddened him, but motivated him to find himself upon the mess. Life being more confusing, but also never as clear. He became Buddha and without the outside, he would’ve never truly connected inside. To shield oneself from the perils of the world is one’s own choice, but to break into uncomfortable thought and be ready for disaster, the outside world is needed. Rob’s issue, however, took a different route. “Disrespecting the flag. When they burn it at rallies, or do whatever else besides treat it properly.” I pondered this for a second, it did not send me searching deep into my soul, but rather searching in Rob’s. We all have images of peace, you can wear your favorite sweater or lucky perfume. I suppose an image of peace for Rob is the American flag. During service he saw it as a piece of home, all his loved ones, the reason he was there, and the reason to hope. Burning such an image that is held personally is understandably upsetting. I wouldn’t be any different if people ran through the streets burning stuffed plush bunnies like the one I’ve slept with since I was a kid. I started to think of the conflict that Americans go through with the flag today, scattering it on bikinis and embroidering it on polos. To commercialize such an image is to open it to disrespect, and to appear as a mock to Rob’s way of life.

I learned that people are much more than they seem. Most people would write these people off as country do-nothings. But, they have their own life, thoughts, and needs. They desire to function in peace within their household and community. But, they have moral expectations, which they would hope are also held by those they interact with. They made citizenship feel like a community. Broadcasting that every human has common ground, which, if was more accepted, might cause the need to help others become stronger. This brings us to the question, “How can we live well together?” Coming from this dinner, I saw several solutions to this question. The main theme coming out as the golden rule, “Treat others the way you would want to be treated.” To reinstall humanity into our nation would build a better world. Honest politicians, nice community members, and respectful strangers. Not a polarized, angry, and easily fooled mass of consumers. The reading that I would like to connect to this dinner would be chapter in The Empathy Exams, “The Devils’ Bait,” about all the people who had the illness Morgellons. They were all citizens of an illness, they may not have really known each other, but they were connected. They were allowed to be them with their loyalty to their disorder. They found their area to be true citizens, and to perhaps use the power that they felt there to connect to the world outside of the illness they had, Morgellons. This project was just like a regular dinner with them, but with more questions and more attention required. It’s opened the floor to new opinions and perspectives, and I hope to learn more.