For my Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I had the opportunity to collaborate with my classmate Sloan. We ate with Beth, the Coordinator of Resource Conservation at our university, who generously opened her home to us. Additionally, we got to eat with Beth’s three children—Gabe (9), Emmylou (8), and Camp (4)—and a couple of their friends who had come over to jump on the trampoline.
Beth and her family created a welcoming, open environment for dinner and conversation. It was a warm spring evening, so we decided to enjoy the weather by eating on a picnic blanket in the backyard. Beth said she and her family did this fairly regularly, and I admired the evident joy and connectedness she and her children felt in their home. Beth, Gabe, Emmylou, and Camp shared a similarly sunny disposition that helped alleviate my stress from school and enabled me to focus on the conversation we were to have that night.
For dinner, Beth prepared a delicious venison and vegetable stew using a deer that Gabe had shot himself. She also baked fresh bread. Sloan brought a fantastic, homemade hashbrown casserole. I brought tortilla chips and carrots to accompany the salsa ranch dip I had made.
When we sat down to enjoy our food, Beth asked Sloan and me about our college experience so far. We discussed the sense of possibility we felt here, as well as the similarities and differences between Bowling Green and our small hometowns. Then, we asked Beth about her interest in sustainability, which was evidenced around her home in a myriad of ways—the vegetable garden, the flowers, and the windows that allowed ample natural light to enter. She talked to us about how connected she felt to the earth, and then we got to learn about some of the kids’ interests. Gabe, Emmylou, Camp, and their friends told us about the numerous sports they were interested in. Their boundless energy was exemplified in their bubbly conversation and later in their running and jumping on the trampoline.
After we all learned more about each others’ interests and histories, Sloan and I asked Beth the required question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Her answer really resonated with me. She told us that citizenship meant being a part of an interconnected community and being a good neighbor. She explained how knowing one’s neighbors helps one to cultivate empathy and better understand people, which translates to betterment of society as a whole when enacted on a large scale. This reminded me of the “Empathy Exams” readings we did for class, which emphasized the truth that one must actively listen to others in order to appreciate their situation and demonstrate compassion.
In conclusion, I learned a number of things from this dinner. From Beth, I learned to be more open and to make an effort to understand and communicate with those around me so that I may learn from their experiences and develop more empathy. From Gabe, Emmylou, and Camp, I learned to relish the activities and opportunities available to me, as well as the company that surrounds me. The Kentucky Kitchen Table was a refreshing break from routine, and I hope to someday host a meal with a similar setting that encourages thoughtful conversation.