For me, the Kentucky Kitchen Table Experience begun even before I expected it to. Our host, Christian, lived in Franklin, Kentucky, which was about thirty minutes away from Western Kentucky University. In order to save gas and hassle, I rode along with Conner, who I knew from my section of Honors 251, and Ally, a girl in a separate section of Hon 251 whom Conner already knew. After a quick detour to Walmart to pick up some miscellaneous pizza toppings (mushrooms, pepperoni, and pineapple) and some ice cream for dessert, we set off for Christian’s house. We all quickly got to know each other and dove into conversation, Earlier in the week, I had my gallbladder removed due to a rather painful 2.5 centimeter gallstone. Conner, being on the pre-med track, was interested in the process and asked some questions about my experience. Ally shared a story involving her rehabilitation following extensive ligament damage in her knee. We also discussed the election results of the week before, which was made more interesting by the fact all three of us voted for different presidential candidates (one for Donald Trump, one for Hillary Clinton, one for Gary Johnson).
Soon, we arrived at Christian’s house. After a quick discussion confirming we were at the right house, we went inside. There we were greeted by Christian, her partner Chuck, our fellow Honors 251 student Madeline, and two very large, very friendly dogs. After a quick tour of the house, and the expected awkward lull, conversation began in earnest. Christian is the Sustainability Coordinator at WKU and one of my main focuses as a Political Science major is in renewable energy policy. We started discussing a recent paper I had written detailing a potential initiative by the Department of Energy to increase funding and subsidies for renewable energy sources. Conner jumped in the conversation and shared his experiences as a member of the Student Government Association Sustainability Committee, including initiatives to decrease waste as Fresh Food Company and Subway. I also discussed my plans of going to law school with Chuck. Chuck is a former Marine who was attending law school before taking a job with Veteran’s Affairs. We talked about the opportunities afforded by a law degree and our shared interest in legal studies.
Eventually, we began to prepare the pizzas. Deciding on what toppings to put on each pizza helped open our conversations up to everybody in the room. Throughout making the pizzas, I got to better know Ally, who once wielded a firearm to dissuade a man from stealing a trailer, and Madeline, a Bowling Green native who knew the area far better than I. By the time we sat down to eat, we had already been making conversation for nearly two hours and were well acquainted with one another. We then set out to address some of the questions posed to us in the handout packet, beginning with: “What does citizenship mean to you?”
Chuck began the discussion by drawing on his military experience overseas. To him, the safety provided by our soldiers is the greatest part about citizenship. Being able to walk down the street without fear is something that doesn’t exist in many places around the world and he is thankful he lives in a country where he can. Ally and Madeline both said that American citizenship is about being able to express and practice what you believe, specifically regarding religion. Ally cited several examples of Christians facing persecution throughout the world. Christian shook up the conversation with a more local view of citizenship, telling us the stories of three women in Bowling Green who are creating change at the local and community level. I followed up with the opinion that citizenship is about being part of a larger whole. Each member brings something unique and valuable to the table and together, by using their strengths, they can create a better community for themselves and their neighbors. Conner also focused on the necessity of working together and meeting people where they are to form a strong and efficient community. The different backgrounds and perspectives of all at the table was eye opening.
Next, we talked about “What is the best thing about the world today?” All of us agreed that technology, globalization, and increased communication were all changing the world for the better. We can make more effective medicines, hear news from around the world nearly instantly, and travel almost anywhere. Along the same vein, I brought up how I believe the best thing about the world today is how we are always moving forward and always striving to be better, never satisfied with where we are. Christian and I talked about how that is an important mindset to keep moving forward, given the surprising results of the election the week before.
After dinner, we reverted back to our casual banter and conversation. Chuck and I went into the living room to watch the end of the Cowboys-Steelers game that was on while the others stayed in the dining area. After talking about football for a while and finishing the game, we joined the rest of our group in the dining room to clean up. Then, cookies and leftovers in hand, we bid farewell and walked back to Conner’s car.
Overall, I was very satisfied with my Kentucky Kitchen Table experience. Any awkwardness quickly fell away to reveal a diverse set of experiences that we all could learn from. We had very diverse political opinions and varied in our views of the world, but were easily able to find common ground. Unintentionally, we never discussed our political party affiliations but instead focused on our personal experiences, beliefs, and values. Without these labels to confine us, it was easy to discuss our differing opinions in an openly and in a constructive manner. Successful deliberation always begins with an open mind, and for at least one night in a kitchen in Franklin, Kentucky, we were able to do just that.