As someone who comes from a family who only uses their dining room on Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Kentucky Kitchen Table project sounded to me like something I would have rather kept at the bottom of my to-do list (at first). When I heard that we would be eating dinner at Alison’s house, along with Leila, I was even more apprehensive. Entering the home of any stranger would be slightly uncomfortable, but entering the home of professors at my university sounded a lot weirder.
When Danielle, Amy, and I began our walk from campus to Alison’s home, we laughed about what we might be eating that night. “If it’s tofu, we’re going out to eat after this,” I suggested. Alison, our host, teaches in the English department at WKU. Leila, another guest, teaches Citizen and Self at WKU. Both professors seemed like they had more than a lifetime of experience already. Danielle, a freshman, comes from a town much larger than mine, but we share a lot of the same values. Amy, on the other hand, is a sophomore and is from Tennessee. I could tell she and I thought differently on a lot of issues, but we also have a lot of the same values. After guessing about which door to come in, we settled for the back door. We were greeted by Hazel, the yellow lab. I was relieved to see tacos on the stove.
The awkwardness was toned down a bit when Alison asked for our help in the kitchen. I chopped the cabbage while Danielle and Amy set the table. I was glad she was designating some responsibility to us so we didn’t have to wait in the kitchen and stare at her, especially since they had decided to provide the entire meal. Alison and Leila introduced themselves to us and asked us about our majors and how long we have been at WKU. Things were still a little weird at this point, but I was starting to feel more comfortable.
When we sat down to eat we went through more motions trying to make small talk, but eventually this led into real conversations. The two professors, I quickly learned, have been well-cultured. Alison’s advice to us was to take the unforeseen opportunities which come our way. For her, this was teaching English to students overseas. She spent two years in Japan doing this and eventually did the same thing in European countries. I found this to be quite admirable. Both professors seemed to know a lot about ethnic food, which I envied. I decided to make it a goal of mine to try foods from other cultures whenever I could.
After talking about different places in Bowling Green we should go to eat, we finally started discussing things that felt like they really mattered – not just things that would help me out when my stomach started growling. When I asked the two professors what citizenship means to them, Alison said “recognizing that everyone is dealing with something.” I immediately made the connection to our empathy readings. In order to successfully deliberate, in order to live well together, we must put ourselves in the shoes of others on a regular basis. We must always give one another the benefit of the doubt. Alison meant noting that someone may behave a certain way because they are having a bad day, or going out of your way to help others simply because you can. This can also mean asking yourself why someone believes the things they do, or said the thing they said about it.
Leila laughed when asked this question, saying that she should have a good answer to it because she teaches the class. She ended up agreeing with Alison, and then we got sidetracked by talking about dress codes in high schools. This led to interesting points about feminism. Amy, a fellow student, explained that her high school stationed staff members at the doors to examine outfits and determine whether they were “appropriate.” We noted that dress codes typically only effect girls. Leila said to, “imagine if these authorities spent this much energy teaching men about consent,” referring to how much time they spend trying to enforce a dress code.
My favorite part of the dinner’s conversation came up accidentally and correlates very clearly to Honors 251. After talking about the dress code, we began discussing how many people who claim they are not feminists hold feminist values. We said that many times, people simply don’t know how to say what they think. I brought up the example of when I was riding in the car with my at-the-time boyfriend and his mother and somehow ended up talking about abortion. His family are devout Baptists, so I was surprised when his mother stated that she would consider an abortion in some extreme cases. I was less surprised when she followed this statement with, “like if I were raped by a black man.” When my boyfriend asked her why specifically a black man, she went on to say that she doesn’t believe in interracial relationships, or, in this hypothetical case, conception. After further questioning of the issue, it became clear that she didn’t actually “not believe in” it, she just doesn’t see it fitting for herself. “I wouldn’t shun or look down on anyone else for it,” she explained. While I still don’t love what she had to say, my view of her was much better once she elaborated.
Had that conversation developed no further than her statement that she doesn’t believe in interracial relationships, I would have left that day thinking she was bigoted and kind of terrible. Afterwards though, I could recognize that she just didn’t know how to verbalize what she meant properly. Everyone at the dinner table agreed that this is not uncommon today, and that this is why we must properly deliberate and give others the benefit of the doubt.
When we began wrapping up our conversations, Alison remembered the dessert she had. We ate English cookies with Nutella and Mexican goat caramel (an example of how much they experiment with food). From the evening, I learned that there are way different people than the ones I spend most of my time interacting with, and that in some cases, they could be right in front of me. I ended up enjoying a lot of the conversations we had, and plan to Leila’s help when planning my study abroad ventures for spring of 2018.
The best part of the meal was that no one was on their cell phones. This was a refreshing change. Once we broke through the barrier of unclear expectations, we had meaningful conversation and a very enjoyable evening. In that hour and a half I learned about food, people, and tried two new things: green tea with brown rice and goat caramel. Who knew?