As I was the host of my group’s Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment, our meeting took place in the city of Bowling Green. There were five people involved – Andrew, Hannah, Hannah’s friend Camille, my mother Stacy, and myself. I included my mother in the meal because I wanted someone who grew up in a different generation to provide additional insights into concepts that college students might not have. Plus, she makes a great macaroni and cheese dish! My mother is a nurse practitioner that works at Logan Aluminum in Russellville, Kentucky, providing health care to the factory workers and their families. She grew up on a farm, was the first in her family to attend college, and now has attained her doctorate degree as of last year.
Camille is an engineering student. She was interested in pre-med, but recently has changed her desire to engage in a career in civil engineering. Hannah also transitioned from a pre-med background to the field of social psychology. Andrew, a former Gatton student, expressed interest in becoming a professor, as he takes a great interest in mathematics. Then, there was me, the lone film student in a room full of math and science careers.
Both Camille and Hannah grew up in Christian households, as did I. My mother is a religious woman as well, having grown up in a strictly religious household. My household was quite strict on religious beliefs; however, Andrew and I both now hold agnostic/atheist viewpoints on religion.
Each of us brought our own dish. My mother made macaroni and cheese, as I expressed earlier, while I brought an apple pie. Hannah also brought a dessert, a chocolate cake, but hers had been eaten much more than my dish by the end. Camille brought a bowl of baked beans, and Andrew brought a plate of friend chicken. We had a nice home-cooked Southern meal!
We discussed many topics throughout the meal, but I will only elaborate on the most important parts of the night for time’s sake. First, we started off deliberating on what citizenship means to each of us. As the conversation went around the table, most of us agreed that a quality of a good citizen is being engaged in the community that you are a part of, not just being stagnant and watching events in the town pass you by. In order to be a productive member of society and fully be a part of a community, one must make an effort to shape the town in a way that will change it for the better. Often, members of a city or town will complain about various aspects of the community, but will do nothing to solve the problem. Without ever taking action, the town as well as one’s role as a citizen will grow stale and empty.
Additionally, we discussed the question of whether we knew our neighbors or not. My mother and I replied, saying that when we used to live in the small town of Munfordville, Kentucky, we knew everyone on our street as well as the next street over. However, when we moved to Bowling Green, even after twelve years of being a part of our neighborhood, we know very few people. Our family knows people sporadically throughout the subdivision, but we have difficulty remembering the names of the people who live on the right side of our house, even despite the close vicinity of the houses in our subdivision. Hannah and Camille expressed similar sentiment, while Andrew related to the table his neighborhood experience as a child. He told us that his neighborhood was mostly filled with elderly couples, leaving him no children to play with as he grew up. Additionally, we all noted the rapid decline of neighbors spending time outside in recent years. Before the cell phone technology boom, kids and adults would spend more time in their yards during the warm summer periods, barbequing, playing sports, and riding bicycles. In the present day, however, we have all noticed a greater number of families staying inside, keeping their attention on their various screens, and not requiring their children to engage in physical activity.
Next, we related memories of times in which we have engaged with people of considerably different backgrounds than our own. Andrew told the group that he feels a problem he faces is not having enough diversity in his friend group. He has acquaintances and has met people from different backgrounds, but could not say he had ever had a close friendship with someone whose history was much different than his. Hannah told us stories of her foreign exchange student friend, with whom she still keeps in touch, despite the long distance. She described his incredible sense of humor, but, conversely, I also shared a story of a German exchange student that lived with a friend of mine in high school. From what I experienced of the German exchange students that I came in contact with, they acted more serious and hesitant when it came to humorous subjects.
My mother brought up a story I had forgotten mostly about. She talked about when my brother brought a friend whose background was from the Middle East to our Christmas holiday dinner. His country had been barred off due to wartime, so he had no contact with his family and could no longer afford his schooling. He was studying to become a translator because he already knew six different languages. My brother, who worked at the Baptist Campus Ministry, offered his friend a job in exchange for a room at the building. My mother remembered an aspect of his personality that I had failed to notice. She recalled that every time an adult male entered the room, the young man would immediately rise and shake the adult male’s hand. It seemed to be an automatic response for him, which struck us as odd. We would not expect American college students to greet patriarchal figures in such a manner every time they entered a room.
After that, Andrew brought up the topic of college education and the high cost of tuition. Hannah, Andrew, and I identified the wickedness of the problem, while I explained to my mother the definition of what a wicked problem. As we discussed possible solutions to the problem, we realized the many different ways of treating it and the increasing complications as the conversation endured. However, after a minute, my mother commented, expressing her feeling that we need to first identify why there is a problem before attempting to solve it. Although none of us knew exactly why college tuition has become increasingly more difficult to pay for students, we all thought this was an important point.
Switching topics, we decided to deliberate on our obligations to others in our community as well as our country. We each agreed that we all have obligations to the individuals around us. If everyone isolated themselves inside of their own bubble, a community can suffer. As the topic went around the table, I asked the question “Does distance affect the willingness you have to help an individual?” I related the question back to the exercise in which we participated in class, where we decided whether or not we would send money to a family whom we had stayed with on a study abroad trip. Andrew expressed his morals, sharing that he felt distance should not matter when someone was in trouble. The rest of the table agreed, arguing that the only aspect that should matter is your personal relationship to the individual in question.
Lastly, we discussed whether each of us ever ate meals at the table with our families growing up. Andrew expressed regret, realizing that most of his meals as a child were spent on the couch, watching television alone. He wishes his parents had forced him to sit down and eat, as he felt this would have helped them to form closer relationships in the future. Hannah and Camille both related how they would frequently eat as a family, but sometimes schedules would conflict and family dinnertime would have to be sacrificed. Similarly, in my family, my parents would always force us to eat at the table for dinner. However, as my siblings and I grew up, we had to give up family time in order for my parents to transport all of us to our extracurricular activities after school. Now, my family has realized that many of our family meals now occur at restaurants, as my older brother and I are in college. Our parents realized the effective way of planning family time — by promising free food. On the other hand, my mother described a different experience from when she grew up. She recalled being forced to eat at the dinner table every day, at the same time every day. They also rarely ever went out to eat to restaurants for food because eating out was deemed too expensive. Because of these strict dinnertime rules, my mother always wanted her kids to share similar experiences around the dinner table with their family.
After the meal ended, my mother and I cleaned the plates, and the group sliced into the desserts. Camille, Hannah, and Andrew respectfully thanked us for offering up our house for the project, and we each commented on how easily the conversation went after it got going. I believe our group’s Kentucky Kitchen Table was a success!