My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place on a warm Sunday afternoon on the farm where I grew up in Hartford, KY. Participants included my two acquaintances Elizabeth, a marketing student, and Andrea, a psychology student. They brought along their two boyfriends, Hunter, a pre-med student, and Nathaniel, a participant of Chinese Flagship. My fiancé Seth, a paramedic, also attended. My parents, Karen and Brad, were the hosts. They are both members of the baby-boomer generation. My father is a manager at a local factory and my mother is a manager at a local restaurant. For everyone, it was our first home-cooked meal at a table in recent memory. This was also our first gathering together for the college students, and definitely our first time discussing topics outside of classes and our social lives.
We all shared a wonderful Italian dinner. My parents and I made the red sauce and noodles. Nathaniel and Andrea brought some delicious homemade brownies. Elizabeth and Hunter provided a wonderful white sauce. Seth brought us some zesty garlic bread to eat with our meal. My guests sat in the living room while my mother and I made final preparations for the meal. We set the table, got everyone their drinks, and soon after, we headed to the table.
To begin, we started off with some nice conversation about ourselves, our hometowns, and our aspirations. Elizabeth wishes to have a job in marketing with a business. Nathaniel also wishes to pursue a career in marketing, but is also fascinated by Chinese culture and language. He wishes to incorporate this passion into his career somehow. Andrea dreams going to a great graduate school and being a criminal psychologist. Hunter wants to go to medical school to be an anesthesiologist. Seth aspires to further his education and become a physician’s assistant. I would like to go to graduate school also. I want to get my masters of public health and make access to reproductive health services more accessible to members of my community. My parents, still young at heart, also have aspirations. My mother would love to publish a book, and my father dreams of gaining his pilot’s license.
I soon asked the first question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Nathaniel spoke, saying that he feels that being a citizen includes having a positive influence on your community. He thinks that working to improve your community and helping others is a great way to do this. Everyone agreed on this. My parents added that citizenship means being a productive member of your community and working to improve yourself. To them, this meant having a job if you can work, helping your neighbors, and being a proactive member of the community. I questioned my table on what they thought we could do to be proactive within our communities. They answered that volunteering, participating in community events, building relationships, and attending community meetings regarding local legislation we all important to being a proactive citizen. We all also agreed that we could improve on doing these things.
My second question was: “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” The table fell silent. It seemed as if everyone was kind of afraid to speak up. So I offered my answer: Healthcare. My fiancé, the paramedic elaborated a bit for me. He believes that everyone should have access to healthcare, but the issue with this that he sees in his profession is many people abuse resources like Medicaid. Hunter agreed with this, but pointed out that some people really do need those resources. We had found our first wicked problem. My father told us about what healthcare used to be like. Apparently, healthcare insurance did not exist before the 1980’s. He described how his father and mother would just write checks directly to doctors to pay for broken arms and doctor’s visits. Andrea asked how people could afford to do this. My father explained that healthcare was somewhat affordable before insurance companies came into the picture. It was after insurance companies that the price of healthcare skyrocketed to the prices of today. Elizabeth pointed out that everyone might not have been able to afford healthcare, even before insurance companies, which brought back the question of how can we make healthcare more accessible to other people.
I spoke and said if healthcare providers could come together to open clinics for people that operate outside of big insurance companies, perhaps then we could make healthcare more accessible. I told them my personal dream of opening a clinic for women and expectant mothers who otherwise couldn’t afford the care that my practitioners would provide. I hoped to set up affordable prices for services and exams, and to offer payment plans for patients without insurance. I also would enjoy to set up a network of practitioners, community members, and physicians who would like to see this positive change within the community. We agreed that coming together as a community would be helpful, but it isn’t necessarily realistic to always count on finding common ground.
My next question proved the most difficult to answer: “What do you think are the best things about our world today?” I immediately saw everyone making awkward eye contact and chuckle, as this was the weekend following airstrikes on Syria. The news lately was, for lack of better word, depressing. I acknowledged the tension, saying that yes, sometimes being positive was difficult, but everyone should always try to look on the brighter side of things. Nathaniel then spoke. He said that he felt everyone, in their own way and through their own opinions, genuinely did have the best intentions at heart. Everyone seems to care and want the best thing for others, even if we don’t all agree on what the best thing is. Seth said that this was especially true of our generation. He thinks that all of us want to improve our community in one way or another. My mother said that she enjoyed the resilience that people in our age tend to have to adversity. People today do not simply let others put them down. They fight back and try to promote positive change and they have hope for the future, despite everything. Perhaps things today are not as bleak as they seem.
To top off our dinner, I asked our final question, one that I felt would be pretty easy to answer: “What advice would you give people running for office in our country?” Elizabeth spoke immediately, saying that she thought that they should try to communicate clearly and honestly with citizens. They shouldn’t lie to us and give us false expectations just to get elected. Hunter agreed with this, and said that we need people in office who really represent us. We should shy away from career politicians and try to elect more business people, educators, and more citizens from diverse populations. We all agreed on this point.
I was pretty nervous about hosting this dinner. I have never done anything like this and this was my first time having this large group together. I was worried about a fight or someone possibly getting their feelings hurt. I was genuinely surprised with how well everyone got along. With my parents being baby boomers, and us being a part of generation x, I was worried about clashing opinions. But generally, we all had the same ideals and intentions, but different perspectives, which is a good thing. The topics discussed reminded me of the three questions we discuss in class. How can we live better together was encompassed in our discussion about citizenship. How can we take more control of our lives and help others do the same was related to our discussion about electing officials. How do we solve problems was a theme in our healthcare discussion. “How We Talk Matters” was truly relevant to this assignment. This passage highlights that deliberation is a skill that we must hone. Calm, respectful communication was key at the Kentucky Kitchen Table and is vital for understanding one another.
I am thankful for this assignment, as it opened my eyes to the opinions of others. I also helped me to not be afraid to speak my mind and express my feelings. It allowed me to better understand my parents and a few of my peers. These topics are ones we rarely speak of at home. This allowed me to get to know my parents better and to understand their thinking better. I won’t be as nervous to talk about issues with them because, as it turns out, we are not as different as I thought. I am also thankful for the connections with my peers, because without communication, we will never be able to make our future as great as we have the potential to.