My brother Chase and I had made a split decision to come home to Louisville that weekend just to have an opportunity to see our family and of course our loving
dog, Buddy. I face-timed my mom and told her about our plans to come home, when I suddenly had the idea to have the Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner over the weekend. She seemed very excited and said she would invite her friends from college. On the drive home, I took in the newly forming spectacular fall colors that illuminated the trees, and formulated some questions that I could possibly inquire about at dinner. I had never done or even heard about an event similar to this so I really wasn’t sure what to expect.
As I walked into my house, I felt a sense of warmth and belonging that always comforts me. The heavenly scent of the bison roast emanating from the crock pot by the stove was making my mouth water and I was immediately thrilled to have the opportunity to converse about topics that I rarely discuss or even think about over my favorite meal. The mashed potatoes had already been prepared and were cooling in the refrigerator. The green beans were melding flavor with the bacon strips that lied below them in the slow-cooker. My mom gathered the entire family in the kitchen and asked us to help her prepare the salad for the dinner. By watching her make her famous lemon salad, and practicing countless times I felt I was ready to take on this responsibility. My dad can rarely come home before dinner time because of his strict work requirements so having him in the kitchen and sharing laughs that night really emphasized the importance of family time to me.
Our guests arrived just in time to watch the sunset from our screened-in porch. The deep pink and orange lit up the sky as we all snacked on cheese and crackers talking about the latest sports news with the University of Louisville and the race that Paul, had run that morning. We moved in from the cooler night air into the kitchen where the warming scent of pumpkin and vanilla candles greeted us. We spread out the food and we all took our places around the round kitchen table. As soon as we sat down, my mom exclaimed that “This is a dinner like my mom used to have every Sunday evening.” This is a statement I would revisit in a later conversation that evening. Once everyone was settled, I inquired about the meaning of citizenship beyond paying taxes, voting, and following laws. The first to speak was my mom’s best friend and former college roommate, Karen, who sat to the left of me. She explained that contributing to one’s community, to one’s family, and one’s country was the meaning of citizenship to her. She elaborated that while society offers us so much and it is a responsibility to nurture it through social, political, educational, and economical participation. Also Karen told us how going to ball games establishes an important connection between the university and the city. After Karen answered, my dad, Nick, interjected with his thought that being a citizen means discussing ideas about politics and other important issues with friends and family. I thought his response was particularly interesting because of its simplicity. Paul mulled over the question for a while and finally said that having open businesses that provide jobs for families was what being a citizen signified. I thought that everyone’s first response very nicely addressed one of our central questions for our course which is, “How do we live well together?” All of the answers that I received were related to the interactions between the general public and the greater community as a whole whether it be universities, foundations, or directly with the government.
I then asked my guests, “What is your ideal community?” Paul, who was sitting next to Nick, said he wishes more than anything that people could trust each other but more importantly, trust our government. This trust issue was a heavy point of emphasis for Paul and the rest of the guests throughout the night. Paul then referenced his and his wife, Karen’s trip to Denmark where they frequently saw people leave their purses and wallets in plain sight at their tables in public places when they went to use the bathroom. They said that these people had no fear of anyone stealing their valuables because there was an inherent trust in each other. For me this was quite a shocking story because I can’t imagine just leaving my phone or wallet at my table while I was occupied somewhere else. Unfortunately, this fear of theft begins with people in this country not being able to trust one another and this issue manifests itself in other ways. Everyone at the table agreed that people in the United States aren’t able to place trust in their government because politicians are too concerned with personal gain and winning for their particular parties. This issue was also a recurring theme throughout our conversation. This lead into my next question which was, “What are the worst things in our current government?” Nick said that commoners and people in office should share the same benefits of laws that are passed instead of politicians receiving monetary and power gains through their own work. Karen added that our government is too partisan and politicians only desire to win for their parties and not to better their communities.
When we were discussing the best things about our country, Karen mentioned something that I believe is crucial to growth for our community. She said that even through all the fighting between parties and all the polarizing figures in politics, our country is still a family. She referenced Hurricane Harvey and said that people banded together to save their fellow humans. Her statements made me think of a reading we have done, “Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief.” This reading talks of how the government largely failed to provide assistance to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, however; people who witnessed the tragedy worked tirelessly to get the victims food, water, and shelter. Karen’s words reinforced that we are no matter our identity, or our position in life, we are all human beings. And when we discussed if everyone knew their neighbors, Nick and Jan said that they are great friends with their neighbors because they are retired and they desire to help take care of my parents. Everyone then agreed that more gatherings just like the one we were currently having was a good way of improving the sense of community amongst people.
The theme of trust in government was revisited in our conversation about advice for politicians. Nick, without hesitation said that they need to “Tell the truth.” My mom, Jan, rather energetically exclaimed that they must stand up for what is right, and not lose sight of the goal which is the betterment of the community.
Another lesson from a reading sparked in my brain when my guests talked about if Americans had an obligation to people in other countries. Nick said that we first need to make ourselves the best we can be, then and only then can we extend a helping hand to people in dire situations in other countries. However, he made it a point to say that we don’t owe subsidies or any other forms of monetary aid to them. I think Ivan Ilich was smiling somewhere because in his speech we read by him, “To Hell with Good Intentions” he lays out the reasons that American volunteering in developing countries is simply out of self-gain and not for the improvement of the less-fortunate. Jan chimed in that we do need to stand up for basic human rights for everyone, which means stopping chemical warfare and the use of mustard gas from radical governments against their own people. This ties into the point Karen made that we are still human beings.
When the guests were asked what issue was closest to their hearts, they had varying answers. Paul said that society should stop glorifying sports stars. He was frustrated with the fact that professional sports stars earned salaries higher than our doctors and educators. He referenced the fact that in South Korea, “the scientists are the rockstars.” Other cultures make education/family a priority. Karen was more concerned of the dangers of social media and how that people treat each other nowadays. She mentioned that kids don’t respect their parents, and this translates into them not respecting their teachers and elders, and therefore not respecting the president. The degradation of the family unit once again was highlighted as Jan said that parents need to raise their child in such a way that enforces the importance of going to school and receiving a quality education. Also, she said that we can’t blame others for our children’s failures. At the end of this debate, everyone came to the conclusion that trust in society is crucial and the family unit needs to be emphasized and revitalized.
By the end of the night, all my guests had shared thoughts which they probably don’t have the opportunity to express very often. I could tell there was an enhanced feeling of community among our group because we all revealed our true feelings about serious topics. It was clear to me that unfortunately people in this country don’t have a large amount of respect or trust in each other or our government. Also, the quality time spent with family has decreased and the family unit as a whole has diminished into a shell of what it used to be. I believe that having meals with one’s family is one of the most important steps one can take in improving these issues. Simply by eating with family, you can discuss topics and have a better understanding of another’s perspectives while having a better respect for your family members. In my opinion, stressing the importance of family and education to young children is the best way to combat the aforementioned problems. I thoroughly enjoyed the Kentucky Kitchen Table experience and I firmly believe that more events like this need to occur.