Claire’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Claire

I was so excited for this assignment all semester. I love sitting around the dinner table with family and friends, sharing thoughts and laughter as we eat a delicious homemade meal. My Kentucky Kitchen Table project took place in Louisville, Kentucky on November 16 at my family’s house. There were eight amazing people present, seven related and one not. 

The first person is my Dad, Mark. He is a Director of Research for a Pharmacogenomics laboratory as well as a professor in the department of Public Health at the University of Louisville and the best dad I could have ever asked for. Next is my Mom, Beth, not present in the picture above because she is pulling more of her famous rolls out of the oven. Beth is a biology high school teacher and the kind of person who is relentlessly encouraging and is able to make any day the best day of your life. Moving around the table comes my little sister Kate. Although she doesn’t know much about citizenship at the young age of 13, she’s always there to lighten the mood and bring a hint of joy to the dinner table. She’s never met a stranger she couldn’t talk to or a food she doesn’t like. Next, my oldest sister Ellen, a Chinese and International Affairs major with the most intense drive of anyone I have ever met. I hope to be half of who she is one day. Then Sarah, the next oldest sister who is going to someday become an art restorer and is all in all my very best friend. My brother William sits next to Sarah. He is the lead roaster for a coffee shop in Washington DC and is the coolest person I know. He brought along his new girlfriend Maggie, whom none of us know very well. Maggie is from Seattle, Washington and works for a documentary film company in Washington DC as well. The gang’s all here, and so the discussion begins.

“Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” A couple of contemplative thoughts and a few bites of lasagna later, my family jumps right in. They all seem to agree on one major thing; outside of the legal or customary status given to an individual which identifies them as a part of the larger group, citizenship comes with a common alliance of tradition and belief in common ideals, as well as communal promotion of those ideals within that community. It is the recognition by the individual that the group is bigger than themselves and they have a responsibility to that group. Outside of values and ideals, my brother includes that it is also the responsibility to participate in dialogue that has a generative nature to the laws, taxes, etc., that you hold as a nation. Maggie interestingly interjects a bit of a different view point, meaning that as a citizen you recognize that you are a steward, so to the best of your ability you must both be engaged in what’s going on and advocate for the best use of the resources and greatest care for other citizens that your conscience deems right. 

Overall, I would say there was a general consensus on citizenship, each person around the table building off of what the individual before them had said. This topic led into a conversation surrounding the question; what is the responsibility you have to the community around you? Or do you even have much responsibility outside of what our system has enacted as laws? Which led into a conversation about community in general. My mom, being from Jeffersontown, in Louisville, where we currently live, grew up in a time where J-Town was a close-knit group of people where everyone knew everyone, and the norm was to take care of and make a point to know the people that are around you. She said it was rare to see someone that she didn’t at least recognize who they were. Even in the same exact area my siblings and I grew up in a different J-Town, a place less focused on the community but the small pockets of people within the community that unfortunately, tend to not interact with one another. My siblings and I are more a part of the surrounding areas and the city of Louisville itself than my mom was. We trade a larger area for a looser community. We all expressed that we wish J-Town would one day return to more of a small-town community feel; something that is already in the process due to recent improvements. In further contrast, Maggie grew up in the wealthy area of inner-city Seattle. A place where it is almost impossible to know everyone around you. Her idea of a close-knit community relied on her next-door neighbors and church family. And my dad grew up in a heavily catholic community in Pennsylvania, a stark contrast to the conservative Baptist area of my mother. 

Religion of our respective communities and childhood led us into the obvious differences we have found in our own travels between areas considered to be in the “bible-belt” and areas that are not. Eventually I brought up our readings and discussions in class that were related to mission work and the article “To Hell with Good Intentions” by Ivan Illich. My brother, one who devoted most of his undergrad and graduate studies to sustainable development, and my older sister who has a deep interest in world cultures, and Maggie who has had an intimate view of special communities around the world through editing documentaries, and her own travels, jumped at the chance to discuss their viewpoints on the subject. Around the table we discussed the importance of knowing, as much as possible by an outsider, the intricacies of the culture you are hoping to aid, and ensuring that through the aid, you stay true to the culture’s beliefs and values and provide a manner in which the community can maintain and eventually develop further whatever improvement methods that have been put in place.

William brought up a good example. He told a story about methods of development within the coffee industry and the importance of ensuring that development is sustainable without outside support. Often times companies will send in people and materials for farmers in South America to start up a coffee bean plantation. At first the farmers are doing well and make use of the materials provided. However, eventually, it often becomes apparent that the coffee plant seeds sent to that area are unable to grow in that climate and so the farmers now have an entire industry full of workers, buyers, and supplies without a product they were able to maintain. This leads to the farmers becoming worse off than they were before the outside help came in. Not much argument followed that evidence.

Religion of our respective communities and childhood led us into the obvious differences we have found in our own travels between areas considered to be in the “bible-belt” and areas that are not. Eventually I brought up our readings and discussions in class that were related to mission work and the article “To Hell with Good Intentions” by Ivan Illich. My brother, one who devoted most of his undergrad and graduate studies to sustainable development, and my older sister who has a deep interest in world cultures, and Maggie who has had an intimate view of special communities around the world through editing documentaries, and her own travels, jumped at the chance to discuss their viewpoints on the subject. Around the table we discussed the importance of knowing, as much as possible by an outsider, the intricacies of the culture you are hoping to aid, and ensuring that through the aid, you stay true to the culture’s beliefs and values and provide a manner in which the community can maintain and eventually develop further whatever improvement methods that have been put in place.William brought up a good example. He told a story about methods of development within the coffee industry and the importance of ensuring that development is sustainable without outside support. Often times companies will send in people and materials for farmers in South America to start up a coffee bean plantation. At first the farmers are doing well and make use of the materials provided. However, eventually, it often becomes apparent that the coffee plant seeds sent to that area are unable to grow in that climate and so the farmers now have an entire industry full of workers, buyers, and supplies without a product they were able to maintain. This leads to the farmers becoming worse off than they were before the outside help came in. Not much argument followed that evidence.

Further conversation followed surrounding themes of responsible stewardship of the things in which you have been given, social obligations, general life advice, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. Although there was only one person at my Kentucky Kitchen Table that I didn’t know well, I feel like I gained a deeper understanding of how those closest to me view the world we live in. It gave me a new perspective on what these particular members of society expect from others; a willingness to engage in society and be an active participant in things that affect the whole. I think this conversation relates to the entire theme of the class, answering the three questions; how can we live better together, how can we have more of a say over our own lives and contribute to others having more of a say over their own lives, and how can we solve problems? All of the topics that we have discussed thus far in class have contributed, albeit in a small way, to solving those wicked problems. 

All in all, I learned that by asking questions and listening to those around us, we can all learn a little bit more about one another and about our differences, uniting us all into citizenship under one nation, and one people all sharing the same planet. Maybe through this greater understanding, we can learn to live better with one another, and be better stewards of the world we live in.

Good people, good food, and good conversation. That’s a Kentucky kitchen table.

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