Kentucky Kitchen Table – Michaela

By Michaela

My Kentucky Kitchen Table project took place in the town that I live in, Franklin, Kentucky. I knew many of the people that joined us during this project, but there were two people in particular that I did not know well named Jennifer and Jessi. The others that participated in this project were named Jordan, Atalie, Ben, Destiny, Kaitlyn, and James. We had all met Jennifer and Jessi previously, but none of us were very familiar with their views or their personalities. A woman named Wanda had learned of this project and had insisted upon preparing dinner, giving us the options of spaghetti and fettuccini. Atalie cooked chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

Before we ate dinner, we played a little ice-breaking game of Speak Out to get some people laughing, particularly the people in the group that we were not completely familiar with. This was a great tactic, and it seemed to relieve some of the tension resulting from there being unfamiliar people. Jessi and Jennifer were familiar with one another, but they did not closely know each other, so they were quick to get in a group together. The rest of us had our close friend in the group that we automatically paired up with in teams. After the game, we all settled in to eat and talk together.

We didn’t have a super diverse group of people during this project, but there was some diversity in political views and religious views. Atalie and Jordan are married. They are strong, church-going Christians, and they have very conservative views. They are very nice people and are very giving to our church.  Ben is also very kind and Christian, and he has the heart of a missionary; he loves to travel anywhere and everywhere that people are in need, and he also loves to help people in our community. Destiny is a hard-worker and comes from a very low class family. She has had to work all of her teenage years and supports her immediate family with her work. She goes to Bowling Green Technical College for the sake of keeping her finances under control. She is very conservative and is very compassionate toward those in need. Kaitlyn is a singer and is a very hard worker. She previously went to Western Kentucky University but was unable to continue due to certain circumstances. James comes from an extremely conservative family, and he is very strong in his Christian views and in what he believes. As we learned during this dinner, both Jennifer and Jessi are fairly liberal with their points of view, and Jessi is not Christian. At the age of 18, Jessi had a baby while still in high school, and she has been in a battle for child support ever since. Jennifer has no children, is single, and works very hard in her job. These diversities led to some interesting and thought-provoking conversations.

Our first topic of discussion was citizenship. I asked the group what citizenship means to them, other than the basic requirements of voting, tax-paying, and following laws. The group agreed, despite our varied views, citizenship means to be an effective part of society and to actively promote our various views. Jessi and Jennifer agreed that this meant promoting and actively seeking equality for all people regardless of race, sexuality, gender, or religion. Everyone in the group agreed with this to a degree. The more conservative people of the group did not believe that it is necessary to celebrate diversity, but they believed that it is acceptable and good for there to exist diversity. Ben even said, “Diversity is important for a functional society, and it is important for all people to be treated equally. No person is more important than the next; because of this, those that are diverse from the “normal” people should not be celebrated. Celebrating diverse groups of people does not allow equality for those that aren’t considered ‘diverse.’”

The conservative views in the group suggested that citizenship meant to protect what we believe in, no matter the cost. They agreed that, because of this view, some of the most honorable members of society, and the most underappreciated, are soldiers. The more liberal of the group agreed with this, but they claimed that what they most believed in was equality for all people of different sexualities, race, gender, or religion. This brought a little tension in the group as the majority of the group did not believe that “celebrating” diversity was most important in their lives, so the topic changed fairly quickly as the tension quickly grew stronger.

Upon prompting the group, we next began to discuss our ideal communities to live in. Having come from such a tiny town as Franklin, most of us agreed that Franklin is fairly ideal. Jessi and Atalie, though, suggested maybe a slightly larger town would be ideal as long as it held the same support system as Franklin. We all discussed how lucky we are to live in a town that, when someone passes away or leaves, we are all able to mourn together, and nobody living there is ever alone. We also discussed how, similarly, when a new family or even just a new person moves into Franklin, the whole town is quick to welcome them. I agreed very strongly with this, having come from three hundred miles up north myself only five years ago. I told them all how, when I moved to Franklin, it seemed like half the town was at our doorstep on moving day and how it seemed like the whole town was at church that Sunday to hear my dad preach there for the first time.

This conversation about Franklin led directly into our discussion of whether or not we knew our neighbors. Ben’s first reaction was immediately yes; his whole extended family owns houses around his house. Although, after considering his other neighbors, he realized that there were plenty of other people living around his house that he has never spoken to because their paths have never really crossed. Atalie and Jordan live in a neighborhood, and they know their neighbors that live right next door but do not know the neighbors down the street because they have only lived in their house for a little over a year. James said he did not know his neighbors well, due to the fact that his family has just recently moved into a new house. Kaitlyn, however, has lived in the same house her whole life and knows all of her neighbors directly beside her and down the road from her. Jessi knows her neighbors because she, too, has lived in Franklin in the same house her whole life, and she has even begun to raise her child in that house with the support of her parents. Destiny lives back and forth between Franklin and Bowling Green. When she lives in Franklin, she knows all of her neighbors because she has lived there her entire life; however, in the house that she sometimes lives in in Bowling Green, she does not know her neighbors because she does not live there full time and never has. Jennifer has only lived in her house for a few years, but she is very social and enjoys getting to know those that live around her. She knows some of her neighbors, but there are still some that she does not know because they keep to themselves. I told them all of how I know my neighbors, though I have only lived in my house for five years, but in the city that I used to live in, I did not know my neighbors because the only interactions we had had with them were negative interactions.

I then prompted the group as to how they thought we could improve our relationships with those around us. I suggested that perhaps trying to get a better understanding of people and of their backgrounds would help us gain a more positive view of who they are. Destiny agreed with this and said that sometimes her interactions with people were negative because of miscommunications and misunderstandings. She said that if we took the time to get to know each other better, we would have far less misunderstandings and miscommunications. It would give us a better sense of what to expect from specific people.

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this project because, while many of the group members participating were my friends, there were also two that I was very unfamiliar with that had very different views than the rest of us. I thoroughly enjoyed getting a better understanding of Jessi and Jennifer, and I really enjoyed getting a better understanding their views and where they came from. I also, of course, appreciated the time with my friends, but I got a better understanding of their backgrounds too. It was nice to sit and have a focused conversation and to intentionally discuss their backgrounds, and a lot of the people in the group did not know about the places that I have previously lived, and I think they all enjoyed hearing about where I used to live as well. I really enjoyed having a civilized conversation with people of a democratic point of view because so often we get so defensive of our stances in politics that we never take the time to listen to opposing point of views. I appreciated being able to relate our civilized conversation  to what we discussed in “How We Talk Matters” because it is very true that so often we just automatically scream at people without taking the time to understand. A lot of the time, I think we need to have times like this in our Kentucky Kitchen Table Project in which we are forced to sit down and have a nice conversation with those that are different than us.

Homemade Pizzas and Home-style Conversation

By Jacob

For me, the Kentucky Kitchen Table Experience begun even before I expected it to. Our host, Christian, lived in Franklin, Kentucky, which was about thirty minutes away from Western Kentucky University. In order to save gas and hassle, I rode along with Conner, who I knew from my section of Honors 251, and Ally, a girl in a separate section of Hon 251 whom Conner already knew. After a quick detour to Walmart to pick up some miscellaneous pizza toppings (mushrooms, pepperoni, and pineapple) and some ice cream for dessert, we set off for Christian’s house. We all quickly got to know each other and dove into conversation, Earlier in the week, I had my gallbladder removed due to a rather painful 2.5 centimeter gallstone. Conner, being on the pre-med track, was interested in the process and asked some questions about my experience. Ally shared a story involving her rehabilitation following extensive ligament damage in her knee. We also discussed the election results of the week before, which was made more interesting by the fact all three of us voted for different presidential candidates (one for Donald Trump, one for Hillary Clinton, one for Gary Johnson).

Soon, we arrived at Christian’s house. After a quick discussion confirming we were at the right house, we went inside. There we were greeted by Christian, her partner Chuck, our fellow Honors 251 student Madeline, and two very large, very friendly dogs. After a quick tour of the house, and the expected awkward lull, conversation began in earnest. Christian is the Sustainability Coordinator at WKU and one of my main focuses as a Political Science major is in renewable energy policy. We started discussing a recent paper I had written detailing a potential initiative by the Department of Energy to increase funding and subsidies for renewable energy sources. Conner jumped in the conversation and shared his experiences as a member of the Student Government Association Sustainability Committee, including initiatives to decrease waste as Fresh Food Company and Subway. I also discussed my plans of going to law school with Chuck. Chuck is a former Marine who was attending law school before taking a job with Veteran’s Affairs. We talked about the opportunities afforded by a law degree and our shared interest in legal studies.

Eventually, we began to prepare the pizzas. Deciding on what toppings to put on each pizza helped open our conversations up to everybody in the room. Throughout making the pizzas, I got to better know Ally, who once wielded a firearm to dissuade a man from stealing a trailer, and Madeline, a Bowling Green native who knew the area far better than I. By the time we sat down to eat, we had already been making conversation for nearly two hours and were well acquainted with one another. We then set out to address some of the questions posed to us in the handout packet, beginning with: “What does citizenship mean to you?”

Chuck began the discussion by drawing on his military experience overseas. To him, the safety provided by our soldiers is the greatest part about citizenship. Being able to walk down the street without fear is something that doesn’t exist in many places around the world and he is thankful he lives in a country where he can. Ally and Madeline both said that American citizenship is about being able to express and practice what you believe, specifically regarding religion. Ally cited several examples of Christians facing persecution throughout the world. Christian shook up the conversation with a more local view of citizenship, telling us the stories of three women in Bowling Green who are creating change at the local and community level. I followed up with the opinion that citizenship is about being part of a larger whole. Each member brings something unique and valuable to the table and together, by using their strengths, they can create a better community for themselves and their neighbors. Conner also focused on the necessity of working together and meeting people where they are to form a strong and efficient community. The different backgrounds and perspectives of all at the table was eye opening.

Next, we talked about “What is the best thing about the world today?” All of us agreed that technology, globalization, and increased communication were all changing the world for the better. We can make more effective medicines, hear news from around the world nearly instantly, and travel almost anywhere. Along the same vein, I brought up how I believe the best thing about the world today is how we are always moving forward and always striving to be better, never satisfied with where we are. Christian and I talked about how that is an important mindset to keep moving forward, given the surprising results of the election the week before.

After dinner, we reverted back to our casual banter and conversation. Chuck and I went into the living room to watch the end of the Cowboys-Steelers game that was on while the others stayed in the dining area. After talking about football for a while and finishing the game, we joined the rest of our group in the dining room to clean up. Then, cookies and leftovers in hand, we bid farewell and walked back to Conner’s car.

Overall, I was very satisfied with my Kentucky Kitchen Table experience. Any awkwardness quickly fell away to reveal a diverse set of experiences that we all could learn from. We had very diverse political opinions and varied in our views of the world, but were easily able to find common ground. Unintentionally, we never discussed our political party affiliations but instead focused on our personal experiences, beliefs, and values. Without these labels to confine us, it was easy to discuss our differing opinions in an openly and in a constructive manner. Successful deliberation always begins with an open mind, and for at least one night in a kitchen in Franklin, Kentucky, we were able to do just that. kkt

 

Puppies and Pumpkin Cookies

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By Madeleine

On November 13th I drove to Franklin, Kentucky to have dinner and share conversation with a group of people whom I had never met before. I was nervous to say the least.

Christian- Our gracious host. She is the Sustainability Coordinator for WKU and the owner of two incredibly playful and hairy dogs.

Chuck- Christian’s partner. An ex-Marine with a strong dislike for pineapple and spinach  pizza.

Connor- A Louisville native who loves Game of Thrones and is a senator at WKU.

Jacob- A Cincinnati native who had recently gotten his gallbladder removed.

Ally- From rural Lexington and an expert on what to do when someone is stealing your trailer.

Me- A Bowling Green native who thoroughly enjoyed the vegan pumpkin chocolate- chip cookies.  

Growing up my family hardly ever ate dinner together and our kitchen table was more of a place to set up homework or do school projects. Most nights I would be the last one home, coming from dance or work and I would go upstairs to say goodnight to my mom and little sister before reheating whatever they had made earlier. When we did have meals together it was done quickly so that we could get to our next activity or go do homework. The conversation never went past what we had done that day or what we had going on tomorrow. I had no idea that some people actually hold conversations and debate opinions at the dinner table. I was excited but very nervous about eating with people outside my family and trying to hold a conversation with people whom I’d never met.

I was the first to arrive even after first showing up to the wrong house (her neighbors are very nice people). I was greeted at the door by a smiling Ms. Ryan, two giant dogs, and the smell of cookies. A few minutes later Connor, Jacob, and Ally arrived. Connor and Jacob were both in class together and Ally knew one of them from another class, plus they had all driven up together so I was already feeling very apprehensive. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded as we quickly fell into casual conversation with everything from the elimination of the use of styrofoam in Fresh to how to make the perfect combination of pizza ingredients (Mushrooms and tomatoes go well together.) After the pizzas were made we got a tour of Ms. Ryan’s beautifully remodeled 1940’s home. It was amazing to hear about what it used to look like and how much work she had put into it for eleven years.

When it was finally time to eat we went into the dining room, put hand tie-dyed napkins in our laps, said grace and quickly tucked into our four amazing homemade pizzas and homegrown salad. As we ate we discussed the first question in our handout- what does citizenship mean to you beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws? Chuck started the conversation by talking about how his view of citizenship is directly influenced by his experiences in other countries as a Marine. He discussed how amazing it is to be back in America and being able to walk down the street without being afraid that someone is waiting around the corner waiting to kill him, The safety in this country that we sometimes take for granted is what makes citizenship so important to Chuck. Next, Ally talked about how citizenship means the certainty of religious freedom without the fear of persecution. She discussed how amazing it is that we have to freedom to not only worship freely, but we also get to choose what we want to believe in without fear. I reiterated how amazing it is to have the freedom to practice the religion of my choice freely and also touched on how the opportunity for education is also central to my views of citizenship. Living in America gives me and others the incredible opportunity to continue our education. This is especially important to me because in other countries women and girls are not allowed to go to school, or speak their minds, or do anything other than make babies and do housework. I wake up every day knowing how privileged I am by being able to go to school and learn about things I am passionate about.

Next, Christian discussed how citizenship to her means participating in your community and how important it is to be passionate about something. She told us about a paper she had just written about community involvement and about how one of the three women she highlighted in her paper helped homeless people not by just showing up with food, but finding out what they truly needed (clothes, money, a place to sleep, etc) and then helping them get or find that. This can relate to our class in how we discussed how to try solve wicked problems or even just emergency situations by listening to what is needed instead of just doing what we believe is best. Jacob and Connor both gave a more general, world-wide definition of citizenship by discussing how people need to use their strengths in order to contribute effectively in the community in which they live. Before we had to go we briefly discussed the pressing issue of gun violence which I was happy to be able to be a major part of because of the social issue project  am working on in class. Lastly, we all talked about how we think technology is positively affecting the world today. In a world where so much negative attention is put on technology, it can be easy to forget the amazing benefits that comes with it. We all agreed that technology enables us to have a global economy, makes it easy to learn about other cultures that makes us more accepting individuals and easily accessible education on any topic you can think of.

Speaking of technology, by the time we finished eating I glanced at my phone for the first time and saw that I had several text messages from my cheer coach wondering where I was. When I first arrived I had been constantly checking my watch to see when I needed to leave but later was surprised that I had gotten so enthralled in the conversation and the incredible experience that I had totally forgotten about my phone and cheer practice. I guess that’s what this project was truly about. Meeting new people and learning new things, not only about other people and the world around you, but learning where you stand on issues compared to others. Through this I was able to hear about people’s personal experiences that shaped them into the people they are today, such as growing up in rural Kentucky, or going on several tours to Afghanistan. Hearing these stories made me think back on my own life and made me ask myself why I believe what I do. Why am I passionate about certain things?

In conclusion, I sincerely enjoyed this project far more and learned more about others and myself than I ever thought possible in a short three hours. Thank you so much to the amazing Ms. Ryan for opening up her beautiful home, Chuck for keeping us laughing all night and my fellow Honors 251 students for asking thought provoking questions and making some super good pizza.

Maybe Going to A Stranger’s House Isn’t a Bad Idea After All

By: Ally

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(not pictured: Chuck)

Whenever someone told me that I was going into a stranger’s home to have a dinner, my first reaction wasn’t to get up and jump for joy. I was a little apprehensive as to where I was going, considering it was a half an hour drive through the back country. But also mainly because I had never met the homeowner and only knew one of the group members. I didn’t know what to expect from this experience based upon that fact that I could have totally different beliefs and viewpoints than anybody else around the table, was a scary position to be put in.

I come from a family where it’s just three of us, but my mom would cook a meal every night, I would set the table, and my dad would always do the dishes and clean up afterwards. So sitting around a kitchen table discussing the highlights and not so fun parts of our days were common and comfortable. Our conversations though, never really strayed from what was going on in each other’s daily lives though. So whenever the word ‘democracy’ came up about that being the core of the discussion for the Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I was nervous and felt very uncomfortable going into it.

My group consisted of six people including myself. First was Christian, who is the sustainability coordinator here at Western Kentucky and who graciously opened her home up to us to have this meal. Next was Chuck, who was formerly a U.S. Marine and now works the government. Then came Connor, Jacob, Madeleine, and myself. The four of us have similarities, but also many differences. We are all in the Honors College, but our backgrounds of where we have grown up are completely different. Madeleine is from right here in Bowling Green; Connor is from Louisville; Jacob is right across the border line from Cincinnati, and I’m from a rural town on the outskirts of Lexington. Each of our different upbringings have shaped us into the citizens we are today and have helped us form our opinions on the world today.

Once we had arrived at Christian’s house and awkwardly knocking on the back door, we were greeted by Christian and two large, loving dogs that shed a whole lot. But it was nice to be able to love on them, since I have been deprived of this since I have been at college. As a group, we got to make our own pizza that we were going to be eating for dinner. Out toppings were very diverse, ranging from plain cheese and pepperoni, to mushrooms and even pineapple. We threw in some tomato slices and some spinach leaves. Christian made a salad from greens she had grown herself, which was very refreshing and quite delicious. But she also made some pumpkin chocolate cookies, from a pumpkin she had baked earlier in the day. She made enough cookies to feed us and also to send back with us for our roommates.

As soon as we sat down for dinner, and after we had said grace for our food, Chuck was eager to dive into our discussion and was very vocal in encouraging us in our thoughts, but also very vocal in his own. Our first question of, “besides voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” had a very different response from each member of the table.

Chuck defined his view on citizenship is derived from the safety he has in our country. Where he was in the Marines, he has experienced many things from being in other countries that he never has to experience here. He gave the example of never having to slam on his brakes when driving down the road worried that a road side bomb is going to go off. He can casually walk down the street without being hated for being an American and having to worry about a child, woman, or man wanting to kill him. The safety and protection we have in our country is something that he said he is very thankful for based upon the fact that we don’t have to worry for our lives just walking down the street because of where we are from.

For Christian, her view on citizenship was focused around the wicked problems of our world, which directly relates back to our readings in class. But she mentioned three of her friends that are aware of these wicked problems that are around them and they are trying to make a difference in any way they can, but they know that there isn’t just one solution to the problem and the entire problem is not going to just go away overnight. What really resonated with me, was that each of her friends, don’t have a position of power, but they are still making a difference in their community. You don’t always have to have a position of power to do things to change the world for the better. Jacob and Connor both agreed on their view of citizenship as the community aspect of our lives. We each live in a community that we can all have an impact on and being a responsible citizen in each of our respective communities is important if we expect to come together to make a difference.

Madeleine and I agreed on our view of citizenship being that we are free to have religious views or the lack thereof. We can freely worship without the fear of persecution because in many countries they don’t have a say in what they believe. They don’t really have the option to choose whether they want to believe in that, or something completely different. In some countries though, you could be killed if you believe something different and try to spread it around. It’s a very serious issue, yet a right that I believe we take for granted if we choose to exercise it. Madeleine also extended her view on citizenship is the basic rights that women now have, such as voting or simply just going to school. In some other countries, it is frowned upon for women to be educated and seek a job. So having that right as a woman is very near and dear to my heart. But we also had to remind ourselves that we don’t always get to choose the situation we are born into.

Upon wrapping up conversations from dinner, we shifted back into the kitchen where Christian was wrapping up leftovers for our roommates and we were saying our last goodbyes to the dogs; we once again we said thank you to Christian before walking out the door. But just like that we were in the car and our experience was over. This experience was something that I truly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone. But mainly what impressed me the most, is that no one was on their phones and we had quality conversations. It was very refreshing and felt good to know that people can still have quality conversations amongst each other without the distraction of phones getting in the way.