Potatoes, Dessert, and Community

By Elijah

For my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I decided to host mine in my hometown of London, Kentucky which is roughly two and one half hours east of WKU. Leading up to my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I was honestly a little bit nervous about the conversations that were to come. Generally as a rule, I have been taught not to bring up politics, religion, or any other sore subjects at the dinner table. The night of the meal however, I was going to do just that. I also didn’t want to ask anything that would make anybody uncomfortable. To my relief, everybody at my meal was really cool and very honest about each of the topics I brought up. It also helped that whenever there was a small lull in the conversation, one of my guests was ready to step in and get the discussion going again. Let’s meet this delightful cast of characters.

First, we had a woman named Juanita who went to high school with my mom. She used to be employed in social work, but now she taught social work classes at Eastern Kentucky University. Juanita has a Baptist background. With Juanita was her husband Bill. Bill was the lone atheist at the table and he worked as a security guard. Bill is always a fun guy to be around as he always makes conversation livelier. Sitting next to Juanita was a very good friend to my family and me. His name is Alex. Alex has a degree from the University of Kentucky in chemical engineering. This fall he will be going back to school to get his doctorate in chemical engineering. He’s a smart guy. Although growing up Baptist, Alex is very open to religious diversity having attended different denominational churches. In fact, while he was at UK, he attended a Methodist Bible study. To the left of Alex was me. I grew up Baptist but I also attended many different churches. I really try to promote an atmosphere of religious and all-round diversity and acceptance. I am a freshman at Western and I began my college career studying mechanical engineering. I recently changed my major to strategic marketing however, and will begin taking business classes next semester. Beyond that, I am a very creative person and I love writing music and performing on stage. To my left sat a couple that I respect quite a lot. Their names are Dan and Debbie Eubanks and they moved to Kentucky from Missouri about five years ago. Dan and Debbie came to London because Dan was employed at my Baptist home church as our discipleship pastor. Dan and I instantly became close friends because of our shared dry sense of humor. His wife Debbie is also very involved in the church and is a very kind-hearted person. Ever since I have known them, Dan and Debbie have been great role models for me in my walk with Christ. To Dan’s left sat my cousin Donavon. Donavon just graduated from Union College in Barbourville with a degree in history and political science. He was also there on a soccer scholarship. How cool! He actually just landed a position to work with a very prominent politician in the state. Donavon’s church is non-denomination and is inviting of people from all denominations. Finally, next to Donavon was his girlfriend Destiny. Destiny grew up Baptist, has a degree from the University of Kentucky, and now is in social work. In her job, she helps put troubled kids with a good influence that also has similar interests as they do.

We had some interesting diversity at our table which brought fresh perspectives. For example, Dan who is a pastor sat across from Bill who was an atheist. We had generational diversity as well. Juanita and Bill are in their forties; Dan and Debbie are in their fifties; Donavon, Destiny, and Alex are in their twenties; I was the youngest of the bunch at eighteen. We also had a mix of republicans and democrats.

At the beginning of the meal, after we made our plates of course, I got the conversation rolling with my first question. “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Because this was the first question and the guest were just beginning to get to know each other, it took a few minutes for the conversation to hit its stride. The table came to a consensus that it meant being a good person and having a positive influence on society.

Next I asked, “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Destiny said that this question was bringing out her inner social worker which resulted in laughter from around the table. She said through her work, she believes that a child coming from a home with a parent in prison for any amount of time has a major affect on them and that this is an issue not many people think about. Everyone at the table seemed to agree with her and we listened to her talk about working with children from this kind of background. During this particular conversation, I explained to everyone a concept I had been discussing in Citizen and Self called wicked problems. I told them the characteristics of wicked problems and gave a couple examples and said how the problem aforementioned by Destiny could be referred to as a wicked problem.

I noticed that after each question was answered, the conversation would come to a slight halt and people would wait for me to ask another question. I wanted the conversation to be natural so I told everybody to just talk about whatever they would like and I would occasionally ask another question. I wanted to be sneaky when bringing up the issues I wanted to discuss, so I slyly slid them into conversations. I overheard my mom talking to someone behind me. She was bragging on me which she like to do because let’s face it, I’m pretty cool. She was telling them about the part of the dinner I prepared which was the potatoes and the dessert (see a picture of the desserts below). I wasn’t the only person at the table at my table and I repeated it and effortlessly slid in my next question. I said, “Yeah, I made the potatoes, the dessert, and what kind of community do you want to live in?” Laughter ensued. After the laughing died down and several guest commended me for my efforts, Juanita answered the question and hit the nail right on the head. She said she would like to go back to a community where people would sit on their porches in the evening, you could leave your door unlocked, and people were friendlier. The table also agreed that we wished there could be more face-to face interaction rather than just texting and social media.

The conversation shifted for a few minutes to Donavon’s new job working for the prominent politician. After a few minutes, it was time to bring up my next topic. I waited for my chance and took it. “Hey, Donavon, now that your working for {prominent politician}, do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” Honestly unintentionally, this time my segway actually made sense. I added that this question was actually intended for everyone. Destiny said yes. She said that she believed she was helping troubled kids get help they needed which ultimately served a greater purpose. Juanita also said yes because she was helping educate a generation of young adults. Donavon also said yes as he was helping a young, honest politician rise up so they could help people all around the state. The consensus around the table was yes although because Dan is a pastor, we joked that Dan wasn’t serving any greater purpose.

The last question I asked was, “What advice would you to people running for office in our country?” Although we joked at first and said they should lie and do whatever it took to get to the top, we eventually came up with some good answers. Everyone gave a good answer to this question. We discussed Dan’s answer, which was the most specific, the most. He explained that they should abolish Amendment 16 which would get rid of federal tax. This led to a small political debate before I gave my answer. At the end of the political discussion, I said that the ultimate goal of a politician running for office or anyone for that matter should be to help as many people as possible.

In Citizen and Self, we have done a lot of discussion about how beneficial deliberation is. During my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I really got to see a real-life version of this. It was very nice to sit around a kitchen table, eat a home cooked meal, and civilly discuss issues important to everyone at the table. In class this semester, we had a reading called “How We Talk Matters”. In the reading, Keith Melville points out that listening and deliberating allows issues to be solved rationally. This really proved true during my dinner. Further, I learned that when you bring people of different backgrounds together to discuss issues, you get a wide variety of solutions as well as different perspectives on the problems. Originally, I was only hosting the dinner because it was for a class, but after doing it, I would love to do it again sometimes. In a digital world, it is so relieving to sit around a dinner table and just talk to people, especially when it’s over a good meal.

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Big Ideas in Small-Town U.S.A.

By Hannah

My Kentucky Kitchen Table meal took place in my home in a small-town, located in far eastern Kentucky, called London, Kentucky. This town is my hometown so I was very excited with the opportunity to host this meal here. In attendance to the meal was Ethan, Lyndsee, Delaney, Molly, and Carrie. Ethan is a graduate of the University of Cumberlands and is currently a teacher at Corbin Middle School in Corbin, Kentucky. He is also a member of the band Frontier, LLC. and their albums are available on iTunes and Spotify. Lyndsee is a sophomore at the University of Kentucky and is pursuing her career as a veterinarian. She is a member of the pre-veterinarian club and is also currently a residential hall assistant on campus in Donovan Hall. Delaney is a sophomore at the University of Kentucky, pursuing her physical therapy degree and is the academic chairperson of Delta Zeta. She also is a member of the pre-physical therapy association. Molly is a current student at Somerset Community College and is pursuing her degree as a dental hygienist. She is working currently at Hometown Bank as a bank teller. Carrie is a student at the University of Cumberlands, pursuing her accounting degree. She is the current accounting intern at ABC Automotive Systems Incorporation.

For the meal, I wanted to provide a home-cooked meal for my guests that I prepared myself, as I love to partake in cooking. I prepared the main entrees and desserts for the meal and then had my guests to provide their favorite appetizers. The meal was set to start at seven o’clock and after we had dined, I started the discussion. When asked the required question of beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what citizenship meant to each of them personally, there was an anonymous understanding that citizenship means that we are all part of something more in this world together. We are all a part of something bigger than ourselves that we can relate to. Citizenship is part of our identity and it includes our freedoms and liberties and how we interact with others and our community, not just nationally, but locally as well. Ethan was very interested in the question of if he sees his job as relating to his role as a citizen. As a history teacher in the critical growth stage of middle school, he felt very strongly that his job does relate to his role as a citizen. This made me think of the Nussbaum reading, “Not for Profit” because he related it to how he feels education should equip students to see themselves as “citizens of the world rather than merely Americans”, and that personally is his role as a teacher. He feels that it is his job to introduce to his students what it truly means to be a citizen and reflect this through his lessons that he provides. Lyndsee also felt very strongly about this question as she is a residential hall assistant on a university campus. She experiences everyday trials that students must face now that they are living on their own, instead of being dependent upon their parents. She feels that her role is critical in helping freshmen students to make this transition more smoothly into the world as an adult. When discussing what kind of community they desired to live in, Ethan brought up how he desires to live in a more isolated area, for peace and quiet in a busy world, while Molly wants to live in an area where everybody knows everybody and the neighborhood is more like family. Ethan brought up that this difference could be attributed to how he grew up in a neighborhood where he did not personally know his neighbors, while Molly added that her viewpoint could be because she did grow up in a community where she knew all her neighbors and most of them were even her family.  Delaney brought up her personal experience of moving from a small-town community, where she knew all her neighbors, to Lexington, where she hardly knew anyone and the isolation that she felt from this transition. After getting involved in her sorority though, she started to feel more at home and not as isolated, but compared the two different atmospheres as being opposites and a difficult transition at first. This made me reflect on how there may be numerous internal struggles that my classmates may be facing on the inside that we cannot see from the outside.

When asked if our religious or spiritual identity relates to how we should treat other people, Carrie said yes and went on to say that it also can be related to how we are raised and could become innate from our upbringing. This related to our study on “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt about the elephant and the rider. Our first initial reactions to other people may be related to what our elephants first think, in this case our upbringing. We also discussed how we do have obligations to other people in our country. At this point, I brought up the question if this includes if we also have the responsibility to take care of other people in our country. This question was hard for my guests to answer, just like it was in class. Delaney ended up stating that it is not our responsibility necessarily, because if a person does not do something we personally believe to be right, it does not mean that they are wrong, but it should be our obligation as the race of humans to be looking out for one another. Ethan added in that he does believe that his religious identity relates to how he treats other people because as a Christian, the Bible states to take care of the widows and the orphans, so he feels called to try to the best of his ability to treat everyone equally and help whenever he can. When discussing advice that we would give to people running for office in our country, it was a central theme that we needed to have more respect for one another. Lyndsee stated that she felt very bothered when seeing derogatory commercials of our presidential candidates stating mean things about the other. She also talked about how we should try and stop focusing so much on which “party” we belong to because it is creating more division than it should be. This reminded me of the article by Keith Melville, “How We Talk Matters,” because he wrote about how this world is not about “us vs. them. We’re all us.” There was an overall frustration that was voiced about how politics are currently. Lyndsee talked about how when the presidential debates were being aired, they held a viewing party in her dorm lobby and the students got so upset by the opposing views that the students all started to yell at each other and ultimately, the party ended up being cancelled and one student ran from the room, bursting into tears. This also reminded me of our discussions about how it is difficult for people to discuss hard issues like this and how often, it can lead to conflicts like what Lyndsee faced, leading two groups of people to be divided against each other. She also discussed about her experience thus far as a residential hall assistant and how she talks to people from all over the world of different origins and religions. She tries to relate to each person individually, aware of their diverse backgrounds and how she personally can learn something unique from each of her residents. When discussing if there is anything that we can do to make things better for our neighbors and where we live, Delaney brought up how she desires to be more friendly and open with her neighbors that she is not close with and it was even discussed how we desire to start more events for our neighbors to participate in together. Molly added that she knew of a neighborhood that would host a potluck every week, with a new family hosting weekly. This was not necessarily a time to visit for the neighbors, but a day that busy families could relax and not have to worry about preparing dinner for a night. It was a way that they could all help with the burden of a busy life together. Her story made me reflect on how we are all in this busy life together and that we can individually do things for one another that can help ease the stress and complications that we face, simply by in this case, preparing a meal once a week for others. This was what struck me and opened my eyes because I was doing this personally for my guests as well. Even though we may sometimes feel like we are a small human being in a big world and our impact does not matter, this is not the case. We can impact our world, communities, and friends in ways that we do not know and possibly, cannot see. Having this discussion in a way that was respectful and meaningful showed me how it can be possible and successful to have a conversation with others who have different experiences and backgrounds than you. Even though I went into this assignment feeling that I was going to teach my guests something, it was rather them who taught me.