Louisville, Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Haley

At first, when hearing about the Kentucky Kitchen Table project I thought it was dumb. I didn’t understand the point of it, and just saw it as another thing to do on my to-do list. I then googled “Kentucky Kitchen Table” and started reading other people’s experiences, and my interest was piqued. I read all of these stories about people’s family and friends engaging in meaningful conversation about topics that actually matter. I was then excited to host my own Kentucky Kitchen Table.

For my Kentucky Kitchen Table I decided to do it in my hometown, Louisville, Kentucky. I hosted the dinner at my house, with my parents and our neighbors whom I invited to make the table more diverse. My neighbors brought their 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son as well, making 7 people around the table. My mom, Jennifer, is a pharmacist who loves to read and go to yoga, and my dad Steve, is the CEO of an insurance company, who loves to go to the gym and play golf. Both of my parents are pretty strong republicans and tend to have very conservative view points. Jim and Nancy my neighbors, come to find out, have very different political views. Jim is a Physician’s Assistant who loves to play games with his kids in his free time, and Nancy is a social worker at a low-income school in Jefferson County who loves to paint. They told me that they tend to lean towards the more democratic side, but would consider themselves more of independents. Their two kids Sophie and Jack, go to Kammerer Middle School and love to play sports and hang out with their friends. Their kids quite frankly were a little young for some of the conversation, but they brought some valuable opinions nonetheless.

When I invited them over they seemed thrilled, and asked if they could bring anything. I told them that I would make the main course, chicken parmesan, if they could bring a vegetable, and they brought asparagus. We had mostly only had small talk with our neighbors at this point, so it was cool to actually sit down and talk to them. When they got there, we introduced ourselves more formally, and actually started to get to know one another. Jim and Nancy were both very sweet people, with very interesting life stories. They are both from Kentucky, born and raised, but other than that common denominator they were as different as they come. This became very interesting as we sat down at the dinner table and began discussing the more pressing topics.

I started the conversation by telling them about our class and the topics of how can we live better together, how can we solve problems, and how can we have more of a say over our lives. I described to them the process of deliberation and how this conversation should stay respectful, and how listening to other opinions could perhaps give each-other a new point of view.

When asked the question, “what does citizenship mean to you”, there was kind of a dead silence and then once everyone got to talking the phrase “being a productive member of society” kept being repeated. When I started to think about that, I thought what does that mean? Sophie surprisingly chimed in on this question and said that citizenship to her meant being kind to everyone and helping people, whereas Steve said that being a citizen means that you do your fair share in the economy, and community. I think that it was interesting especially on this question, how age really affected the answer. Sophie, Jack, and I seemed to think that citizenship is something that is so simple, and that we as citizens, overcomplicate it. Whereas the older people at the table, Steve, Jennifer, Jim, and Nancy thought that citizenship was more of a job that included more dutiful tasks and work. This question got the ball rolling but there was not much disagreement, or diversity in the conversation. One question that I thought was very interesting was, “do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” When asked this question Nancy started telling stories of her children that she works with in the schools. She feels like sometimes she is the only one who can make an impact on these children in low-income schools. She believes that her greater purpose is to be a light in these schools, and uses her faith to drive her in that. We then began talking about how it is so important to have mentors as a child, who push you to be a better person. The question then arose, is it these kid’s faults that they end up in drug circles, and gangs, when the only thing that they have ever grown up around is drug circles and gangs. It was interesting when Sophie and Jack began to talk about how they feel like they can make an impact on kids in their schools from what their parents are teaching them at home. How can we as citizens make sure that we are doing all we can to lessen the amount of poverty and crime in these low-income communities? This made me realize you don’t have to be in a position of power, status, or wealth to be able to positively impact someone. My mom, Jennifer then brought to the table how she didn’t think that you had to have a direct role, to make an impact. This brought some controversy, as myself and Nancy disagreed pretty heavily with her. We had the mindset that in order to do something, about anything, not just with at-risk children, you have to take initiative and play a direct role, which is something that as citizens who have the means to do so, should do.

When talking about what our responsibilities are, and who we want to be I think it was a general consensus that we all want to be “good people”. The disagreement came when discussing how we could achieve that. I think for different people being a good person, means different things. For Sophie and Jack, that could mean sitting with someone who is sitting alone in the cafeteria, but for Jennifer or Jim that could mean, helping a co-worker who is struggling, or donating to a charity. At the end of this discussion, I thought to myself maybe this is why it is so hard as a collective group of citizens, to decide on how to fix a problem, or even live well together, because we all have different ways of contributing to society. Maybe, instead of scrutinizing people because they don’t bring what we do to the table, or they bring something different to the table, if we commended them and opened our minds to what they have to bring we would live more harmoniously.

The last thing we talked about is how we had lived next to each other for almost 3 years and haven’t done this sort of thing sooner. This was really interesting to me because it really shows how selfish we are as human beings. We are “too busy” to really invest in our surroundings, which is a huge pitfall of our generation and current time. I think this is a huge reason of why we find it so difficult to live better together, and to solve problems collectively, is that we simply don’t make it a priority. This dinner gave my parents especially, who live there, a great opportunity to get to know the people who they live right next to. I think also it gave them a good opportunity to discuss how neighbors can be better neighbors. One definition of neighbor is a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward fellow humans, and I think that this dinner allowed Jim and Nancy and Steve and Jennifer to be able to assess how they can be better neighbors to each other. My parents have since then had dinner with Nancy and Jim several times, and they even all played a round of golf together.

To me this dinner really encompassed the main purpose of this class, I found myself throughout the dinner referring to some of the readings that we did in class, and drawing from that knowledge to form how I thought about the issue. “To Hell With Good Intentions” and “How We Talk Matters” encompass themes that were so prevalent in our conversation, such as how should we help, should we even help at all, and how can we best cater to others. It was through this night that I realized that we have a long way to go in society to become a well-oiled machine, and talking about controversial topics, and having open conversations about them is the first step. I also learned that branching out and learning more about the people that live in your community is so important. Jim and Nancy challenged me to think about things differently, and consider those who had a different childhood than I did, and who have different circumstances than me. Overall, this was a very rewarding experience, and one that I would do again given the chance.

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Kentucky Kitchen Table

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My kitchen table project was set in Louisville, Kentucky. Michael, Kristin, Peter, Charlie, and Josh ate dinner with me (Sarah) at my family’s home. Michael is my father who used to work for General Electric, and now works for First Build. Kristin is my mother who works as a stay at home mom and substitute teacher. Peter is an exchange student from China who goes to Josh’s school. Josh is my younger brother, a sophomore in high school. Last, but not least, Charlie is my older brother. He also attends Western Kentucky University and is a junior. Mike did not want to be included in the photograph.

We all helped participate in making the dinner, splitting the jobs of shredding the cheese to help make the pasta, baking the chicken, and boiling the green beans.

“Citizenship means being able to govern ourselves,” Mike said as he answered the question “what does citizenship mean to you?” He went on to explain how citizenship in the United States gave people freedom that some countries do not have.

We went on to discuss what each person believed what the best thing about our world today is. In Peter’s opinion, the best thing is the temporary peace. However, Josh stated that technology is the best thing about the world. This single question began to show how different viewpoints can shape opinions and have a result that is completely different than the person next to them.

Peter’s answer of peace made sense, as he came from China. Many people are still in danger in China, whereas the United States is a free country. In Peter’s eyes, that is peace.

Josh, on the other hand, has been raised with the privilege of freedom. Technology has been centered in his life through school work and communication as well as appliances and other things. Technology is the world to him, so that is why he answered with that.

Mike stated that his favorite thing about the world today is life. He is content with just living and breathing.

“I love breathing, man,” he said. “Let me tell you something, we are blessed.”

He also loves the diversity of nature and the beauty of the world itself.

When asked what he wanted to live in, Josh once again responded with a twenty-first-century answer. He mentioned wanting to live in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is an area in southern San Francisco, where there is a lot of technology and businesses.

When Peter answered what he liked most about living in China, his answer was simple: food. He loves the traditional Chinese food. During the dinner, Peter mentioned how much he missed it, but he also enjoyed the food we ate in the United States.

Mike and Josh agreed that the one thing they love most about living in the United States is the freedom we are given. They are able to do what they want to do (legally, of course), and go where they want to go, when they want to. Religion is not persecuted in the United States, so they are also free to believe what they want to.

Mike and Kirstin both agreed that it is important as a society to get to know your neighbors. That way, a community can be built within the neighborhood. Within a strong community, people can communicate and help each other out. However, Josh’s point of view was quite different.

Josh believed that there was not a point to knowing his neighbors, as he wasn’t doing anything with them like talking to or working with them. In his words, “there’s no need for me to interact with them.”

Peter knew his neighbors from China because his father worked with them.

When we discussed how our jobs influence others, everyone agreed. No matter whether someone’s job is in a business or a teaching job, the way people interact with others matters. First impressions especially stand out. Many jobs require connections. Connections are made by creating a relationship between people, and most people would like that relationship to be a positive one.

Those in the dinner did not have much advice to give to the people running or office. This is because none of us are smart enough, have the experience, nor are planning to run for office in the future. Charlie, however, eventually gave a firm, well thought out advice that everyone could take into thought. Charlie did not participate in the discussion too much, but he finally had something to say. “Do what is meaningful, not what is expedient,” Charlie advised.

Religion can make an impact on how people treat other people, but it does not have to. Christianity, for example, tells believers to treat everyone with love and kindness, but someone does not have to be a Christian to have those traits. Religion may have certain guidelines for morals, but even those who are not religious do, too.

This conversation helped me learn more about how age can shape views. For example, the younger participants cared more about technology and money, whereas the older participants cared about the community and helping others. This may be caused by the increase of social media and technology, which the younger participants had grown up with. The older participants, however, were used to getting to know people in person and building relationships.

This connects to the class because we are learning about how we can work together as a community. Without community, problems cannot be solved very well. In order to solve issues together, the community needs to get along and understand where each other is coming from so that they can work together in a peaceful environment and avoid conflict as best as they can.

Growing up in different countries also changes perspectives. Peter, for example, comes from a persecuted family in China, whereas Josh comes from a privileged family in the United States. Peter focused on what he believes to be the temporary peace that is seemingly spread around the world, whereas Josh focused his part of the conversation in angling back to the advancement in technology.

My Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Annalee

This past weekend I had the opportunity to eat a dinner around a table in my hometown, Louisville, and discuss the way the world is, and how our community interacts. Among the people I ate with was an “optimistic dreamer” who spends most of her time at the University of Louisville’s Office of Technology Transfer getting a first look at the new technology UofL has to explore, her name is Karen; a “quiet mom” who works passionately with GIS (geographic information system) looking at data and the maps in Louisville, her name is Lisa; the “hardworking” renaissance man I call dad, and of course, my “warm” Aunt Jenny who often used her experience working as a behavior specialist to add an authoritative response to the discussion. My Aunt Jenny was the first person to come to mind when thinking of who would allow me to host a dinner at their house, and she was thrilled to have an opportunity to bring out her china. Everyone brought their own dish to the dinner, and I supplied the dessert. The two woman, Karen and Lisa, that my Aunt Jenny invited where complete strangers to me when we began the meal, and throughout I noticed the difference in backgrounds and things that were closest to their hearts; I think that was one of the things that made the discussion that much more beneficial for us all.

The first thing I noticed when beginning the dinner was that the individuals around the table had never had an experience like this one before, and after answering their many questions about what my class is like I noticed how much they were all looking forward to it.

We started with my aunt’s homemade chili and a caesar salad that Lisa brought, and throughout the meal I saw a connection between how little these people had experiences like this and how they reacted to the questions I was asking; they often times had to think a little and a few times their response began with “I had never really thought of that, but…” I can definitely relate to this; many of the articles we have read in Citizen and Self have opened my eyes to options I never would have thought extensively about. We spent the first bit of the dinner discussing citizenship and what it meant to them, and Karen said that she thinks being able to be the person that you are is what citizenship is all about, and mentioned religion as an example. There was an overall agreement that those things were often taken for granted, and as the night went on their opinion on that slightly changed as they discussed social issues and how there are so many people in the world with a fear of being the person they are. I thought that it was interesting to see their slight shift in opinion, and while I think their opinions were very optimistic and hopeful, I think they were expected and represent a large part of how we think today. We believe something to be true until the moment the truth is contradicted and we either end up feeling inferior to the opposing argument, or fight back, when instead we should think for ourselves and have a reason behind a change of heart. While they were discussing which social issues are dearest to their hearts, I noticed that they were bringing up things that they felt a lot of empathy for, whether that was the kids from Maryhurst Alternative School in Louisville, who need escape from abuse, or something more widely known such as abortion. A lot of the discussion surrounding these social issues came from a more personal discussion about home lives. Because my dad and my aunt were both at the table, they had similar perspectives of their childhood: growing up around a dinner table where they had the same meals every week and could not leave the table until every bit of the meal was finished. My dad said, “I mean I can look back at it now and think of it fondly, but at the time I really hated it.” Karen thought of the girls in Maryhurst and how they definitely did not have safe home lives, and made the comment that so much of what she knows, from manners to social problems, comes from her household and how she was raised. A lot of the conversations that we have with our families are what shape the core of who our family is, and I think that can definitely relate to what we talk a lot about in class; what we are commonly exposed to, the media for example, is where we get the base of our arguments.

My Aunt Jenny spent the second half of her career working as a behavior specialist for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, and during this dinner she mentioned how she feels as though she has an obligation to help families and children find their way in life. It meant so much to her to first-hand see the improvement in the student and the way they interact with their family. I think it is common for individuals in society to really resonate within their career path and think of it as their way to contribute to the community. It is a personal obligation, where she, and many others, feel the desire to see something happen. Later, when speaking about which social issue is closest to her heart she spoke about how she has a lot of empathy for the families she works with that need food stamps, but then struggles when she sees those parents with a laziness towards getting a job. That is another example where the people at the dinner noticed the contradiction in their own lives, which is something we talk a lot about in Citizen and Self; there being a disconnect not between how we feel, but how we explain how we feel. I was curious to see if anyone else around the table has something that they do because they believe that it is the morally right thing to do. Lisa talked about how she always felt the need to help the homeless by giving them money, although she often felt uncomfortable doing so. She eventually came up with a plan to take them out for a meal with her rather than just handing them the money and not seeing the use they put towards it. This situation reminds me of our discussion of Haidt’s article Righteous Mind, specifically about the elephant and the rider and I think it is a perfect example of a person’s rider taking a little control to explain a more logical approach to the elephant’s actions.

As dinner continued and we had the choice between Karen’s chess pie and my brownies, my dad was still thinking about the question about obligations to the other people in our country/community. He kept bringing up the point that “honesty is so important, regardless of the situation,” and went on to share his opinions on doing what is good versus what is right. His comment made me think about a time when a person in my life had lied to me about something that, had I found out about at the time would have really hurt me, and they did it to ‘protect’ my feelings. I learned from finding out the truth later that that experience was one where I would have much preferred the person have done what was right, instead of what was good; honesty is so important to me. I remember talking a lot about the battle between good versus right while discussing Ivan Illich’s speech, “To Hell with Good Intentions,” in class, and this moment at the dinner table was one where I felt I could really put the readings I had studied from class into the real world because someone I know from home was speaking about the same thing, it was quite frankly pretty cool.

I wanted to end the dinner on a more positive note, so I asked the question about the best things in our world today and each person had immediate responses. They were shouting out words like “people,” “love,” “family,” “relationships,” all of the things in the world that we can have strong connections with if we really try. Lisa’s response was one that I really loved, and it stuck with me throughout the night: she said, “the best thing is being able to help others in a crisis, it is about humanity and humility.” I think that if everyone took the time to talk with their neighbors and their families about the issues they hold dearest to their hearts, that it would start a chain reaction and broaden to positively changing the way democracy works today. We also talked a little about democracy during the dinner, and my Aunt Jenny spoke about how although we have so much freedom in the U.S., people still take things like religion and race and judge others with a righteous and almighty mindset; one that will have the opposite effect for an improving democracy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this experience. The reactions I got before the dinner had even begun were ones that would definitely inspire me to implement discussions like this into my daily life more. This was the first time that I had ever gone into a conversation about the world and about democracy that I had a different approach to, and it definitely had an impact on me, and hopefully the others around the dinner table. I learned that while my dad and my Aunt grew up in the exact same home environment, their adult lives had shaped them into seemingly very different people. Karen and Lisa both said that they never would have thought to taking the first step in befriending their neighbors, and I honestly cannot remember that being a normalcy in my childhood home, either. This semester we have been talking all about community involvement and actually getting out and talking with people about the topics that are depicting so much of our lives, and this night felt like a really good start.

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Living Better Together

 

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By Chad

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.  

A College Kid Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Ruth

My meal took place in the city I was born and raised in: Louisville, Kentucky. I hosted my dinner at my sister’s apartment downtown, and we invited many of her friends. Everyone at the dinner attends the University of Louisville, and most of the guys were part of a fraternity. Although everyone who attended was approximately the same age, there was still an array of diversity, from sexuality to religion to upbringing.
Starting from the far left of my photo is Allison. Allison is one of my sister’s roommates and the only other person at the dinner that I knew besides my sister. Allison grew up in Bowling Green in a very conservative household with strict parents. She claims that her parents are extremely strict on some matters, such as boys and clothing, but lenient on others, such as alcohol and marijuana. Second is Joe #1. Joe #1 was extremely quiet the whole dinner, and when I asked him about himself, he said his life is “normal.” I never learned much about Joe #1 except that he is a sophomore and in the Lambda Qi fraternity at the University of Louisville. Next is Foster. Foster is a freshman, a Lambda Qi associate member. Throughout the course of the dinner, Foster was almost as quiet as Joe #1, although he did laugh a lot. I do not know much about Joe #1 or Foster, except that they smoke a lot of weed and were too high that night to give much input. Next up is Kyle, the sweetest, most respectful college-aged boy I have ever met. Kyle has very strong values and had tons of good input. After Kyle is his best friend Adam. Adam’s family grew up impoverished in downtown Louisville. He is very outgoing around people, but seemed shy when answering questions.
Next is Sophie, my older sister. Like me, Sophie grew up a preacher’s daughter, and has since, also like me, drifted away from her faith. Our parents are very conservative, but Sophie is very adventurous and independent. On the far end of the couch is Kayla. Both of Kayla’s parents came out as gay after Kayla was born. Her mother remarried a woman, and Kayla lives with them. Kayla doesn’t see or speak to her father anymore. Kayla was also very quiet the whole evening. Next to Kayla is Joe #2. Joe #2 is from Louisville; he grew up Catholic but now identifies as agnostic. Joe #2 seemed to be a very wise, in-tune person. Next is Rachel. Rachel is Allison’s cousin and is also from Bowling Green. Rachel is also a freshman, and she is openly gay. Lastly is Alex. Alex talked the most, and about a lot of things, however I never got much out of anything he said. He is from Louisville and lives at home with his parents. He grew up religious but is not so much anymore.
I started the dinner by having everyone share a little bit about themselves, and I asked follow-up questions to get to know each person better. We spent a decent amount of time doing this because I wanted everyone to get to know each other and be comfortable talking. Most everyone seemed at ease and willing to share, although some did take a slight bit of prodding. I asked the mandatory question of course, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” I think people were a little stumped by this question and couldn’t really think of much. I got a couple answers about being there for people and supporting one another. We ended up talking about community, and being involved. The group agreed that being a part of a community is important when it comes to citizenship. I tried not to dwell on this question too much because, even though it was our one required question, it didn’t spark much conversation.
I asked a handful of the optional questions, ones that I thought would get some decent discussion. With almost every question, the conversation tended to veer back towards the idea of community. With one question, “What do you think are the best things about our world today,” Kyle said the internet. His point was how close it has made us. It has developed its own community that would otherwise not be possible. I asked if there were any downsides to the internet, and the group agreed that there is, but the benefits outweigh the negatives. They all seemed to just want to be good, loving, kind people. When I asked them if they thought they had an obligation to their community, they all immediately agreed that we all do. I found that interesting because in our class discussion on obligation, it took a while for us to decide. In class, we spent more time thinking and deliberating; we did not act upon our gut reaction.
Everyone who attended my dinner was very receptive and willing, but most of them were shy. Alex and Kyle would jump to give me a response, with the occasional initial answer from Joe #2. Once somebody answered, however, the rest of the group was more willing to give their opinion. It took a little longer to get the conversation going than I anticipated. I had to help mediate and include a few people here and there, but overall, I had a very good group.
My group was large, which I liked because it allowed for more personal side conversations. It seems strange, but I felt like everyone felt more at ease knowing they could occasionally gather in a smaller group they felt more comfortable in. It made the larger group discussions more impactful, and allowed me to listen in on the smaller discussions, getting to know everybody better. People would talk a little in a smaller group, and then come to the larger group and share their opinions. The smaller groups gave everyone a more comfortable atmosphere to come up with ideas. This reminds me of our class. We are given some time in the beginning to discuss in a pair or small group. We can gather our thoughts and then feel comfortable sharing our organized thoughts with the larger group.
If I am to be completely honest, I did not really learn much from this activity. Going into it, I had high hopes and expectations; I thought it was a cool activity and I would get a lot out of it. I know most people are the opposite, thinking this project is dumb and pointless. They then host the dinner and find that is was helpful and interesting. I, on the other hand, did not get much out of my dinner. I thought I did it correctly, and I thought we had pretty good discussion, but it just didn’t do much for me. I think I was stressing about the project too much that I didn’t allow myself to enjoy the dinner. I was worried about cooking and inviting and making sure everyone was happy when they arrived. I do, however, think the project is a good idea. Although I did not learn anything tangible, it gave me the opportunity to meet new people and hear thoughts from a diverse group.
This Kentucky Kitchen Table related to the central question of the class, “How do we live well together?” The whole discussion was geared toward the idea of community and how we can be there for those around us. A reading that closely relates is “The Empathy Exams Essays” by Leslie Jamison. This reading is about how humans want to feel cared for. We all have feelings, and we want our feelings to be validated by other people. It can be difficult to empathize with somebody, especially if you have not been through what they are going through and you do not understand their pain. We all deal with stuff, and we all expect someone to care. Caring for a struggling person can be hard when you are struggling yourself. We all must realize that we can live well together and support each other, but we cannot have unreasonable expectations of others.
The book “Citizen” by Claudia Rankine is another class reading that relates to the question “How do we live well together?” This book is all about an African American woman living in a mostly white world. She is explaining her experiences with racism and discrimination. My dinner group would say that the people in her community have an obligation to stand up to her. They should treat her equally and with respect, and should defend her in a time of need. This book is all about community and working together to improve our world.
Overall, this Kentucky Kitchen Table experience was mediocre. It was a very interesting project, and I have never done anything like it. I am grateful that I had the chance to experience something like this. It was more fun and exciting than a paper; it was a real, hands on project. It was a good thing to do and I think it benefits most people. IMG_8451

Kentucky Kitchen Table: Related, not Synonymous

By CarolineCaroline Camfield Kentucky Kitchen Table

San Diego, Switzerland, New Orleans, Charleston, Cincinnati, California, Louisville, Bowling Green: Out of everyone at my Kentucky Kitchen Table, at least two (if not three or four) had been to all of these places. Part of the reason, everyone (besides me that is) is at least related by marriage and can be tied into my jump rope coach, who hosted the dinner in her home; Julie, a 60-year-old mother of one, who after growing up in Louisville, KY and attending college at Western Kentucky University, spent several years travelling across the globe, utilizing her master’s degree in teaching to teach English as a Second Language in Europe. This is where her husband David is from (although they actually met at a hotel in California, and her sister Lynn was the one to meet him first.) David, a Swiss immigrant first came to the United States as an adult to travel and did not plan on actually moving here until he met Julie and they married. After Julie and he returned to her hometown of Louisville, David attended the University of Louisville’s Speed School of Engineering and currently works as an engineer. Julie’s sister Lynn, who is 5 years older than her sister, also grew up in Louisville and attended Western Kentucky University. After college, however, she worked in the field of social work until Julie convinced her to join her in some of her travels (which because her and her husband Paul don’t have any children they still spend a large amount of time travelling.) Currently, Lynn lives in Northern Kentucky and just recently retired from being a preschool teacher at a school in one of Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhoods. Paul grew up in California with “libertarian parents” who’s views did not necessarily align with his own; he worked in New Orleans as a cab driver for several years (before he moved to Northern Kentucky) and currently works as a substitute math teacher.  Then finally, there is Julie’s daughter, Murray, a 20-year-old college student who followed in her Aunt and Mother’s footsteps and attended Western Kentucky University and is currently a math and English double-major.

The dietary constraints at the meal were almost as diverse as the places everyone had travelled; from vegan to paleo to vegetarian, almost everyone had their own unique considerations when it came to choosing what foods to bring. However, since the two people following the vegan and paleo diets are somewhat relaxed in maintaining these diets, especially when desserts are involved, they weren’t taken into account for a few of the food choices. To the meal, I provided the first and last courses (even though not everyone ate them in that order); I brought a salad consisting of assorted greens, fresh cut corn, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, and peppers, and individual bread pudding cups topped with bourbon sauce for dessert. For our main dish, Julie baked a layered spinach and tomato pasta dish she makes frequently enough for her daughter that I’ve had it a few times before when I was at their house. Lynn and Paul both contributed fresh fruit, cubed pineapple and chocolate-covered strawberries, respectively. David provided asiago and cinnamon crunch bagels from Panera (since he receives a free bagel everyday this month, which is quite fitting since the majority of us at the table partake in as many opportunities to receive and utilize free-food offers as we can.) And finally, Murray contributed milk to the table and while not everyone drank it, it did lead to her telling the story of how she convinced a few young jumpers from the jump rope team in Trinidad and Tobago that since she drank milk at meals other than breakfast, she calls herself a milk girl. And this was how the majority of the dinner went; sometimes ideas and beliefs were stated explicitly but mostly they were woven into the conversations through stories.

This idea became especially clear when I asked he table what their ideal community would be, because, for the most part, they answered with locations they’ve previously lived instead of descriptions of the qualities of a community like I expected. This highlights how everyone, except for Murray and me, is very well traveled and their travels have all impacted their lives in some way. Julie was first one to answer this question and declared she wanted to live in a beach community (and later changed it to an alternative beach community/co-op once hearing everyone else’s ideas.) This was another theme throughout the meal, everyone was fairly willing to change their ideas of what they wanted after someone else had an idea they liked better. This ties back into the concept of the Elephant and the Rider, discussed in the except we read in class from Haidt’s Righteous Mind, since while everyone’s elephant initially led them in one direction, the elephant was sometimes very easily swayed to another when it thought that that could be a better option (leaving the rider to adjust the justifications accordingly.) As for everyone else, Paul wanted to move back down to New Orleans because of the unique atmosphere there and the diverse group of people he encountered while working as a taxi-driver. When first asked the question, Lynn described how she’d live in a diverse community, like Paul, enjoying the variety of perspectives that subsequently arise out of diverse backgrounds (but then after hearing the rest of the table’s responses, she changed hers to a beach community, which depending on the exact location can prove to be a diverse mixture many different demographics.)

Since the overall dynamic at the table promoted the sharing of stories, which, as it oftentimes does, got off topic, preventing everyone from explicitly sharing their ideas of what they believe it means to be a citizen, the viewpoints that were shared surprisingly varied more than their answers to every other topic that was mentioned (although unsurprisingly their responses still fed off of one another quite a bit.) Lynn was the first to answer and described her belief that being a citizen gives you the right to peacefully protest, and thus influence how society is run. Paul almost directly opposed this by describing how he believed that while being a citizen gives you the ability to protest, he enjoys how you also have the ability and freedom to stay quiet if you are so inclined due to the freedom of speech. Furthermore, he emphasized how ideally, all freedoms would be granted and respected by society (which while it would eliminate the need for some protest it would depend on having an almost perfect society.) Murray then proceeded to explain that while she believes being a citizen does give you the ability to not voice your opinion if you don’t want to, she also believes speaking up for others with less privilege (and who aren’t able to do so) is an obligation. Her ideas fed off both her aunt and uncle’s, agreeing and disagreeing with ideas from both, which goes to show that while she grew up hearing their beliefs, she has still formed her own and not just conformed to the ones surrounding her. For the most part, everyone did have their own distinct beliefs concerning each topic we discussed, yet at times everyone was more than willing to adapt their ideas to someone else’s if a new idea was presented. This openness caught me by surprise a little since the dynamic in many families merely focuses on convincing others of your beliefs instead of actually listening to what everyone thought.

At this table especially, everyone brought a set of their own fairly unique experiences, which in turn influenced their opinions. When discussing social issues that were closest to our heart, Lynn mentioned that she witnessed racism occur between people of both the same race and of different ones while teaching at her school, even though the population there consisted almost entirely of African Americans. Yet through talking with other teachers and students, she was able to adapt her perspectives to accommodate their experiences that she sympathized with, yet would never truly experience. Likewise, Paul felt that education was important to him, stemming from his current job, and David said that the decreasing middle class was an issue needing to be addressed since he is a part of that demographic. Murray followed this trend by saying, somewhat indecisively, that animal rights and sustainability were both issues she felt connected to (especially animal rights since, as she explained, it was only after learning that animals were treated so poorly before they were processed into food for consumption that she eliminated the already minimal amount of meat from her diet.) She then followed up with the statement that while these two issues matter to her, she realizes they aren’t the most pressing issues faced by society; in addition, she also believes that LGBTQ rights and feminine equality are important, even though she may not be able to influence the causes as directly as she can with the other two. Out of everyone’s responses, Murray was the only one who mentioned an example of actually making an effort to combat the social issue they felt closest to, and although this could be because some of the other issues are broader and could be more intimidating to tackle, it may also signify a generational change, or a combination of both if young adults today are standing up not for the broader issues, but for more specific ones, and by doing so they feel more able to make an impact and thus are attempting to do so.

A Surprisingly Enlightening Pot Roast

By Chase

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As an unusually warm mid October day came to a close in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, I raced downstairs in my Western Kentucky University t-shirt to the sound of expectant knocking at the door. Thoughts of indifference and relative unease swirled through my head as I neared the hungry guests waiting patiently outside. With little excitement for the Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment facing me, I focused on the incredible smell of my mother’s famous pot roast emanating from the kitchen. Opening up our home, our two guests, Karen and Paul, stood before me at the entrance before eagerly coming into the sweet aroma of homemade cooking.

Hearing the sound of our guests, Jan, my mom, raced over to the hallway to exchange hugs with Karen, her old roommate from college at the University of Louisville, and her husband, both chemical engineers. After my dad, Nick, told some corny jokes, we all headed outside to enjoy summer’s last fling before the fall sun quickly disappeared below the horizon. As I sipped on my iced water with my brother, Chad, I silently dreaded the imminent awkwardness of asking family friends of their views on citizenship and society as a whole.

Bellies rumbling, we collectively decided to get ready for dinner as the natural light outside slowly faded into nothingness. As twins, Chad and I softly sighed realizing, even at dinner we would have to do some schoolwork.

Lighting the candle and dimming the lights in our cozy kitchen, I set the tone for an intimate and revealing conversation where everyone could talk freely. Diverse not in race or socioeconomic class, we all gathered around the table as friends of different religions, jobs, and, most importantly, perspectives on the world. Though largely of the same political mindset, I was thoroughly surprised at the difference of opinion that would ensue on issues of citizenship and society throughout the night.

As we passed the lemon salad, pot roast, macaroni and cheese, green beans, and mashed potatoes around the table we made small talk about the delicious feast that lay before us. Though we did not pray before eating we each implicitly went around the table and told something we were thankful for in an almost Thanksgiving-like manner, mostly commenting on the importance of family and friends and the beautiful spread on our many plates. With six people squeezed around a table for four, we dug into our food with relish as I prepared my first question in my head.

And so it began with the first shaky question out of my mouth: “Besides for paying taxes, and voting, what does it mean to be a citizen?” Through the ramble of clanking dishes and chewing mouths, without hesitation Karen chimed in that citizenship was truly about contributing to society. Though interrupted by Nick’s slight tangent on the issue of not being able to contribute to society’s political discourse because of the staunch politically correct culture that embodies American culture at the moment, Jan largely finished Karen’s thought that we may all contribute through supporting the economy through our purchases, and helping others in need.

Karen continued her point about contribution as she cited her own personal endowment to the local community. After the horribly upsetting news about the UofL men’s basketball program the in the past month, she typed and sent a letter to the University of Louisville Board of Trustees to speak her mind about the corruption and ineffectiveness of the athletic program as an avid fan and season ticket holder. Though she recognized her letter probably received little attention at the meeting, Karen expressed just how much better she felt as she properly expressed her opinion through the undeniable right of free speech in American society.

The normally quiet and reserved Paul related that in providing a safe, reliable, and rewarding workplace to his employees at his chemical engineering firm he was doing his own part in providing to society. As more and more comments flooded in about economic security in our communities, Jan’s comment of the necessity of feeling as if we all support ourselves and the society harmoniously struck me as she continued that it proves imperative that we all have a stake in our communities, whether it be through our work and services we offer to other citizens, taxes we pay to help keep the economy, and our society as a whole afloat, or simply working to be a productive member for our own families and by default contributing to the wellbeing of the population of Louisville and Kentucky.

Through continued remarks of just how delicious the pot roast was and probing questions into the location of the butter, we moved on to the idea of “ideal communities” as I began to appreciate this assignment more and more. With her boisterous views, Jan immediately talked of the ideal community in which everyone was working towards the greater good for their families and consequently working towards the greater good for the community as a whole. Recognizing that unemployment was a real issue that plagued many Americans she didn’t mind the idea of welfare and government help to get people back on their feet, but held that everyone should contribute in any way they must while unemployed whether it be through helping the local daycare where their child attends, or actively searching for a way to a better life through persistence and will to not be “a bump on a log”.

With a variety of agreeable comments and the occasional “teach a man to fish” parables, family and friends held firm in their prescription to fix the ailments of society through each individual’s hard working contribution. Though interesting, by far the most resonating idea came from Paul who related his experiences of living in Denmark to the ideal community. I know personally that Paul would never subscribe to the principles of a socialistic government like they have in the very liberal Scandinavia, but even through these convictions he greatly praised the incredible trust the Danish people have in each other and their government giving examples of the government run child-care system and people leaving their babies unattended in their strollers out on street corners while in stores due to such deep confidence in their lack of harm.

Hearing this, I was incredulous at the thought of complete faith in and reliance on the workings of the government and the everyday person as the ever-so polarized American political system exposes and perpetuates American citizens inability to get along with one another and work towards the common goal of happiness and success for all. It seems to me that we are so focused on our political and ideological convictions in this country with two incredibly opposed political points of view, that we forget that most of us really do wish for the betterment of society. Through our lack of understanding one another, both liberals and conservatives alike, we find ourselves facing a wicked problem of our own creation: the ineffectiveness of communication across arbitrary political, racial, theological, and socio-economic divides in our equally as wicked battle in identity politics.

As the conversation ensued, I was constantly reminded of the numerous selections we read in class and their application to real people’s experiences and frames of mind. When we arrived on the topic of global citizenship and its meaning to each of us, quotes and memories of seminar discussions about the necessity for us to make ourselves look at the world from the standpoint of our global effect on one another came flooding back into the forefront of my mind. Though views ranged from never subsidizing and supporting monetarily other countries to our absolute need to make sure other countries do not fail their own people, we all came to the unconditional conviction that we must stand up and speak out for the defense of basic human rights across the world.

I found it quite interesting that at a largely conservative-minded table that stereotypes the focus on the individual and the patriotism of America, everyone saw it imperative to protect and serve our fellow human beings around the world when their humanity was threatened.

Finishing our scrumptious home-cooked meal in the comfort of friends and family, we relished in our gratefulness for one another and our friendship that we shared. Taking the last morsel of mac and cheese on my fork I came to the slow but enlightening conclusion of the importance of this assignment in its ability to start a conversation towards solutions of everyday problems in our local communities and larger society. This idea of proper, intimate, and friendly conversation struck a chord with me in an American society that seems to idealize the polarization of our differences to such a degree that we cannot seem to progress as a unified people. As we focus more on white and black, Christian and Muslim, conservative and liberal, and straight and gay, we lose sight of our shared experiences, and more importantly, our shared humanity. Though it may be hard to believe, most all citizens desire to find betterment not only for themselves but for others in our society and world. If we ever truly want to pioneer a more accepting, trusting, and loving world where everyone works toward society’s advancement, we must learn to communicate not for our differences, but despite them.