A Kentucky Kitchen Table to Be Thankful For

By: Natalie

The Kentucky Kitchen Table was conducted in St. Louis, Missouri at my family’s Thanksgiving party. Since the Table took place over the holidays, the participants were family. Seven people, including myself, were generous enough to eat their turkey while talking about their views of the world, themselves as citizens, and the social issues that we as Americans and global citizens face. Those at the table were my great aunt, my sister, two of my aunts, my mom, and my second cousin. My great aunt, Crazy Aunt Joyce, is 64, unmarried with no children, and works for American Optometric Association, and, as her name entails, she is the life of the party. My sister, Emilie, is 21, a student at Missouri State University, a Global Studies major with a minor in Spanish and Geo-tourism, and an avid world traveler. My Aunt Teri just turned 50, married into our family, mother of three boys who are all in college, works as a kindergarten teacher, and is a phenomenal baker. My Aunt Kristi is in her late forties, married into the family, is mother to a daughter and son both in college, works as an administrator in a daycare, and loves to visit her lake house. My mom, Ann-Marie, is in her late forties, is mother to two girls who are both in college, has been a stay-at-home mom since her kids were born, and loves to craft and camp. My second cousin, Emily, is an 8-year-old who loves to dance, but happily ate her turkey and listened to the conversation.

During the Kentucky Kitchen Table, we discussed several different questions and how they related to our lives. First, I asked, beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? Responses included carrying on traditions, having the freedom of speech, defending freedom, protecting those who don’t have freedom. Emilie said, “being a citizen is being apart of the community of Americans as a whole”. She went on to talk about all of the communities you are involved in, like your school, church, work, and neighborhood. Emilie described that even though we are connected and involved in the same or similar communities, we are all completely different at the same time. Our different religions, ethnicities, educational background, upbringings, and others make us all unique, but builds on to our communities as a whole. After this was said, the group related their experiences to being a citizen. Kristi spoke about how women have more rights and freedoms in America than most other countries. As a woman and as a society we should work towards granting those rights towards all women across the globe.

When I asked the group what social issue was closest to their heart, and why, their answers related closely to their professions or to their political beliefs. Kristi, a former preschool teacher and current preschool administrator said that early education for children was important to her. As a country we do well as educating our children at a young age, but she says that we could do better. Kristi advocates for getting kids into social setting and beginning their education at a young age. Ann-Marie spoke about due process and why it is vital to the country. This fundamental right protects our government from locking up anyone for any reason. Through this building block of our country, you can’t do what you want, but other people can’t do what they want to you.

Furthermore, the question revolving how their spiritual identity relates to how they view and treat other people sparked a good conversation. Joyce, Emilie, Teri, and Ann-Marie were all born into and continue to practice Catholicism. Kristi is, a not practicing, Christian, but has similar fundamentals as those at the table. The table agreed that their faith does relate to the how they view other people. Joyce brought up the how she was taught the Catholic Golden Rule to treat one another as you would want to be treated. She says this has taught her to be understanding, compassionate, forgiving, and loving towards other people. Ann-Marie brought up that the Constitution and Bill of Rights fundamentally relates to the Ten Commandments in terms of right and wrong. Teri thought that she has learned and taught to be accepting of others because we she was taught that only God is perfect. We are mere humans who cannot judge the faults and the actions of imperfect people. Although, she emphasized that this does not give people a “free pass” to act how they please. It simply explains why people make mistakes. Also, Emilie says that the values she has learned through her faith, such as compassion and empathy, has driven her to volunteer for her community throughout her life. She says that she has been blessed with so much in her life and that she has also been taught to give back to other through material needs and since she is an able-bodied individual. Therefore, their faith has shaped how they see other around them.
Additionally, I asked if anyone ever had a conversation with someone from a different background than them. The immediate response of everyone at the table was, “of course”. Ann-Marie and Emilie have meet people of different backgrounds while traveling and living abroad. Emilie said that during one of her many trips abroad she lived with a host family for a semester. She not only spoke to the family about their culture, daily life, and heritage, but she was able to experience it first-hand. Teri and Kristi meet individuals of different backgrounds through their respective jobs. Ann-Marie spoke of how her family serves at the soup once a month for the past three years. There she has meet people of different background than herself. People without loving parents, people who were unsure of where their next meal came from, and various other people. After detailing her various encounters, she said that the people weren’t that fundamentally different than herself. She has bonded over “knock knock” jokes, soccer, and Christmas presents; things many people can relate to.

Through this Kentucky Kitchen Table I learned about that the older members had different upbringings and community relations than I do. For example, family dinners were mandatory each night for my great aunt and almost always took place at my aunts’ and mom’s homes. When I was living at home my family made it a priority to have family dinners. However, with each of our busy schedules, including practices, meetings, and my dad’s traveling for work, our family dinners would happen about 4 times per week. Also, growing up they knew their neighbors very well. Ann-Marie would play with the neighborhood kids all the time when she was younger. She and her brothers would meet up with the other kids to play every sport imaginable in the summer and build long snow forts in the winter. As adults, Kristi and Teri, know their neighbors very well. They have been friends with many of them since they first moved into the neighborhood. Everyone agreed that the only neighbors they didn’t know were the ones that didn’t come out of their house very often. This shows a difference within the structures of our families. Therefore, there seemed to be a change within the participants families. Even though they grew up with structured family meals, as matriarchs, they encouraged, but did not require their families to have meals together every night. While the change isn’t necessarily negative, the priorities of the family changed from one generation to another.

Lastly, the aforementioned conversations greatly relate to the themes of this class, readings, and deliberations. First, the conversation reflecting on what it means to be a citizen relates to the central course question, how do we live well together? Those at the table spoke about how as citizens we must defend our rights and our freedoms. Not only do we have to defend our own rights, but those of others. We can live better, together, if everyone is treated equally and granted to the same basic freedoms. As discussed, each person is not just a citizen within their own community, but they are a global citizen. They have similar responsibilities as a citizen of the world as they do a citizen of their community or nation. For this reason, Kristi spoke about defending the rights of women in other countries and creating a greater equality within our own country. Additionally, our discussion about viewing the world according to our faith relates to Jonathan Haidt’s chapter, “The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail” in The Righteous Mind. Haidt writes about each person’s rider and elephant. The elephant, the dominant side, represents emotion and the rider represents the logical thinking. Sometimes, when individuals make decisions based on their faith they let the elephant make the initial decision and rider justifies it. Logistically, a person cannot be forced to treat others with respect and dignity. However, our elephant tells us to accept the teachings of a religion because it is the right thing to do. Our rider justifies this choice by saying we want to be treated with these qualities, and we can’t expect it from others unless we practice the same things. Therefore, the conversations with those at the Kentucky Kitchen Table validate the themes of this course through the opinions and discussion of others.IMG_6468