Kentucky’s Kitchen Table: A Reflection on Discomfort

By Chloe

My name is Chloe and for my Kentucky’s Kitchen Table assignment, I had my meal at a cabin in Stanton, Kentucky. It was held at Bailey’s family cabin in a gated community. We were joined by her mother Barbara, some of her friends that were from Spencer and some that go to Western. Barbara said that she would make all of the food, unless people wanted to bring things. Mhari and Lydia made burgers and hot dogs on the grill, while Shaban made his special spicy-soup-that’s-sometimes-a-sauce. Tiger brought the music and Silas brought his poetry book. I brought the dessert (cookies and cakes from Kroger of course). Also present were Chris and Emily, though they did not bring anything with them besides their personalities. I had never met Chris, Emily, Tiger, and Shaban before this meal.
Lydia is from Louisville and she went to the Brown School. She is a sophomore at Western. She went there for most of her life, as it is a kindergarten through twelfth grade school. Her mom is a guidance counselor at Presentation Academy and her dad works on a boat. Lydia says that she gets her creativity from her dad and her sass from her mom. They live in a big green house with one cat. Lydia has many tattoos, though most of them don’t mean anything; she just thought they were pretty.
Mhari and Tiger are both from Oldham County where they went to high school together. Lydia says, “They’re not dating but they’re also not not dating. Ya know?” Mhari and Tiger are both juniors at Western. Mhari smells perpetually of vanilla and cardamom and has a loud infectious laugh that makes one feel included and warm. Tiger is quieter and subtler, but he’s profoundly witty once you can hear what he is saying. His family is of Asian descent, and he has proudly dubbed himself the “coolest Asian any of you all know.” Both of them wear old glasses that are now too big for their heads because they have been stretched out but they both also refuse to get them fixed.
Shaban grew up in Virginia but he was born in a small country in Africa. When asked which country, he replies, “You won’t know what it is. No American has ever heard of it.” He speaks with a faint accent that comes out more when asked about his childhood. He loves NPR, green pants, and funky sweaters. His best friend, Morgan, is in Denmark right now studying at The Danish School and he speaks of her often.
Silas was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. His house sits on a plot of land that used to be a Christmas tree farm and he says that they are still everywhere, growing in neat rows. His mom was a school teacher before she retired and decided to homeschool him. He went to high school with other kids who had been homeschooled their whole lives too. Mhari and Lydia say that Silas has the purest heart of anyone they know. He is soft spoken and agreeable, calm and fun. He says that he used to have long thick hair before he cut it over the winter break while he was in Israel.
Chris is from the suburbs of Chicago and is a freshman at Western. Bailey and Emily are both from Spencer. Bailey goes to Western but Emily is still in high school. Bailey’s mom Barbara has short greying hair that she refuses to dye, much to her daughter’s protest. She enjoys watching British baking shows and assorted cartoons. She is clever and sharp.
Silas had brought a book of poetry with him and Tiger started reading some of the poems aloud to us as we were making dinner and preparing the table. Many of the poems were gloomy and dark, but they were certainly thought provoking. It was a book that seemed to be a lot about loving people, living amongst people and leaving people. It had themes of self-worth, inner strength, identity and false love. Everyone seemed to have incredibly different thoughts about them, though we all certainly agreed that the book was a bit of a downer. The girls seemed to have more opinions and thoughts about the ones related to self-worth and inner strength. We talked about how much beauty is drilled into girls’ brains from the very start and how damaging it is. Lydia is tall and thin and was told quite often that she has the body of a model, but was also told by boys that she didn’t have enough curves to be appealing. Mhari was told the opposite; she has too many curves to be appealing. Neither one could change their body, short of surgery, yet still had to listen to these things be said to them. It’s hard to love your appearance and feel worthy of much when people are telling you that the way that you were born is not good enough. No one has control over how they naturally look. I didn’t ask to be short, Lydia didn’t ask to be rail thin, and Mhari didn’t ask to be curvy, yet that’s what we all use to base our confidence on. It’s hard to find balance in it all when there’s so many kinds of bodies and looks but there only seems to be one kind of perfect.
We all agreed that the book was an odd contrast to Silas’s personality, which is generally light and pleasant. It’s a weird thing to think about the differences between what people think and what they actually say out loud to other people. I wasn’t sure if this was an instance in which Silas was reading the book because he wanted to expose himself to thinking that doesn’t really coincide with his own, or if he chose the book because the thinking does coincide with his own.
When I asked the group about their thoughts on the meaning of citizenship, Shaban was perhaps the most passionate. He was the only one out of the bunch that is not a natural born American citizen and you only have to speak with him for a short time to realize that he is incredibly proud of his heritage. He was born in Africa, but he didn’t live there long and America is what he knows best. He believes that citizenship goes beyond documents and regulations and dives deeper into passion. To him, citizenship is how one feels about their country. Documents are necessary but so is genuine love and appreciation. The rest of us at the meal can’t ever fully understand what he was saying to us because we have never experienced what he has. We, as natural born citizens in an incredibly fortunate country, take for granted so many things: grocery stores, indoor plumbing, cars, electricity. Obviously, I know that my life has been a cotton candy cloud compared to people living in third world countries and impoverished places. This wasn’t a new revelation to me but it was still a jarring experience. It’s always weird to be hit in the face with your own privilege. I take so much for granted, as many people do, because we haven’t ever had to live differently. I will never go hungry or lack electricity for years, but Shaban has. He got out of that and he came to America. Now that he’s here, he faces entirely different problems. I will never get pulled over by a police officer based upon the color of my skin or be discriminated against because of the way that I speak, but Shaban has. American people meet him and make up their minds about him without even really knowing him. Why bother coming to a new country when people there are going to treat you terribly? You have to choose between two evils. At least here you can survive, though you won’t always be treated respectfully. You choose survival so you can be around people that are terrible to you. How is that okay? It’s not, but it seems to be reality right now.
How can we live better together? Maybe we could start by not being racist. How do we do that? How do we change the minds of people that have it so ingrained in their brains that they are superior because of the color of their skin? We moved on from this topic to talk about where we live, our neighbors, what we want to do with our lives, and so many other things but I really got stuck on this first topic. I couldn’t move past it. I just wanted to grab all of the people that have ever been terrible to people of different races and shake them. Why are you like this? Why do you believe this to be true? I don’t think that any of them would have been able to give me an answer I was okay with, and maybe that’s what I want. I don’t want an answer I’m okay with because then I have to forgive them and stop being angry. Obviously, that goes against everything that we’ve learned in this class this semester. We can’t live better together or have more of a say over our lives if we’re so blinded by anger that we can’t even see straight.
The whole time Shaban was talking, I kept thinking about Claudia Rankine and Citizen. Rankine wrote about little micro-aggressions that she’s dealt with her whole life. People talking to her in “black talk” or saying stupid things that they didn’t mean to say out loud. Things that I don’t and won’t ever have to deal with, but she deals with every day. I don’t know if I’m really allowed to be angry about them on her behalf but I am.

Throughout Honors 251, we have talked about social issues and wicked problems. We talk about the things that no one wants to talk about and the things that people don’t know that they should be talking about. It has been eye opening in that it has forced me to not only see the point of view of others but also figure out how I myself feel about things. I have avoided thinking about heavy things for the longest time because they generally seem to bum me out or make me anxious. Having to do this dinner and this assignment was wonderful because I met new people who are very different than I am but I also got to know some of my friends better than I did before and it forced me to think about things that I don’t usually like to think about. I think that everyone should be forced to confront the things that make them uncomfortable because that is when you really seem to figure out who you are and what you believe.


Shaban’s special “spicy-soup-that’s-sometimes-a-sauce” : chicken edition


Making dinner on the grill!                   (Left to Right) Tiger, Lydia, Mhari, Silas, Emily


Kentucky Kitchen Table: An American Staple

By Nathan

The Setting

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Stanton, Kentucky, a small town nestled at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  My family had just arrived at our home after attending our small church, in which we are currently making decisions of whether or not we want to remain in the specific denomination that we himg_3385ave been in for the past century or so, due to the very liberal approach the denomination is now taking.

We come in to our kitchen and decide the final details of our meal.  We decide to open up the dining room, which is typically only used for holiday or birthday meals.  We have invited a family who has recently moved into our community, though they have been involved in our community for over a decade.  We prepared a cookout style meal, with both families providing fresh vegetables for the burgers.

We casually sit around the table in no particular order.  One of my best friends, Zach, sits next to my older brother Matt.  They are both in college at different universities, one large and one small.  My father, Troy, sits next to Zach.  Troy is well-known in our community, being practically everyoIMG_3390.jpgne’s doctor, though he is only a physician’s assistant.  On the other side of the table, my mother, Deana, sits next to Martina, who is a guidance counselor at our town’s only high school.  Deana used to be a physical therapist, but is now working in the school system.  Rick sits next to his wife, Martina.  Rick was formerly working in a factory as a manager, but is now in the Alternative School, teaching kids who were removed from the high school and middle school.  He is also a coach for the high school football team.  The room was open, the lighting was natural, and the conversation came in the same way.

The Meal

My goodness, it was a good meal.


I began the conversation by asking what citizenship means to them, beyond voting and paying taxes.  This mostly garnered the same general response: being a citizen is giving back to the community, helping the community in a way that you see it necessary.  Rick said that people some of the people he works with don’t have any sense of duty or responsibility. They feel like the government is there to support them.  People sometimes live with the mindset of doing what you need to get by, and forgo being a productive member of society.  Troy mentioned that there are generally two basic types of people in a community, people who contribute and people who take, meaning that some people consciously put time and money into the community while others sit back and reap the rewards.  With that in mind, though, we all take away from what communities offer, whether it is intentional or not.  Kids going through school are taking away, usually without giving their fair share back.  Anyone who lives in the protection of the military is taking from society.  With these in mind, Matt adds that it is then your duty as a citizen to give back.


My next question dealt with their careers, and whether the desire to be a citizen impacted that career path.  Martina claimed that she always wanted to teach, to help people and to give to people.  She saw that becoming a counselor would maximize her potential to give to a community, but she never imagined how rewarding that profession would be for her.  She sees every type of student, from first-time college students to first-time high school graduates, and having a touch on people’s lives in that sense is the rewarding part. *8:30*

Rick then told a winding story of his career path.  Basically, he began in a factory in his hometown.  The factory was very family-oriented, making sure that priorities were kept straight, and that workers were being treated right.  For this reason, he loved the company.  Eventually, his company was bought by a bank, and as most banks are, the bank was very money-motivated.  The company he once loved lost sight of the values it was built upon, and the work was draining; the only thing that mattered was profit.  Eventually, Rick left and went back to school in search of making a difference.  He became a teacher, and now works with kids that have had disciplinary issue.  Here, he is able to have a direct influence on the kids that may need it the most.

Troy and Deana both added that any job could be turned into serving the public, if you make a conscious effort to do so.  Their thought was that if you focus your job on providing for people that need the work to provide for their families, then you could see a factory job (such as Rick’s) as serving the community through providing opportunity.  Reflecting on that outlook, though, a self-centered attitude in a role that should contribute heavily to the community could have a reverse effect and negatively impact the people it touches (think a teacher who doesn’t invest in students).  Thus, we somewhat concluded that any job can have social impact with a certain context, though there are some careers where you can have a much larger impact on the future generation.


I asked the table if they would rather live in place that had a focus on family or community.  Most people responded that they would rather have communities building each other up as a whole than serving their own family first, which is very interesting.  There are several takes on how you could answer this question, an infinite number of variables as well as an infinite amount of outcomes.  One way to look at it is if you, as a parent, build up a community as your primary focus, your family will learn from your example.  At the same time, you do not want to neglect your family.  We did not go deep into this conversation at the table, but the influences were felt throughout the remainder of the meal.


I recalled a story we read about in class about the Shipyard Project.  As the northeastern town was split between an artistic community and a blue-collar community, ours is split by drug abuse.  Statistically, Powell County is one of the worst counties in the state for drug abuse of all kinds in one of the worst states in the nation for drug abuse.  We have a problem, and you can see the effects on our community as a whole.  Rick, Martina and Deana are all working in the school system, Troy works closely with all the students (especially athletes) and Zach, Matt and I have all been through the school system in the past 3 years.  We all agreed that there is a split in the community, and the school.  I specifically asked Rick, since he is the head football coach’s right-hand man, if he thought football serves as a joining activity in a way similar to how the Shipyard Dance unified that community.  He said he saw potential for it, but doesn’t see that yet.  Kids are greatly affected by their parent’s participation.  Though transportation can be provided for students who wish to participate, it is difficult, and often there’s no motivation from the students.

For the students who do get involved, though, the results are spectacular.  Martina tells of an after-school Zumba program that she dabbled in last year, saying that several students really enjoyed the activity and looked forward to Zumba.  Most of these kids are kids that otherwise are not involved in any activities outside of academics.  I also brought up our high school’s soccer team, which has been started within the past 4 years and is already competing for regional championships.  Of the 40 kids on the team, soccer is the only extracurricular activity that 26 of them participate in.   On the subject of new start-ups, Martina brings up several new clubs in the school, like Card Club and FCCLA.  As a counselor, she sees that kids long to be a part of something, some kind of community that they can really dive into and find an identity in.


As a final question, I asked if the members at the table grew up having family dinners around the table.  Deana grew up always eating together, as she lived within yards of her extended family.  She also finally admitted that she, too, preferred Kraft Mac & Cheese over her grandma’s homemade macaroni.  Martina said her family made it a point to eat together at home every night, maybe getting a burger from a local joint and taking it home once a month.  Rick grew up on a farm with all of his aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents.  Every day, they would all work on the farm, congregate in a house for lunch and then meet in a different one for dinner.  Troy was much like Zach, Matt and myself, in that we were always busy, resulting in plenty of dinners with our brothers but not necessarily with parents during sports seasons, resulting in an amazing bond between the brothers.  The ones who grew up eating meals with their families recollect extraordinary memories from the systematic tradition.  Deana says that you never know how special it is to have dinner around a table with your family.  We decided after the meal was finished to have dinner together more often.


I look back on my own memories, growing up at the high school football field with my brothers, having our own feasts around a table at China Wok.  We had always had our meals at home from the good doings of mother.  On Monday nights, Ma would feed us.  It never failed that we would surely either have a breakfast-dinner or a pot roast with potatoes and carrots.  Some of my fondest memories came centered around food.  I find it odd how much of a staple in American culture food has become, it seems like we have holidays just for food.  It does something amazing for us, as families and as groups.  People come together to provide an essential of life, providing for one another.  There is a certain kind of service, yet in some situations it can become a competition between cooks.  For some reason, when we gather around a table to eat more than we should, and we open up.  Being at the table, we listen to each other, we acknowledge one another in a way that is nearly impossible in our daily routines.  Maybe simply being around the table with people outside of just our families would help us understand our world better, thus helping our society get where we want to go.  We could understand how to bridge the gaps in our community, we just need to sit together and open up.