What defines a legacy? That’s a topic Indiana Humanities selected to spark discussion at this year’s installment of Chew On This, a dinner-and-discussion event using the humanities to spark thought-provoking conversations simultaneously in multiple Indiana cities.
Attendees broke bread while answering the question, are we being good ancestors? While defining the term “ancestor,” they delved into their connections with their own ancestry and broadened the topic to include the natural earth, sociology, and even artificial intelligence.
“The topic comes from our ‘Unearthed’ thematic initiative, which invites Hoosiers to think about their relationship with nature and our impact on nature and nature’s impact on us,” says Jackie Rodriguez, communications manager for Indiana Humanities. “We’ve done various topics, such as the role of technology in our lives, or what it means to belong to a place, or the role of food in building a community. This topic brings it back to our ‘Unearthed’ thematic initiative.”
After several virtual chats during the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Chew On This is the first in-person dinner since 2019.
“We are a relatively small organization, and one of our challenges is serving all 92 counties. With Chew on This, that is the advantage: We’re in eight locations at the same time and create a conversation that’s centered around a variety of topics but brings people together as part of a larger conversation,” Rodriguez says.
Facilitated by humanities scholars and experts, dinners simultaneously were held Wednesday, March 29, at restaurants in seven Indiana cities: Copper House in Evansville, Taxman Cityway and Half Liter BBQ & Beer Hall in Indianapolis, Schnitzelbank in Jasper, Bar Bosco in Terre Haute, Twenty in Wabash, Harry’s Stone Grill in Madison, and Dish in Valparaiso.
“Our goal is to gather people to engage in insightful conversation. We want to be able to create space for participants to reflect on the insights shared and walk away with new ideas on what it means to be human, and specifically to this theme, how we’ll relate to past and future generations — we want to help communities grow and people to feel more connected to their neighbors,” Rodriguez says.
Over plates of fried pork street tacos, couscous, and penne pasta, the group of nine assembled in a quiet private room upstairs at Copper House spoke of how they connect with their ancestors — one plays golf, a favorite pastime of his late grandfather; another bakes, carrying on a family tradition. In a discussion facilitated by Del Doughty, dean of liberal arts at the University of Southern Indiana, participants bantered about what defines an ancestor, as well as what being a “good” one means. All agreed that a key to being a good ancestor is considering past and future generations, which isn’t limited to just humans. One participant spoke of watching the coring of a tree and witnessing it show audible and visual signs of life, a moving testament to nature’s centuries-old legacies.
Even artificial intelligence’s place was examined. One participant pointed out that humans build AI and fill it with knowledge, and it in turn teaches us something new, lending credence to the possibility that AI could be considered an ancestor.
“A shared meal helps break down barriers. It’s disarming. It’s a nice way to connect and create a sense of community,” Rodriguez says. “The nice thing about a shared meal is that it’s kind of an equalizer. Most people can engage in it regardless of your background.”