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Photo credit: Isaac George

I’ve organized GoFundMe Campaigns for others, now it’s for me. This was difficult for me to post this. Please take the couple minutes to read my story. If you cannot contribute please consider sharing this. Here is a link to the GoFundMe campaign page. Thank you.

This is Rich.

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Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

~Romans 12:13 


This is Rich. Even before he asked me the question I knew that he would. I could tell the way he surveyed the parking lot as I walked up to the coffee shop. And as suspected, when I got close enough he solicited me for change. But I’m jumping ahead.

I walked to the coffee shop today instead of riding my bike…a night of sloppy, heavy snow has made the streets also sloppy. So I walked. This is the time of year when the incessant grey starts to bring me down. And as I walked I was thinking about a class in which I am currently enrolled, Western Civilization and Human Progress. This is why I was heading to the coffee shop, to do some work. In the class right now we are discussing whether we as humans have actually made any progress by comparing some events to those of the Middle Ages, and also reading texts such as the Bible and the Confessions of St. Augustine. This is what was going through my head as I approached the parking lot.


Anyhow, as I approached Rich, even before he asked me, I noticed the cross dangling prominently from his neck. Someone from St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy gave it to him, he told me, sometimes he sleeps there. It was a nice cross. As we talked I found out that Rich hasn’t worked “in a while” because of a bad back, a broken knee, and colon cancer. 

He wanted money for a coffee. I actually thought about inviting him in and purchasing his coffee but didn’t for a couple reasons. The first being that I had my laptop and books with me and needed to get work done, and the second is that Rich told me he wanted the money for coffee across the street because he’s not allowed in this shop. So I gave him one of the two dollars in my wallet then asked if I could take his photo. Straightening up the best he could, he said sure and had a twinkle in his eye. After talking some more he asked me for another dollar, so I gave him the remaining one in my wallet (I knew that I had plenty of credit on my phone app for the coffee shop).


So did Rich use the money for coffee? I don’t know, I hope so, but maybe not. Maybe he used it for alcohol (though he was sober when I talked to him), and I’ll likely be spending money on alcohol for myself this evening. My point is this…I saw this guy who needed a couple bucks and I had a couple bucks. Giving them away probably helped him more than it hurt me. No one aspires to grow up and be homeless. I can’t imagine how degrading it must feel to ask strangers for money. And I’ll be honest, talking with Rich today was a really nice conversation, we were just two humans talking on a grey snowy day in the parking lot of a coffee shop. I hope he stays warm and safe.


Urban Simplicity

But Who Is My Neighbor?

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When you’re kind to people, and you pay attention, you make a field of comfort around them, and you get it back—the Golden Rule meets the Law of Karma meets Murphy’s Law.
― Anne Lamott


At the outset of this paper which is focusing on the ethics of how we, as humans, treat and interact with each other, I’ll begin with a story which I feel is an excellent example of human kindness. I also have to qualify this paper in that while this is for an ethics class in philosophy, I am working towards a dual degree in philosophy and religious studies, thus there is overt religious language ahead.

January 2014 I was in Manhattan taking seminary classes. As is the norm, January in New York was cold. I had just had lunch with a few classmates and was out for a brisk walk then a coffee before returning to class. As I approached the Starbucks on the corner of 35th and 6th I saw a man that was often just outside the front door. He sat on the sidewalk on a piece of cardboard staring straight ahead with a small plastic bucket in front of him and another piece of cardboard written as a sign asking for money. As I approached the door I reached into my pocket and put whatever change I had into the bucket. He looked up at me and said thank you. Our eyes met and for a brief moment time had stopped. We were just two people—humans on planet earth—both of us God’s children trying to make it through this life. “I hope you have a good day,” I told him, he replied “Thank you; God bless you.”

After getting my coffee I looked around and saw that the only available spot was the counter, a shelf really, which is in the window facing 6th Avenue. And as I stood there sipping my two dollar cup of coffee, which cost more than what I put in the man’s bucket, it felt odd; I felt a little guilty. With his back to me, this man was sitting on the sidewalk directly in front of me and the only thing separating us was a thin pane of glass. Yet I was on the inside and he was out in the cold. The biblical passage where Jesus was instructing his disciples how to treat strangers (and how they unknowingly treated him) came to mind, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36, NIV).

There was a food cart on the corner of the street, and as I looked out the window sipping my coffee I could see another man talking with the vendor and also looking over at the man on the sidewalk. A minute later he walked over to the guy sitting on sidewalk, and in his hands were hot dogs and sodas, but what happened next brought tears to my eyes. At first I thought he was simply buying food for the guy, but what he did then really amazed me. He sort of knelt down and said something to the man; I of course couldn’t hear him as I was safely ensconced on the “inside.” Then, after a moment, he sat down next to the guy and they both ate their hot dogs together, right there on the cold sidewalk. He did more than simply feed him, he sat with him, saw him as an equal, and gave him dignity.

There are more than 1.6 million people living on Manhattan Island but on that day I saw these two lives converge, and it was beautiful. In a way they were communing together as two souls; the bread they broke were the hot dogs, the wine they drank was soda, and the altar was the cold New York Street.

I wanted to tell this story because I feel what I really saw that day was love in action, and that’s what life is really about isn’t it? Connecting with one another and taking care of each other. The writer and philosopher, Peter Singer, argues that this is not something that is a casual occurrence, but that it is our duty as fellow humans, “Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those who have the great good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families, and still have money or time left to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living an ethical life involves doing the most good we can” (Singer, 2016).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere in any sacred or philosophical text from any tradition does it say “every person for themselves.” I’ve never heard of a great sage, philosopher, or mystic say to “take what you can because you deserve it,” nor have I heard, “the person who dies with the most stuff wins.” It’s just the opposite. What I’m talking about, of course, is the Golden Rule. This is something that I truly believe is written on each one of our hearts, and deep down each one of us knows it. There are versions of this in every faith tradition, but they all say the same thing. Here are a few examples:

Judaism: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (The Bible, New International Version, 2011).

Hinduism: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. (Sacred-texts.com, 2017)

Taoism: The sage does not dwell on his own problems. He is aware of the needs of others. (Tao Te Ching, 2017)

Islam: None of you has faith until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself. (Sacred-texts.com, 2017)

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (Sacred-texts.com, 2017)

My favorite version of this comes from the Christian text in the tenth chapter of Luke, which is the introduction to the parable of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer quizzes Jesus; he inquires, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus, being clever as he was, answered the lawyer’s question with a question, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer being an educated man smartly rattles off the answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” To which Jesus replies, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:25-28, NIV). Now just for a minute, let the tail end of this statement sink in…“do this and you will live.”

The lawyer must have thought for a moment, and realized that it would be easy for him to love God with everything he’s got so long as he doesn’t have to love all of his neighbors. So just to be perfectly clear, he asks Jesus his final question, “and who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, NIV) to which Jesus replies by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, which of course is the story of a stranger helping a stranger, and also another excellent example of human kindness, but even more importantly an example of how we should live.

We as a species are hardwired to be caring and want to make a connection with one another. Scientists using advanced imaging technology to study brain function have found that the human brain is wired to reward activities such as caring for each other, cooperation, and service.  Merely thinking about another person experiencing harm triggers the same reaction in our brain as when a mother sees distress in her baby’s face. But the act of helping another person triggers the brain’s pleasure center (Greater Good, 2017).

In an age where sensationalism sells and good news doesn’t always make the news, the media likes to portray the world as a dangerous self-serving place, but this is not necessarily the case. “If the world seems to be a more violent and dangerous place than ever before, however, this impression is an artifact of the media. There are plenty of violent people, but for any randomly selected person today the chances of meeting a violent death at the hands of his fellow humans is lower now than it has ever been in history (Singer, 2016). Good still abounds all around us, sometimes we just have to look for it.

That same cold winter in New York much of the country had a cold snap, even in unlikely places such as Georgia, and that’s where Dr. Zenko Hrynkiw was at the time. He is an accomplished brain surgeon and was at Brookwood Medical Center and had to travel to Trinity Medical Center, six miles away, to perform an emergency operation…but then the snow hit and Georgia was declared a state of emergency.

The doctor knew that getting to the other hospital by car was not an option. He also knew that his patient had taken a turn for the worse and if he didn’t get to them soon and perform the operation they would die. Dr. Hrynkiw is not a spry 20 or 30 something, he’s not even 40 or 50; he’s in his 60’s. But knowing the facts at hand he didn’t hesitate. He did, what I believe is within each one of us; he set out to help. He walked the six miles with an overcoat covering his surgical scrubs, and booties still on his feet, and made it in time to perform the surgery and save the patient. Later, when asked to be interviewed he commented “he didn’t know what the big deal was, he only did what anyone would have” (NPR.org, 2017).

So I ask again, who are our neighbors? Is it the person living in the next apartment, just beyond a thin wall? Sure, of course. But who else. How about the person you meet on the street? Or a co-worker. Dr. Hrynkiw certainly knew, and deep down so do we. I truly believe this.

I recently finished reading an inspirational travel book by the journalist Mike McIntyre, The Kindness of Strangers, Penniless Across America. The gist of the book is the that author walked and hitchhiked from his comfortable home in San Francisco to the east coast. He did not bring a cent with him and would not accept money, nor would he ask for food or lodging. As the title suggests he was literally relying on the kindness of strangers. During his journey he found that most people just wanted to help one another, “Once again I am amazed at how often it’s the ones with little to eat who are quick to share their food” (McIntyre, 2014).

A couple years ago I was working as chef at a private city club, “the second oldest club of it’s kind in the country,” its members like to proclaim. I would serve the “upper crust” of society while much of the kitchen staff was paid below living wages. Saw Tin was one such person, he was a dishwasher at the time, but prior to fleeing his native Burma he was an engineer. Though with little English skills this was the work he could find in America. I do not speak Burmese so we spent a lot of time pantomiming. He is about my age and was working to save enough money to bring his wife and adult daughter here.

On one Monday morning he came to me with a wallet he had found on his way to work; it was on the sidewalk, he motioned. When I opened it, it contained more than $100 in cash and 10 credit cards. We turned the wallet over to the police who then contacted the owner. When she came to retrieve it she commented that everything was intact; nothing was missing. Saw Tin had full opportunity to take the cash and credit cards without anyone finding out, but he didn’t. The women asked to meet him so she could thank him. When they met, Saw Tin greeted her with clasped hands, a brief bow, and a soft namaste. Namaste is a Sanskrit phrase which loosely translates as, “my soul recognizes your soul” (Geno, 2017).

But who is my neighbor? Saw Tin knew. Acts of kindness, big or small, can really make a huge impact on a person’s life.

The basis of what the philosophers, especially Immanuel Kant, refer to as moral philosophy is moral action, and if I’m reading this correctly, this is how a person responds to the world. Kant also argued that the basis for morality is freedom (Palmquist, 2008). If this is true then we have the freedom to choose good action from bad. What I find interesting, and even a bit contradicting, in Kant’s theory is that while he was not necessarily a proponent of compassion (Greater Good, 2017), he also suggested that we listen to the small voice within each of us (Palmquist, 2008). To the philosopher this small voice may be the voice of reason, but to me I truly believe this to be the voice of compassion.

The Epistle of James, which is one of the oldest books of the New Testament and is said to have been penned by James, the brother of Jesus, is really a small book of Christian ethics. Some say it is a blueprint for the way a Christian should live, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save you? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17, NIV).

Richard Taylor in his book, Restoring Pride, suggests this inner knowing and selfless service are a sort rule of manners, and even though he writes of pride, he also argues that this is not pride but refers to it as considerateness, “Thus, the rule of considerateness has no connection with pride, but is a practical rule of manners. It guides you unerringly in your relationships to all other persons, whether they be friends, kin, or total strangers” (Talyor, 1996).

By now you’ve likely gathered that I like to use stories, everyday events, as ways to illustrate my point. Well I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on something that just happened. I was about halfway through writing this paper at a local coffee shop. My head was down and I was “in the zone” typing so I didn’t see the man approach until I heard his scraggly voice say “excuse me.” I looked up and there was a man in front of me who was not pleasant to look at. He was older, looked physically unclean, had a runny nose, and a small open wound on his face. He was asking for money. Here I am writing a paper about the Golden Rule, quoting Jesus and other sacred texts, and there is Christmas music playing in the background. Is this some sort of a test, I thought?

I often give the homeless spare change, and stop and talk with them, but for some reason I was put off by how I was approached; he had a sort of aggressive manner. My first inclination was to say no I can’t. But then I thought to myself (the small voice within), can’t or won’t. I felt my pocket and there was no change, so I reached for my wallet and handed him a dollar. Seeing the loose bills in my wallet he asked if he could have another, I handed him another and as I did an employee came by and shuffled him out. I realized then that his aggressive behavior was likely that he knew he only had a brief moment before he was kicked out, time was of the essence. On their way back in the employee stopped by my table to apologize…apologizing for another human being. Who is my neighbor, I thought to myself?

Philosophy, and even religion for that matter, in many ways seems to be about asking questions, and not necessarily having the answers. Plato, I think, sums this up articulately in his famous but simple statement in his Apology, where Sacrates proclaims “An unexamined life is not worth living” (Plato, n.d.), because I believe with self-examination comes growth, and with growth one realizes that they are not they only person that counts.

There are so many questions which I do not have an answer, but there is one that I do: Who is my neighbor? The answer is everyone, but the difficult part is remembering this and treating each and every person the way that I would like to be treated. But this, I suppose, is what makes us human.

In conclusion, I’ll finish with an eloquent quote from the stoic philosopher, Epictetus, from his slim but inspirational volume, The Art of Living, which I feel summarizes the entire premise of the Golden Rule: “One cannot pursue one’s own highest good without at the same time necessarily promoting the good of others. A life based on narrow self-interest cannot be esteemed by any honorable measurement. Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings. Our contact is not with the few people with whom our affairs are most immediately intertwined, nor to the prominent, rich, or well-educated, but to all our human brethren. View yourself as a citizen of a worldwide community and act accordingly” (Epictetus and Lebell, 2007).

Works Cited

Epictetus and Lebell, S. (2007). The art of living. New York: HarperOne.
Geno, R. (2017). The Meaning of “Namaste”. [online] Yoga Journal. Available at: https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/the-meaning-of-quot-namaste-quot [Accessed 25 Nov. 2017].

Greater Good. (2017). The Compassionate Instinct. [online] Available at: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_compassionate_instinct [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017].

The Holy Bible, New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Bible Publishers.

McIntyre, M. (2014). The kindness of strangers. [Charleston, SC]: CreatSpace.

NPR.org. (2017). Brain Surgeon Walks 6 Miles Through Storm To Save Patient. [online] Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/01/31/269380564/brain-surgeon-walks-six-miles-through-storm-to-save-patient [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Palmquist, S. (2008, November 8). The Tree of philosophy. Retrieved November 21, 2017, from http://staffweb.hkbu.edu.hk/ppp/tp4/

Plato. The Apology. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from The Internet Classics, http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/apology.html

Sacred-texts.com. (2017). 1:12: Anas: The Prophet said, None of you will have faith till he wishes for his …. [online] Available at: http://www.sacred-    texts.com/isl/bukhari/bh1/bh1_11.htm [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Sacred-texts.com. (2017). Sacred-Texts: Hinduism. [online] Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/ [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017].

Sacred-texts.com. (2017). Introduction and Preface. [online] Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/tantra/maha/maha00.htm [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Singer, P. (2016). Most good you can do. New Haven and London: Yale Univ Press.

Tao Te Ching. Acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu. (2017). Tao Te Ching. [online] Available at: http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/taote-v3.html [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Taylor, R. (1996). Restoring pride: the lost virtue of our age. New York: Prometheus Books. 

A Poll About Transportation…

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Q Train at Coney Island, Summer 2016

 

So the next paper I am currently working on for an ethics class is regarding transportation. Please, if you wouldn’t mind, take the poll to the left of this post. It is anonymous (I cannot see who clicked the boxes). No judgement, just research. I am very grateful you’ve taken the time to not only to read this post but also to click the boxes. Click as many that apply to you, if you’d like to add comments do so in this post. Thanks again. Peace.

(Unfortunately, the poll will not show in this blog, which is the mirror blog of Urban Simplicity. To go to that site and take the poll, click here. Thank you!)

Exploring The Morals and Ethics of Eating Animals

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“People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times.”

~ Isaac Bashevis Singer (née, Izaak Zynger)

This is the first of three papers written as a project for Intro to Ethics class. I’ve chosen to investigate and research what it means to live ethically and how our actions affect others. In this preliminary paper I’m exploring ethical eating, mainly: Is it ethical to consume meat in our modern society?

It is no surprise that when reading The Craftsmen, by Richard Sennett,  I was drawn to the chapter, Expressive Instructions (Sennett, 2009). In this chapter Sennett profiles the work of not only some of my favorite food writers but also those that have influenced me the most. When I was a young chef fresh out of culinary school I was enamored with French cuisine and collected cookbooks the way a sports fan may collect baseball cards. When I traveled I would seek out bookstores that had great cookbook sections. What really interested me were the food writers that didn’t simply publish recipe books, but those who wrote about food. So it’s easy to see how I would have been attracted to such luminaries as Child, Olney, and David.

Once, when in a used bookstore in Fort Erie, Ontario, I came upon a second edition of the two-volume set, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Child et al., 1963). Wrapped in brown paper, the way Canadian bookstores once did, I carried them the two mile walk home and across an international border like sacred texts; the customs officer at the Peace Bridge jokingly asked if they were bibles.

Richard Olney’s recipe for Gigot D’Agneau a la Sept Heures (Seven Hour Leg of Lamb) was often on menus at restaurants at which I presided the stoves (Olney, 1985). It was Elizabeth David’s books that influence me most as I began to write about food. I have every book she has written but it is the first that I came upon which still influences me to this day, A Book of Mediterranean Cuisine (David, 1968).  She writes both with ease and also authority. This is apparent in the very beginning of the book, “The cooking of the Mediterranean shores, endowed with all the natural resources, the colour and flavour of the South, is a blend of tradition and brilliant improvisation. The Latin genius flashes in the pan” (David, 1968).

It’s also interesting that Sennett cites the work of Antonin Carême, whose recipe in the book is the focus of the writers that follow in the chapter. Carême, of course, is the chef who is credited with codifying modern French cuisine; he was also the predecessor of Auguste Escoffier, who streamlined Carême’s methods further and developed the brigade system in the kitchen, which was the forerunner to what we now call “line cooking.”  Escoffier was also the author of a few books, including the seminal, Le Guide Culinaire (The Culinary Guide), in which he devotes no less than fifteen pages at the very beginning of the book to fonds de viande (meat stock). He put them in the beginning because he felt it was the very foundation (fond) of cooking (Escoffier, 1941).  Le Guide Culinaire was bedtime reading for me while in culinary school.

Some years ago while on sojourn in Paris, I enrolled in a four-day class at Le Cordon Bleu. On the first day I remember watching the chef as he slipped slivers of truffles and cold butter under the skin of a Bresse chicken with the tip of his small knife with such articulate precision the accompanying translator was not needed.

So, what, you may be wondering, does this have to do with ethics? The correlation is not only to the books which we are reading, regarding pride and craftsmanship, but also with the subject of the recipes themselves: Meat.

While I have flirted with vegetarianism for years, I have to qualify that I am not a vegetarian. Though I do plan on abstaining from meat for the duration of this course and likely thereafter. When thinking about ethical and altruistic living, this is one of the first areas that comes to mind. The world has changed since the I first read the aforementioned books, and in many ways I have also.

It’s interesting that when I read the recipes in Sennett’s book, whereas once I would have been smitten by them, they now seem more like the description of a surgical procedure, “Sever the attachment of each shoulder blade at the wing joint and, holding it firmly between the thumb and the forefinger of the left hand, pull it out of the flesh with the other…Force the flesh loose from the breastbone, working along the crest with the tip of a knife and forcing that at the sides loose with fingertips” (Sennett, 2009).

Now I’ll get straight to the point: There is no reason we need to eat meat, we can easily consume all of our nutritional requirements with a plant based diet. We simply eat meat for our own pleasure, and in doing so we kill a living animal which was likely raised in horrendous conditions for its entire life.

According to Peter Singer in his book, The Most Good You Can Do, How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, in 2012 there were 164 million dogs and cats as pets in American households (Singer, 2016).  I personally am a dog lover, and have been my entire life. Currently two beautiful pugs cohabit my home with me. I bring this up because it was while thinking of my pets that that I first began to correlate the absurdity of eating some animals but not others. I was on a silent retreat at a center in the Hudson Valley and they raised animals. Passing the animals one day little piglets came rushing up to the fence to greet me. I was struck at how much they resembled my pugs.


Singer goes on to say that the amount of personal pets in the United States is dwarfed by the number of animals that were raised and then slaughtered as food; in 2012 this number was 9.1 billion (Sennett, 2009). Mylan Engel Jr., in his paper, Between the Species, The Commonsense Case for Ethical Vegetarianism, states that not only is the number of animals raised and slaughtered in the US closer to 10 million, he also goes into detail of the horrific lives 95% of them lived, from birth to slaughter (Engel, 2017). While the images I’ve read about how the animals are kept is terrible enough, it’s the descriptions of the slaughterhouse that are straight from a horror film.

“Once inside the slaughter house the animals are hung upside down [pigs, cattle, and sheep     are suspended by one hind leg which often breaks] and are brought via conveyor to the  slaughterer who slits their throats and severs their arteries and jugular veins. In theory, animals covered by the Federal Humane Slaughter Act are to be rendered unconscious by electric current or by captive bolt pistol (a pneumatic gun which, aimed properly, renders  the animal unconscious by firing an 8-inch pin into the animal’s skull). Chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese are not considered animals under the Act and receive no protection at all. In practice, the Act is not enforced, and as a result, many slaughterhouses elect not to use the captive bolt pistol in the interest of cost efficiency. A consequence of the lax of  enforcement of the Federal Humane Slaughter Act is that in many cases (and all kosher cases), the animals are conscious throughout the throat-slitting ordeal” (Engel, 2017).

If this weren’t enough, Peter Singer states that hundreds of millions of animals never even make it to the slaughterhouse because they simply suffer to death (Singer, 2016).  In other words, there are multitudes of animals that do not get the “benefit” of humane slaughter because they parish before it is granted. Some succumb to there own species aggressive behavior, which is likely the result to their captivity, others (chickens mostly) are said to collapse under their own weight because they were bred to grow so quickly that their immature legs cannot support their full-grown bodies, others unable to reach their feed in the overcrowded conditions simply die from starvation or thirst. Many more parish en-route to the slaughterhouse because of the magnified conditions they’re exposed to during travel.

So with the above graphic descriptions, this question is the elephant in the room: If we could not consider our own pets enduring this horror how do we justify it to other animals simply for our own satisfaction? At this point I have to reiterate that while I haven’t eaten meat in a couple weeks I do not consider myself a vegetarian, so I ask myself the question just posed.

If you’ve ever had a beloved pet injured in most cases you would do anything to alleviate their suffering. Peter singer takes this to the next level and equates animal suffering with human suffering, “In Animal Liberation (Singer, 2009) I argue that to give less consideration to the interests of non-human animals, merely because they are not members of our species, is speciesism and is wrong in much the same way that the crudest forms of racism and sexism are wrong” (Singer, 2016).

It’s easy to disassociate the meat that you cook with the living animal it once was, to forget that the neatly wrapped cellophane packages in the supermarket were once sentient beings. Here’s where my own ethical dilemma comes into play. Even if I don’t eat meat I still cook it every day, my occupation dictates that I must. For decades I have worked as a cook or chef, and currently as a supervisor in the commissary kitchen of a school district in the second largest city in New York State. I see the end result of factory farming everyday as chicken nuggets, beef riblets, and cooked ground beef comes through the back door by the truckload. Sometimes I’ll look at a pallet of cases of pre-breaded and fried chicken legs and try to imaging the room full of live chickens they once were. At the very least, I’ll say a silent prayer, both for them for them and me. Until I choose another occupation or find work in a vegetarian restaurant, this is my cross.

There are, of course, many arguments against vegetarianism. One of the most common is that we as a species have always eaten meat. I’ve heard people cite passages in the bible where there are descriptions of slaughtering meat for food.  There’s also the argument that not all animals are factory farmed, that some are raised in humane conditions and “slaughtered humanely.” My response to the historical aspects of humans being carnivores is this: It’s only been in the past century (or less) that there have been large supermarkets packed to the hilt with foods. In ancient times, such as those biblical, eating was a very different thing; people ate what they raised, including meat. Likely it was considered sacred and a gift from God. In regards to the argument of animals being raised/slaughtered humanely: Yes, this is better, but in my view their humanly lived lives still ended with their throats being slit simply for our dining pleasure.

There’s yet another, if not extreme, side to this argument as well: That plants themselves are sentient. According to Andrew Smith, assistant professor of English and philosophy at Drexel University, this is true. In an interview at the website, Munchies, he discusses his book, A Critique of the Moral Defense of Vegetarianism (Swerdloff, 2017). When asked if he felt why there was a disconnect between plant-based life and sentience, he responded:

“There are historical reasons, cultural reasons, and philosophical reasons that go all the way back to philosophers like Plato and Aristotle—particularly the way they classified animals, plants, humans, and the gods. Today, that still reverberates. We look at the grass of our lawn and the trees outside our windows and we see beings that are clearly alive, but passive and largely inert. That’s simply not the case. These beings are aware and very active in their environment. In some respects, they are far more aware of their surroundings than animals are.”

Despite his critique,  professor Smith has been a vegetarian for more than two decades and a vegan for more than 6 years. His reasons, he says, are complex but largely philosophical and emotional (Swerdloff, 2017).

Another argument against vegetarianism is that it is elitist and arrogant. Examples are that, according to the website of World Hunger, of the 7 billion people of the world 800 million, or 11 percent of the world’s population, is hungry (World Hunger, 2017). On a smaller scale, there are food deserts in every major American city where the residents of such neighborhoods do not have access to fresh produce (American Nutrition Association, 2017). Yet, I can pick-and-choose as to what I want to eat.

In this paper I’ve attempted to cite arguments for and against vegetarianism, but I would be remiss if I didn’t admit I am more than slightly biased for a plant-based diet. My views can be mostly summarized by the Russian writer-philosopher, Leo Tolstoy, “A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral” (Tolstoy, 1987).

In conclusion, more questions arise: Will I continue to abstain from meat? If so, why? And also, how will I reconcile the fact that I cook it daily on the job. To this, I respond yes, I plan on abstaining from meat consumption, for ethical, philosophical, but also very personal reasons. As far as cooking it as a source of employment? This will be an ongoing struggle, and one to which I currently have no answer.

Peter Singer, in his paper, Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism, published in Philosophy & Public Affairs, offers another view of this quandary, “The utilitarian vegetarian is on strong ground in arguing that factory farming and other cruelties involved in large scale commercial animal production should end. The final problem is to establish the link between this goal and the obligation to become a vegetarian” (Singer, 1980).

This said, I’ll finish with a simple recipe for a delicious meal which can be made in minutes and does not harm any animals. This is my “go-to” recipe for a quick and nutritious meal and can be made with nearly any vegetable. Though I have to admit, after reading Andrew Smith’s view of sentience, I’ll never look at a stalk of broccoli the same again.


A Recipe for Spaghetti with Broccoli, Garlic, and Olive Oil

For a recipe to serve two people you will need the following ingredients: One head of broccoli which was grown in your garden, or lacking this, sourced locally from a farmer’s market or food co-op. Two cloves of garlic (or more if you’d like), which is neither too green nor too dry. Three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with an acidity level no higher than 3%. An couple ounces of Parmigiano Reggiano, which should be hand-grated just before this preparation. One-quarter teaspoon each of gray sea salt and crushed hot pepper. A half-cup of vegetable broth or, lacking this, a half-cup of water reserved from cooking the pasta. And lastly, 4 ounces of whole wheat spaghetti which contains one ingredient: whole wheat flour.

Begin the recipe by preparing the ingredients: wash the broccoli and cut it into florets, peel and mince the garlic, boil and strain the pasta (reserving ½ cup broth if needed).

Pour the oil into a cold skillet and add the minced garlic and hot pepper. This is an uncharacteristic way to begin a recipe (in a cold skillet), but there is a specific reason for this: To slowly draw the flavors out of the garlic and hot pepper rather than sear them in.

Place the cold skillet over a medium flame. Wait a minute or two until you notice movement in the pan as the garlic begins to sizzle. Slowly swirl the pan with one hand while stirring with a wooden spoon in the other. When the garlic is light golden, and the aroma of it and the olive oil perfumes the air while the hot pepper tickles your nostrils, add the broccoli and stir it into the oil. After just a few seconds add the vegetable broth or pasta water, which will release a puff of steam and also act as a vehicle of flavor. Add first the salt and then the cooked spaghetti. Stir it until is is hot but not over cooked, then remove the pan from the heat. Add the cheese to the pan, stirring and tossing all of the ingredients.

Serve while hot or at room temperature.

Works Cited
American Nutrition Association. (2017). USDA Defines Food Deserts | American Nutrition Association. [online] Available at: http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017].

Child, J., Bertholle, L., Beck, S. and Coryn, S. (1963). Mastering the art of French cooking.
2nd ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

David, E. and David, E. (1968). A book of Mediterranean food. London: Cookery Book Club.

Engel, M. (2017). “The Commonsense Case for Ethical Vegetarianism” by Mylan Engel Jr.. [online] Digitalcommons.calpoly.edu. Available at: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/bts/vol19/iss1/1/ [Accessed 18 Oct. 2017].

Escoffier, A. (1941). The Escoffier Cook Book. New York: Crown.

Olney, R. (1985). The French menu cookbook. Boston: D.R. Godine.

Sennett, R. (2009). The craftsman. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Singer, P. (1980). Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism. Philosophy and Public Affairs, [online] 9(4), pp.325-335. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2265002? seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents [Accessed 17 Oct. 2017].

Singer, P. (2009). Animal liberation. New York, N.Y: HarperCollins.

Singer, P. (2016). Most good you can do. New Haven and London: Yale Univ Press.

Swerdloff, A. (2017). This Vegan Professor Says There’s No Such Thing as Real Vegetarians. [online] Munchies. Available at: https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/jpkk4d/this-vegan-professor-says-theres-no-such-thing-as-real-vegetarians [Accessed 18 Oct. 2017].

Tolstoy, L. (1987). Writings on civil disobedience and nonviolence. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.

World Hunger (2017). How many people are hungry in the world? – World Hunger News. [online] World Hunger News. Available at: http://www.worldhunger.org/hunger-    quiz/how-many-people-are-hungry-in-the-world/ [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017]. 


Urban Simplicity

The Goodness of Others…

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There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Last night I was supremely humbled and nearly moved to tears. I have never been one to use the phrase, God works in mysterious ways, nor do I even like it. It seems too hokey to me. But here I am thinking it is appropriate to my experience last night.

It was Friday evening and I had planned on going out by bike to feed and converse with the homeless or street people. As you likely know, if you’ve been to this blog prior, I do this on occasion but lately I’ve been doing it more intentionally as part of a project for a course in which I am currently enrolled. With this said, I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling it. That’s okay, I suppose, but it is the truth. For a variety of reasons I simply felt spent, as if I had nothing to offer. Nonetheless, I loaded my bike with some bottles of water and bags of chips and headed out.

I pedaled and coasted slowly downtown and stopped at Fireman’s Park, which is a small patch of greenery near the bus station and Cathedral Park. When I arrived there were people on many of the benches, and most looked as if they could be homeless or on the verge of it. Not speaking with anyone, I stopped at an empty bench, parked the bike, and pulled out a book to read. The book, Instructions to the Cook, A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a life That Matters, is about a Zen community that started a bakery, among other ventures, in and around New York City as a way to serve the homeless. But, as the subtitle suggests, it is also advice on living a life that matters.

Reading was inspiring me, and glancing up from my book I noticed a guy sitting opposite me, maybe 20 feet away, was reading also. Just as I noticed this a woman approached him. I couldn’t hear their conversation but she had animated gestures and I’m assuming she was asking him for money. He didn’t give her money but instead handed her his book. It wasn’t until then that I noticed he was reading a bible. They talked a couple minutes longer and she walked away looking at the bible in her hands. I wondered if the book would offer her any solace.

Then a few people got up and started to walk past me. I turned to see where they were heading. There was a car parked with its trunk opened. Two guys were handing out plastic bags filled with something. A woman passed me and as she did I asked what they were handing out. “Food,” she replied. “Come on, hun,” she added, “they won’t stay long.” She thought I was homeless and was helping me get food.

Wanting to speak to the people handing out the food, I packed up my bag, strapped it to my bike, and began to walk towards the car. It’s interesting, I thought to myself, I’m a city guy who seems to blend in easily. Whether I’m in NYC, Toronto, or even Paris, people seem to assume I am a local and ask me for directions. It was at this point when I looked at my bike with a bag of my personal stuff strapped to the front and chips and water in a basket on the rear, that I realized how I could be mistaken as homeless.

When I approached the car I stood to the side of the line, waiting for everyone to go through so I could speak to the two guys. As I stood there another woman, who was now at the head of the line, looks over at me and says, “Are you a first timer?” A bit taken aback, all I could stammer was, “Yes.” Then she looks at one of the guys handing out food and says, “Give him some first, he’s new here.” Holding up my hand in a sort of protest, I was handed a bag of food, “Here you go, brother,” was what he said when he handed it to me. I thanked him and the woman, who now took her share and began to walk away, and I stood there waiting for the last of the people to go through the line.

There was no longer me and them, it was just us, and it felt odd—but extremely humbling—to be on the receiving end.

Just as the last person went through the line, and they were starting to pack up their things and close the trunk of the car, another person came up. He must have been a regular because they spoke to him by name and apologized that they did not have anything left. Awkwardly, I handed him my bag which he readily accepted.

After introducing myself to the guys I found out that they are with a group called Buffalo’s Good Neighbors. There’s a variety of people who help out, they told me, and they are there once or twice a week. They just want to help people out, he added. I asked if I could take their photo and they reluctantly agreed. I gave them a card and shook their hands before I parted. When I asked them their names, the one whose hand was still in mine at the time, looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, “My name is Anonymous.”

 

When I walked my bike back through the park and approached the opposite side, I could see some sweaters laid out on a bench and a guy holding one up to his chest to check the sizing. I asked him where the cloths came from and he told me, “Church people bring them.” I looked at them and could see that they were new shirts. “Go on,” he added, holding the sweater towards my chest for sizing, “they’re free, one will fit you.” I thanked him and hopped on my bike and rode the short distance to Cathedral Park. This is the park which is home to the homeless Jesus statue.

 

There were three people in this micro-park and the first that I noticed was a man sleeping on a bench. It would be impossible to miss the similarity to the sleeping man to that of the Jesus statue which were only a few yards apart. I pulled up to the other two people and asked if they wanted some water and chips. “Yes, please,” they both seemed to say in sync. After handing them each bottles of water and rummaging in the bag of chips to find the type they liked I could see that the sleeping man was awake and now facing me, so I called over and asked him if he, too, would like some water and chips. He didn’t look great as he approached so I asked him how he was doing. “I’m okay,” he said, “but I’ve got a summer cold that’s kicking my butt.” This is probably why he was sleeping covered up on such a warm evening, I thought. I can’t imagine being homeless and sick. When I’m sick all I want to do is lay in my bed or couch. This guy had a bench. 

I sat down on one of the benches and talked with the other guy for a few minutes, just chitchat about the weather, etc. Then as he was finishing his bag of chips he holds up the remaining two, crumbles them in his hands and sprinkles them on the ground for the birds. “They gotta eat, too,” he said with a gleam in his eye as he looked at me.

When I began this evening I was tired. I had been up since 4:30am, it was the end of a long work week, and I was not feeling particularly compassionate. But the series of events that transpired changed things, and in a way changed me. There was the woman who encouraged me to get in line for food, the other woman who let me go ahead of her because I was a “first timer,” the guy who was helping me pick out free clothing, and now this guy sharing his food with birds like some modern day St. Francis. My heart, which in some ways was hardened earlier, was now malleable and split wide open. The light, which is always there but sometimes difficult to see, burst forth and shone not only in the cracks of my own heart but also in those who I met this evening. 

So this is what happened on a particularly humid and windless spring evening in two downtown parks, which in many ways, woke me up to life right in front of me.

It is in giving that we receive.”

~St. Francis

There are reminders everywhere (and I need constant reminding)

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Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

~Philippians 4:8

The above Bible quote is one of my favorites. And yes, I am a crazy leftist liberal who reads the Bible (occasionally). I find inspiration in it in the metaphoric sense, not literally. But as is often the case when I start typing, my mind is ahead of my fingers and I jump ahead. Let me start over.


The above photo was taken last evening, I saw it at just the right time. I was on my way  home from my second job and feeling depleted physically and spiritually. Physically from working too much, not getting enough sleep, and having a cold; spiritually from the uncertain times in which we live. If you are on Facebook then your feed, like everyone’s, is likely filled with mostly posts about politics. And the negativity after a while really wears me down. It helps when I focus on good (hence the above quote).

I of course am not immune to the negativity. While I’ve made the personal commitment to not join in with the onslaught of it on Facebook, I still get caught up in it in conversations at work and else-wear. The fear turns to anger, but it is still fear. I am convinced of this. But there are reminders everywhere, all we have to do is look. And sometimes I believe they are placed right in front of me just when I need them most, such as the above sign attached to a fence on a building I passed last night. Do you have an extra coat? leave it here and we will give it to someone in need. Simple, right? Isn’t that what life should be about? 

Focusing on the anger is the easier path, I think. At least it is for me. Being angry is not fun, but it is easy. Focusing on love (for one another) and having compassion for all of humanity is more difficult. But that’s the path that I choose. Do I stray from the path? Yes, of course…daily, hourly, by the minute. So I draw myself back. And sometimes I simply forget. That’s why I need guideposts and reminders. People are good and there is good all around us. But we need to look, all the time. Here’s a few more examples:


The photo just below is the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, which cooks and feeds people for free twice a week year round, no matter the weather. The second photo below is a building I pass a few times a week on my way the coffee shop (where I type these words). They have a table outside on the sidewalk and offer free things to whoever wants or needs them. The next photo is the Homeless Jesus statue in downtown Buffalo. People leave clothes, sundries, and food for the homeless year round. And my personal favorite is the bottom photo. I was walking to the corner tavern one evening last month when I saw the note taped to a gate in front of a neighbor’s house. Someone had apparently dropped one of their bags and it had a loaf of bread in it and the neighbor held it for return. Simple acts of kindness with profound results.

There are countless other examples of good happening all around us, these are just a few. And while I post these as a share to you, they are really (selfishly) for me. I have to remind myself to focus on the good (and I need constant reminders). Light always overcomes darkness, we simply need to seek it…to become the light.


In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

 ~ Anne Frank

Urban Simplicity.

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