Filed in Work, Food

Will Horowitz

"Forest to Table," a Tricycle Original Short

“To cook is to immerse ourselves in the cycle of life.” So says Will Horowitz, the executive chef and owner of Ducks Eatery in Manhattan. Ducks specializes in heritage techniques: culinary traditions passed down by cultures that existed prior to modern food preparation methods like refrigeration and appliances like ovens and microwaves. Instead of these, Ducks uses processes like dry aging and canning that follow the natural timeline of the seasons. In the colder months, meats and seafood are cured and often smoked, vegetables are fermented or cellared, and dairy is cultured and repurposed. In the warmer months, it’s time to restock supplies by growing, foraging, hunting, and harvesting. Nothing goes to waste.

Horowitz is a graduate of Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado (where he studied Tibetan Buddhism and environmental sustainability), and the Culinary School of the Rockies, also in Boulder. He first learned to cook from his grandparents, who were chefs on both his paternal and maternal side.

An avid forager and fisherman, Horowitz finds his inspiration in nature: “It is a dance with a world much larger than our own where we can finally breathe, free to be mystified by the universe again. The leaves’ last bow to the rain; the river’s first shimmer of morning light . . . the art form of cooking is found within the expression of our bond with nature.”

Top image: Will Horowitz in his restaurant, Ducks Eatery. Photograph by Andrew Gladstone.
Image left: wild cockles cured in chamomile, pickled currants, and country ham granita, by Horowitz. Photograph by Noah Fecks.
Image right: live diver scallop, smoked cultured cream, dehydrated melon, scallop bottarga, Paddlefish roe, and chili thread, by Horowitz. Photograph by Elk Studios.

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Will Horowitz's picture

I'm glad this brought up such interesting debate.

It can be argued, that to transcribe text so literal & sure headed does not allow us to truly understand the core philosophy of any religion or belief system. We say "do not harm" is the correct path, but do not harm what? Life's cycle is all around us, it's inevitability engulfs us & as long as we live we are involved in a beautiful symbiotic dance of taking & giving. It is the bacteria on our skin, algae we harvest, animals we hunt & the plants we pick. it is not my place to say an animal's life is more important than a plant's... as it is not my place to consider ourselves separate or more important from the animal. My practice is a connection I find to & beyond this cycle. Through stillness & compassion for all of life. It is not necessary to label this as a pre-packaged form of religion, this defeats the purpose of all of this.

Let us be also reminded, that it is ok to read a magazine (even Buddhist) with alternative thoughts of mindfulness than our own or what we have studied. This is probably an inappropriate reason to boycott. It could even be argued it's even more of a reason to read. : )

candor's picture

“. . .it is not my place to say an animal's life is more important than a plant's... as it is not my place to consider ourselves separate or more important from the animal.”

Okay, so let me get this straight. In the moral relativity calculus, since it is not our place to say, we default to equality, where: A = B and B=C; therefore A=C; where A is a plant, B is a pig, and C is a human. So, speaking in terms of value, it’s irrelevant whether I chop a head of lettuce, pig, or human – they’re all of similar value.

I doubt you really believe that.

But let’s save both of us time. With reason alone (i.e. without empathy), we can easily rationalize atrocities. Human history is full of rationalizations for atrocities, where the perpetrators of intentional, unnecessary killing were quite “sure headed” that they were achieving a necessary purpose. So let’s leave rationalizations out of it and turn to empathy instead.

With the exception of genuine euthanasia in cases of intolerable and terminal pain, no one in human history genuinely and sincerely empathized with a sentient being and simultaneously, intentionally and unnecessarily killed them. Race, sex, sexual orientation, or species doesn’t matter. It is psychologically impossible to look at an individual, really see yourself in them, as a fellow sentient being, and intentionally and unnecessarily kill them at that moment. You -must- turn off that empathy (or compassion) to commit the act.

In light of this fact, perhaps you might want to try some tonglen or four immeasurables practice with nonhuman animals as the subject. Imagine yourself as that particular, individual cow, chicken, pig, lamb or goat. Imagine what it might be like at the time a knife goes across your throat, and then the long, horrific seconds, maybe even minutes, until you die, with every strand of your being fighting to live.

Although animals don’t ponder the abstract view, think about how everything that animal had – her entire life – was snatched away years before her time to die naturally. Why? For 10 minutes of pleasure from a food preference that, in most cases (all cases, I'd say), can be derived from a vegan choice?

To help your tonglen or four immeasurables practice along, read the piece in the following link. Have a tissue handy. Maybe read some more stories about individual lives on the same website. If you can, go visit a farm sanctuary that advocates veganism. It might change your life in a way you never thought possible.

Will Horowitz's picture

Thanks Candor for the interesting read and link. Yes, I truly believe what i'm saying and as a former vegan I really appreciate your compassionate view as well. I'm not quite sure if scientifically we have the evidence to support some of what you and many agree to be scientific "facts" of the differences of consciousness between humans, animals and vegetation. I also, am not sure if it is up to me to use these opinions to quantify the value of life. Just for sake of argument, lets pretend the plant you harvest and eat is as much of life as any animal. How would you react to this and how would you decide to live your life from then on? If death & pain are inevitable & we are all as one... what becomes most important & relative to you?

As an omnivore, one can also have a very deep connection and compassionate view to life & death. Just maybe a bit different than yours. : )

candor's picture

Okay, let’s embrace the absurd for argument’s sake.

If plants were sentient and subjects of a life, even if they were more subjects of lives than normal adult humans, I would still be vegan. Why? Because, to quote from the link below: “animals are reverse protein factories, consuming multiple times the protein in plant food that they produce in protein from their flesh and bodily fluids. Cows consume from 9 to 13 times, and pigs 5 to 7 times, the protein they produce, depending on diet and confinement factors. Chickens consume 2 to 4 times the protein they produce, also depending on diet and confinement factors. So the more we’re concerned about the ‘sentience’ of plants, the less we want to contribute to the staggering inefficiencies of cycling plants through animals, and the more reason we have to go vegan to reduce both animal and plant ‘suffering’.”

Also, you are factually and provably wrong on the science question. It is literally impossible that plants are sentient, and the science proves it is impossible. Read the following article in the link below for the scientific proof on the difference between the plants on our plate versus the pieces of former animals on some of our plates.

And btw, although sustainability doesn't entail veganism, it does entail a drastic -- like 99% -- reduction in industrial animal agriculture. This fact entails that the entire human population should be very close to being vegan in diet. Promoting animal products in a world with 7 billion people is NOT a sustainable behavior. Pat yourself on the back all you want for being better than McDonald's, but really, if you think you're making much of a difference by promoting so-called "sustainable" animal products to the affluent, you're deluding yourself.

PS: I'd like to know your thoughts on the story in the link in my previous comment. How did you feel after reading it?

Will Horowitz's picture

Thanks Candor, excellent response! Those are all important things to take note of for everyone. I thought the first article was very sad & endearing, I too do not believe in farms of any size that mistreat their animals. I do believe like i spoke about, that death is as inevitable as life. Thus, quality of life is very important to me. Like many of my colleagues, I do not agree with a majority of the practices most farms use. Often, plant based farms have also seen horrible environmental effects on the earth. As for protein to protein, many well educated people are now big supporters of insect based farms being the best methods under our current population issues. Certainly, something to look into. Once, we assess their "SQ" first of course. ; )

Deciding, what or who should live and die based on "processing units" and our limited scientific understanding of consciousness, is compassionately a tough argument for me but I certainly understand it. In general, it's always better to source from as non-sided of a website or text as possible but I certainly understand their point of view and why you are so passionate. As well, as angry at people with different views from your own.

We do our best to work with as sustainable as possible small farms who care about the plants they grow and the animals they raise. We are very far from or geared towards affluent, but we do make a very passionate effort to share our experience here with everyone no matter their background.

candor's picture

Keep in mind that because many times more plants are required to sustain animal agriculture, the negative environmental impacts of plant farming with animal agriculture are multiple times what they would be without animal agriculture. If we eliminated 99% animal agriculture, there would be no need for insect based farms. Alas, with current negative attitudes toward reducing animal product consumption to almost nothing, I don’t see any hope for real sustainability, and view the sustainability movement as a tragicomedy.

It appears you misread or misunderstood the role of SQ processing units. They certainly don’t “decide who lives and dies.” They only say, without any reasonable doubt, that plants are several orders of magnitude too slow and simple to have anything even remotely like consciousness. It is tragic beyond words to compare plants to animals, especially when plants don't even compare to computers in the potential for sentience (computers being far closer to sentience than plants are).

And as far as “sourcing” information, the article stands on its own for any scientifically literate person to evaluate on its own merits. The “bias” of the site (compared to current attitudes and beliefs) is completely irrelevant, even if strongly present.

As for my emotional state, it’s passionate, yes, but not angry. Perhaps my willingness to shoot straight without sugar coating or tip toeing around the issues makes me “seem angry,” but that’s an illusion, probably created by cultural expectations. I’ve had at least hundreds, if not thousands, of discussions just like this one for over a decade now, and they are very ho-hum and routine for me. Also, I’m a psychological determinist, meaning that I believe that all human behavior is strictly determined by genetics and environment, from one’s time in the womb up to the most recent nanosecond of one’s life; and that so-called “free will” is merely a very strong illusion. As such, I blame no one for their behavior, no matter how wonderful or horrific. I judge only actions, never persons (at least upon a moment’s reflection), regardless of the species of the person. It also follows that I wish all sentient beings well, regardless of their behavior. For me, retributive justice is an oxymoron; it should be called retributive violence. That said, I’m all for appropriate imprisonment, but for deterrent and public protectiion purposes only.

Anyway, I’m glad we had this discussion, and hope as many people as possible read it. It is packed full of just the kind of exchange, considerations, and information I like to display when people bring up the talking points you have.

I probably won't write further unless there is a need to clarify something. Have a good life. If we ever meet again, I hope you're back to being a vegan!

Will Horowitz's picture

Thanks Candor, I will think about becoming a vegan & will be sure never to kill a computer again! lol

If your ever in NYC come on by and I'll be more than happy to cook some unbelievable vegan food for you.

With love!

candor's picture

Thanks Will. I live in the Rockies, but grew up near Princeton, NJ, and visit family in the area occasionally. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to NYC, but if I am in town, I’ll take you up on your generous offer! (I’ll call beforehand so it won’t be a surprise.) If I find out you’ve made the restaurant vegan, I will make a very intentional special trip to visit and give you a huge hug!

A virtual hug regardless,

shiloh24601's picture

People here seem to forget an important fact - a very small percentage of the world is filled with vegetarians/vegan. Not only that, but you forget the buddha himself said there was no requirement to be. Many sects do not ban the eating of meat. I say this as a vegetarian! I commend Will for what he is doing because he is taking a mindfulness practice, applying it to his food, and giving it to a broad audience. Mindfulness of where and how we procure our food is a first step towards becoming a vegetarian. We need to remember some people need to be eased into a new lifestyle! Dogmatic attitudes and ludicrous statements only serve to turn people away from whatever youre preaching. Speciesist? Really? Its sad that disagreeing with someones choice of diet in one article is enough to unsubscribe after all the wonderful and thought provoking articles Tricycle has posted. To each their own I suppose, I just feel like youre cutting off your nose to spite your face for doing so.

buddhasoup's picture

On the issue of not eating meat, the Buddha did not mandate vegetarianism for his monks as the support of the monks depended on dana from the lay community. The idea was that the monks, if given meat by the lay folk, could not refuse it. One of the members of the original sangha lobbied for vegetarianism, but the Buddha was aware that he could not impose requirements on the lay givers. This was the reason that the Buddha did not mandate vegetarianism; dana was the key factor. A monk, however, could refuse dana meat if he was aware that the animal had been killed for him specifically. By inference, if you have a choice in what you eat, the Dhamma suggests that avoiding the consumption of sentient beings is the preferred kammic path.

candor's picture

Thank you for the clarity, Buddhasoup. The following is also attributed to the Buddha:

“All tremble at violence; all fear death. 
Putting oneself in the place of another,
 one should not kill nor cause another to kill.” ~ the Buddha
Dhammapada, verse 129

It would seem a long stretch to claim that the Buddha meant to exclude nonhuman animals who fear violence and death.

candor's picture

The fact that so many humans consume the flesh and bodily fluids of other sentient beings doesn't make it right.

As for the Buddha permitting monks (and himself) to implicitly encourage killing nonhuman animals, perhaps it was unreasonably demanding in the place and time not to permit it. It's also possible that the Buddha was simply wrong on this issue.

"I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti." ~ Hannibal the Cannibal in Silence of the Lambs.

What's wrong with Hannibal the Cannibal doing such a thing? If it is species membership alone that makes it wrong, then that, as a matter of fact, is speciesism, which is no different from racism. We need to identify precisely the relevant characteristics that make a life valuable. Be careful not to condemn millions of humans' lives (children and the disabled) to a status not worthy of respect when answering the question of "precisely [what] the relevant characteristics [are] that make a life valuable." Be careful not to implicitly support racism and sexism in your defense of speciesism.

shiloh24601's picture

I do not support speciesism, but I also do not support attitudes that push people away from our cause. The fact is many people do consume the flesh of animals as we as a species have done for thousands of years. The idea of vegetarianism is a new one , at least in western cultures, and we do not win people over by implying that their eating of animals is similar to racism and sexism. Play the long game, keep ridiculous terms like speciesism out of the conversation, and we might be able to build a world where vegetarianism is held in high esteem by most of the populace.

candor's picture

Actually, the idea of vegetarianism is an old one in Western culture, but not as prevalent as in the East.

As for explaining what speciesism is and how it's of the same substance as racism and sexism, only in a different form, I believe such explanations and understanding is essential, and will continue to explain it whenever the opportunity arises. You can "play the long game" forever if you want (whatever that means -- avoiding discussion or disagreement with anyone except vegans perhaps?). Until you can refute my argument by showing that speciesism isn't a serious problem with a striking resemblance to racism and sexism, your comments are uninteresting to me.

I'll add that today, there are so many free resources on the Web for information on vegan nutrition, vegan alternatives to animal products, and vegan recipes for every menu item one can think of (with the exception of a chunk of rotting corpse, but why replace that?), that virtually anyone with an Internet connection can figure out how they can gradually eliminate animal products from their life -- from clothing to personal care products to entertainment to food -- until they're vegan.

cweb26888's picture

A lovely simple short which subtly fuels an attachment to a certain lifestyle
which "foodies" , whether flesh eating or not, will recognize for its marketability.
For me, this piece comes very close to a hipster lifestyle advertisement.
Questioning the wisdom of its inclusion at Tricycle web site.

blue's picture

I don't understand how one treats an animal well as one is preparing to take its life in order to consume its flesh. Is there even a question as to whether or not the act of killing a sentient being causes suffering? Or that the raising of animals for food causes harm to the planet?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Above all, Buddhism is common sense and wisdom.

karunadhi's picture

Not really sure what to say! Disappointed to see this on Tricycle! Enough to make me want to cancel my subscription as well.

drleroi's picture

As a working chef, and a long time Buddhist, I like what Will is doing. I have blogged occasionally on vegetarianism/meat eating, sustainability. As a long time chef/organic farmer, I have found that food is war. It is your plants against all the weeds, insects, rodents, birds, deer, etc. You can minimize this, but you cannot eliminate it. Also, you need manure for an organic farm. Every other chicken and cow is a male, so even dairy and egg farming demands the slaughter of lots of animals. When I was the chef at the Buddhist centre in London Samye Dzong, I found that even though we were vegatarian the center, the monks all ate meat. It is more vital to focus on sustainable agriculture that treats the land and animals respectfully, versus factory farming and agribusiness that is solely for profit. We seem to go on in the endless arguments about veterarianism versus meat eating.

mbennison61's picture

Even as a committed vegan I am mindful that when I drive my car thousands of insects are mercilessly destroyed - no intent though. And unnecessary journeys avoided. But it is weak thinking to extrapolate this kind of inevitability in samsara to justify intentional, proactive killing. The teaching surely is, under the first precept, common to most schools of Buddhism, to do all that we can to limit the suffering of sentient beings. This article actively more than implies the exact opposite.

Two words - 'right livelihood'

Of course, let us not take away this gentleman's freedom to lead his life and serve others as he sees fit - he clearly brings a lot of pleasure to a lot of people and enjoys his artistic expression; it brings meaning and purpose to his existence. :-/

Just an extraordinarily bizarre place to find such a piece - in a Buddhist magazine - as I suggested - Cosmopolitan maybe - it's written really well.

Enough anyway, for me to cancel my subscription and return to my cushion instead. Must have taken a wrong turn somewhere :-)

candor's picture

I'm a longtime, committed vegan who is tired of, but not surprised by, reading speciesist writing in Buddhist magazines, books, and articles. Just as all the major religions of the world have been sexist, all have been even more speciesist. Buddhism is no exception. It's time for me to cancel my subscription as well.

buddhajazz's picture

WOW, yes this is a bit discordant with Buddhist philosophy right? It seems to be a promo for his culinary sport and his restaurant rather than a promo for anything Buddhist. He is a graduate of Naropa with a focus on environmental sustainability? Whaaaa ???

mbennison61's picture

I am not sure of I'm on the Tricycle or Cosmopolitan website to be honest.

Peterbscreek1's picture

As I look at the pictures in Chef Horowitz's piece, I find a number of animal or fish products that appear to ether have been alive recently or are still alive when about to be consumed (scallops, cockles). I love lobster, oysters, clams, mussels, etc, but have not eaten them in years as to do so, I'd have to kill them or have them killed specifically for me.. How does Chef Horowitz reconcile his activity with the Buddhist prohibition to cause no harm to sentient beings or to ask others to do it on your behalf?

Please understand, I'm not being critical of the Chef or his food practices. For him and his customers, they look and work great. I'm just actually wondering what this article is doing in a newsletter that espouses a philosophy of doing no harm and causing no pain to sentient beings. Can anyone help me out here?

buddhasoup's picture

Your comment is an appropriate one. I try to resist being critical of articles like this, especially in a fine Buddhist journal, but at the end of the day, where do we see any Dharma in what this chef is espousing? There is a hint of Zen/Taoist 'harmony with nature' stuff, but the Buddha taught us that food is a fuel for our health, not an attachment that can bring suffering.

One menu item is "Small Plate: Crispy Pig Ears: bibb, lingham's hot sauce, pickled cabbage, sesame $11.00" Does the chef cut the ears off the formerly sentient pig, or are the ears purchased from an pig abattior, who mistreated the animal before killing it? For a worker earning less than $10 an hour, this upscale cafe is likely far out of reach.

I feel like a curmudgeon writing this, but there must be some truly Buddhist- sensed eateries out there that more accurately reflect what the Buddha's teachings are on food, attachment and nonharming.

mbennison61's picture

Nice spirit.
Go veggie.