Macaulay Honors College Seminar 2, IDC 3001H

Category: Class Blog (Page 1 of 6)

Designing the Halal Cart Website

There weren’t really any significant discussions this week as we primarily focused on creating the halal cart website for the class. However, as we worked through the steps, I realized that making an appealing website is not as easy as it seems, and sometimes more people work on it hinders the process, rather than helping it. For example, on Monday, we experienced a lot of difficulties trying to add widgets to the website. When we tried to remove the excess widgets that were added, some useful widgets were also remove as there were not enough communications between us and everyone just tried to remove the widgets. This struck me as similar to how there are often only one or two workers working in each halal cart. In high school, I learned from my economics class how the overabundance of workers in restaurants will lead to inefficient work because there is only so much space in the restaurants and so much work for each worker to do. Similarly, there are only so much tasks for all of us to do when designing the website; and when all of us tried to do the same tasks at the same time, it was much harder compared to just one person from each group doing the task.

Regional Preferences — The Halal Guys and their Competitors

I pass by 6th Ave and 53rd Street on a daily basis after classes. It’s not an unfamiliar sight to see the six The Halal Guys halal carts (and one The Halal Guys catering van) with lines of hungry New Yorkers on their lunch break. Neighboring hot dog stands and nearby parked food trucks cannot compete with the loyalty New Yorkers have given to The Halal Guys and those street vendors often find themselves looking down on their phones much more often than on the grill. It’s heart breaking to see other street vendors including competing halal carts attempt the impossible of perhaps snagging one customer from the long lines for they not only sacrifice a more profitable location for the exclusive spot to be near The Halal Guys node, but also their permit usage which is constantly ticking down until its expiration date.

However, once I leave the busy streets of Manhattan, I found an interesting discovery. Bordering LaGuardia Community College located on Thomson Ave is another chain of various halal carts and other food carts waiting to serve hungry college kids. To my surprise there is another The Halal Guys cart located within this chain of food carts but it was the least popular one! There was not a single customer ordering  and the vendor manning the cart at that time even had the grill turned off. Students and other pedestrians were lining up at other neighboring carts varying in names and products, but The Halal Carts had their popularity turned against them.

Having the tables turned upon this realization, I recall there are other well known halal carts within their own respective region. For example, Shah’s Halal Cart and Sammy’s are some of the most dominant halal carts in Queens. Shah’s also has recently expanded to Long Island with a cart located in Hicksville! Although the name “The Halal Guys” is often the first one we think of, given their popularity and success that allowed them to branch into catering and a brick-and-mortar store, New Yorkers will always save a space in their stomachs for local favorites. I cannot say on behalf of New York that this is present in other remaining boroughs such as Brooklyn or the Bronx, but according to online reviews, Queens residents seem to have their hearts (and stomachs) set on Shah’s over The Halal Guys.

Politics and the English Language

We didn’t really have any significant discussions this week, so it was really tough for me to come up with a topic for this post. Although it didn’t have anything to do with immigration, I did hear one small conversation that came up on Wednesday in which we discussed the use of language. Some claim that in word choice using the simpler word is always the better option. One of the main proponents of this view was George Orwell. Orwell is a writer most famous for his works 1984 and Animal Farm. He also explored his view on language itself in his essay called “Politics and the English Language.” He claims that our use of language is the result of the political climate of the time. Politics he claims is what dictates the use of language which ultimately influences how we think. Some political bodies, like Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, used big words and euphemisms to cover up lies and make atrocities sound moral. This would cause the people of those countries to use the same unclear language by believing those lies. In of the most telling passages Orwell writes:

“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.”

Orwell makes a really interesting side point that everything is a political issue.  He was writing in 1946 and it seems to be even more truthful now. Every argument now seems to have a political undertone.

The other point he made was that politics is a “mass of lies…”. This seems to be one of the prevailing reasons why Donald Trump won the presidency. People became fed up with the typical political establishment viewing them as a mass of lies, and Trump represented a change from that. Although, he may not be so innocent as we have learned in the news.

Works Cited

Behind the Scenes of the Blog

What I found extremely interesting during this week’s discussions was how much thought needs to go into creating a visually appealing and functional blog, or any website for that matter. When visiting a website for daily use, we rarely notice anything about it unless something is not working correctly. For example, when we first reach the homepage and are easily able to transition between various topics on the site, it is nothing out of the ordinary. On the other hand, if we reach a website and struggle to find the links to reach different pages or see minor mistakes in functionality, we are quick to judge. As we have been creating our Halal Carts website and collaborating with one another, it has become more and more clear to me that such a project is no easy task. In order to have the format of the blog look as we wanted it to, we needed to communicate with all of the members of the class and come to a consensus. After we figured out the theme, our ideas needed to be compiled into the website and we’ve been lucky enough to have had Jake do much of the heavy lifting in this area. Even today, when we are less than a week away from announcing our website as complete, we realized there are issues that need to be resolved such as the arrows at the bottom of posts which lead to different categories.

I think this type of a project really forces us to think about all of the work that goes into the websites we use every day, and how many people are involved in making them look as they do. Websites are clearly not created overnight and take the hard work of people skilled in technology, something that many of us have had no experience with until now. Regardless of the difficulty of such a task, I’ve found it extremely exciting to see our ideas and edits come to life on the blog. Even though Jake has been largely responsible for making this happen, we’ve had the opportunity to see the backend of the website and learn about the different widgets needed to make it something unique. It has definitely made me even more appreciative of websites that are aesthetically pleasing and functional, but also more sympathetic to those which are lacking in such areas. Web design is a process of trial and error, as we have experienced with our own site.

The Work Ethics

On early Wednesday morning when I was walking to Baruch College from the 6 train subway station, I saw many New Yorkers lining up to buy Halal food. The most noticeable Halal cart, however, was located right near the entrance of the 6 train subway station, and immediately after leaving the station I laid my eyes on that cart. However, I’ve also noticed recently that there would be a morning Halal cart that would serve breakfast to New Yorkers, such as bread and coffee. I have been eating at Halal carts for as long as I can ever remember, and I’ve always thought that the Halal cooks and workers only sell their food during lunch time and dinner time because they would use the early morning to prepare the ingredients and check over the functionality of the cart. However, now that I see these Halal cooks and workers begin to sell breakfast I begin to really appreciate the work ethics of these immigrants. In order to earn more money to support themselves and their families, they’re willing to work all the busiest times of the day. From then I thought that the entire Halal cart project is very meaningful, because it not only educates us about the New York City and its people, but it also somehow makes us realize that owner and operating a food cart/restaurant isn’t as easy as it seems.


For the longest time ever, I thought “Halal Food” referred to the food served in the food carts with rice, lettuce, chicken, lamb, white and barbeque sauce. It was not until a friend explained that “halal”, in Arabic,  means permissible and that Halal meat is meat that has been slaughtered according to Islamic law, as laid out in the Qu’ran until I realized the true meaning. This particular type of slaughter is called dhabiha.

It’s a very specific method of killing animals for food, one that also involves draining all the blood and ensuring that no live animals ever see another animal slaughtered. According to the Muslims in Dietetics and Nutrition, a member group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Halal food can never contain pork or pork products, or any alcohol. Rasheed Ahmed, founder and president of the Muslim Consumer Group, which both certifies Halal food and educates Muslims about different foods’ Halal status, says that to be truly Halal, how the animals are raised is taken into account. Animals must be fed vegetarian diets, which means that many chickens and cows raised on U.S. farms don’t qualify. Halal animals also can’t be treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, since the hormones may contain pork-based ingredients.

Halal animals must be slaughtered by a Muslim, who says a blessing, and by hand, not by machine. Once killed, the animal’s blood must drain completely, since Muslims who eat Halal do not consume the fresh blood of animals.

After doing this research, a question that raises is, “Are all carts that are considered ‘Halal carts’ actually halal?”

Immigrants Across the Board

As I was walking from the 6 train station to school after a nauseating commute, the smells of the city began hitting me from all different angles. The overwhelming smell of the early morning was that of the Halal food trucks. It was 8:15am.

The aroma was obvious and present which made me think, “if they’re already populating the streets with their smell at 8:15am, what time did they have to wake up? What time did they get here? How did they get here? How long did they sleep?” All these questions puzzled me on my walk to class.

This project is not just a way of us getting the inside scoop of halal carts and everything that goes into that business, it is a way to broaden our understanding of the city and its people. Halal cart workers are just one example of those immigrants that absolutely bust their behinds in order to make a living. They are everyday reminders of where most of us came from and how we got to the places we’re at right now. The answers to many of the interview questions that we conduct are the same answers that my parents would give to a question like “why are you doing this job?” The hard work, dedication and resilience of the workers are all traits that stretch among the line of those that came here to achieve the American Dream, even if it seems like a steep hill to climb. However, the  fact that these workers are on the streets and attracting people of various demographics, making money, and coming home to their families is an American Dream in and of itself.

The project is raw, intriguing and eye-opening to us who are conducting it and hopefully to the prospective people that are going to read it.

The Halal Guys

While looking for Halal Carts to interview, I walked upon the most famous one of them all: The Halal Guys.  Beginning as a food cart in the 1990s, The Halal Guys has become a fast casual restaurant that has taken over the world. There are now approximately 70 carts/stores and many more opening throughout the world. People in countries as far as the Philippines are now franchising The Halal Guys to serve people a platter of chicken over rice.  I got the chance to speak with the Director of Operations/Manager of the first original cart on 53rd St. Now, there are roughly 7 Halal Guys carts in approximately a 100ft radius all serving hungry customers. There is a never-ending line of awaiting customers that only gets longer at night. The manager was very nice and told me a fascinating anecdote about how he started working for The Halal Guys in 2004 as a dishwasher. Throughout the years with his dedicated hard-work, he was able to rise the ranks and ultimately be at his high position he is at today in the corporation. I think this anecdote goes along well with the general attitude many newly-arrived immigrants hope for – the mantra that if one were to put in the dedicated effort, then one will eventually see the fruits of one’s labor. The story has a nice ending to it, but I also interviewed Halal Cart workers who are on the other side of the table. 

At another cart just a few blocks away from, a worker explained to me how he sold only $10 worth of food in nearly 4 hours! I was shocked. This cart is a few blocks away from The Halal Guys, so no one really buys from it. Business was terrible for this newly immigrated worker who faced the negatives of capitalism.


Immigrant Sacrifices

On Wednesday, we discussed the daily routine of halal cart workers. From my research so far, I’ve only found that an arduous day of labor awaits halal cart employees. From waking up at 5 or 6 am, to standing on one’s feet for eight hours in all weather conditions, halal cart workers truly have to be resilient and have some degree of passion towards what they are doing. This, in turn, makes me wonder about the general working conditions of immigrants.

More often than not, immigrants face not only longer hours and lower wages, but also a high chance of not working in a field for which they earned an education. Just the other day, I was speaking to one of the workers in my building. He is a handyman who immigrated quite a while ago, whose job is to fix things in the building. He complained about his hard day of manual work, but his eyes immediately lit up when talking about his son. His son is, coincidentally, transferring to Baruch next semester to pursue a finance degree. With excitement, he announced “My son is going to become somebody.”

I think this conversation illustrates the core of the American Dream, the reason why immigrants put up with whatever work conditions they can find: so that the next generation can be in a better place. I’d like to find out more about this as it relates to halal cart workers, but this is a theme that’s resurfaced all semester. I can personally relate to this kind of immigrant sacrifice, as my mom did the same for me when we immigrated—and I am eternally grateful.

Education and Immigration

On Monday, we discussed Foner’s chapter on education and immigration as well as the NY Times article on the same topic.  This was understandably, a very difficult issue to broach.  There are so many things to consider and so many different viewpoints depending on what one’s role is in the education system.  The first question brought up was how should kids who first arrive to the U.S. speaking no English be taught?  I thought that this seemingly simple question is actually very hard to answer in a way that would benefit everyone.  It seems like in each answer, there’s always someone who will be giving up something or losing out on something.  Personally at first, I thought that it should’ve been that these foreign students should be placed into ESL classes, but still be taught the other subjects in their native language so they don’t fall behind in the curriculum.  This is important because we want these students to graduate on time and get a diploma.  For many immigrants, the main reason why they come to the U.S. is for a better education and job opportunities.  If these students aren’t able to graduate on time with their diplomas, it seems like their efforts in coming to a new country is wasted.  But, as the NY Times article pointed out, is it really better for the students in the long run to be isolated from the actual class just to push them towards graduation?  In reality and from stories that I’ve heard, many foreign students are just put into the regular class with everyone else and through that they’re forced to learn the language.  Even though they fall behind a little bit in the beginning because they don’t know the language, in the long run, it’s better for their English speaking abilities.  It’s similar to the idea when parents throw their children into the water to force them to learn how to swim.  This is a similar concept and these foreign students can only improve from that point onwards.  However, another problem arises.  The parents of the other students in the class might complain that that these immigrant children are pushing the class behind and that the teacher is devoting more time to those students and neglecting the others.  All of these are very plausible reasons and this just shows how there’s no single way of teaching foreign students that would make everyone satisfied.  It’s also important to determine if forcing these immigrant students to get a diploma on time is more beneficial in the long run or throwing them into a class and forcing them to adapt and learn the language in that way would be better for them.  It’s all very subjective and it just proves how difficult it is to agree on single way of implementing a teaching system for immigrant students.

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