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Yes, Chinese Culture Will Survive Without Shark Fin Soup

Yes, Chinese Culture Will Survive Without Shark Fin Soup

A few weeks ago, California lawmakers Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 376, which proposes to ban the sale and distribution of shark fins in California. The bill has set off a passionate debate, as shark fin’s soup is seen as a thousand-year-plus tradition in Chinese culture. State Senator Leland Yee, who is running for mayor of San Francisco, has even declared the proposed ban an ‘”attack on Asian culture,”‘according to SfGate.com.

I have to say, the way one gets shark fins for shark fin soup is a pretty terrible attack on the sharks. Shark finning is a brutal and violent practice in which fins are hacked off a live shark, which is then left to die as it sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Marine biologists say there has been a 99 percent decline in oceanic whitetip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico over the last 15 years and a 89 percent decline in hammerhead sharks in the northwest Atlantic. Overall, scientists say that as many as 90 percent of sharks in the world’s open oceans have disappeared.

Currently, dried shark fin in San Francisco’s Chinatown sales for between $178 and $500 a pound in San Francisco. Shark fin’s soup costs between $250 and $500 for ten people. SfGate.com notes that the soup

……has been a traditional dish at banquets going back as far as the Han Dynasty, 1,800 years ago, when emperors and royals began consuming it. It is considered one of the four “treasures” of Chinese cuisine, along with abalone; fish maw, or bladder; and sea cucumber.

With the growth of the Chinese middle and upper classes, demand for the soup has increased, as one way to show that a family has ‘arrived’ and attained often hard-won economic success.

Opponents of the bill argue that an ‘existing federal ban against shark finning by U.S. registered vessels is adequate protection’: Sharks cannot be imported into the US unless the entire shark is captured and used:

Michael Kwong, a local seafood processor whose family has been in the business since 1905, said sharks are not even targeted by fishermen. 

“It’s usually a bycatch, but when they do catch a shark, they are going to use it. The entire carcass gets used,” said Kwong, one of several restaurateurs and business owners who accompanied [State Senator] Yee at a news conference opposing AB376. “If this bill passes, there will be a lot of collateral damage.”

However, as SfGate.com notes, the federal law ‘does not apply to foreign-registered vessels, and it does not ban the sale of shark fins’ and is, in the words of Assembly Huffman, ‘”toothless.”‘

As a third-generation Chinese-American who still remembers my aunts whispering to me that I needed to drink each drop of my bowl of shark fin’s soup—only something we saw at fancy banquets—with care, I’m with Assemblyman Huffman, and I’m also with Assemblyman Paul Fong, the Silicon Valley Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. As the New York Times quotes him in an article about this ‘tempest in a soup pot’:

“It’s a horrific scene,” he said of finning. “Being environmentally conscious, I took the scientists’ side.”

Though I kind of want to ask Assemblyman Fong, was he expecting the bill to cause such a, um, souphaha when he decided to co=sponsor it?

The New York Times also quotes 27-year-old Jennifer Cheung, who said no to the soup at a Chinese New year celebration: 

“I come from a culture where food is very important….But I think this is a very hefty price to pay just for a bowl of soup.”

Leaving aside such not-really-Chinese-Chinese-food items like fortune cookies and chop suey, certainly there are plenty of other traditional foods that one can make, and certainly many other ways of celebrating and carrying on Chinese traditions and cultures than shark fin soup. Somehow, I think Chinese culture will survive without shark fin soup.I for one can live without it

(I’m a vegetarian, as it is.)

 


 

To take more action, sign the petition to Ban The Sale of Shark Fins In California.

 


 

Previous Care2 Coverage

California Lawmakers Propose Shark Fin Ban

 

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Photo by dfb.

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284 comments

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5:30AM PDT on May 12, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

12:38PM PST on Jan 6, 2013

Shark fin soup has nothing to do with culture, it has all to do about a tradition of arrogance rooted in selfishness by people who wish to demonstrate that they are able to afford expensive "luxuries."

It does not taste good, has no particular dietary value and cannot be described in any other way than a barbaric practice. I have witnessed shark finning ad nauseum in a pristine area in Mozambique for more than a decade but have been able to do little to halt the scourge.

12:25PM PST on Jan 6, 2013

We have to be very careful about our traditions that are of a Destructive quality. Yes, it is important to preserve tradition, but as asked countless times before, At what price?

South African tribespeople had been killing leopards for the skins, apparently to wear in reverence. Now, they have shifted to artificial fur and such.

Surely, the Chinese people are capable of embracing a global type of thinking, and are also capable, then, of helping to preserve our planet And the creatures that inhabit it.

2:19PM PDT on Sep 5, 2012

Thank you.

2:18PM PDT on Sep 5, 2012

Thank you.

2:17PM PDT on Sep 5, 2012

Thank you.

6:59AM PDT on Apr 30, 2012

thanks for info

11:29PM PST on Feb 22, 2012

Thank you for the article.

12:56PM PST on Feb 13, 2012

The cruel practice has got to stop!

11:29AM PST on Nov 16, 2011

Los chinos son ignorantes y crueles. Y sólo se excusan porque según es "tradición"... ahora por tradición o por creencias estúpidas van a acabar con esos pobres tiburones martillo. ¡Odio a los chinos! X(

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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