I was motivated to write about the proposal to ban shark fins in California after reading Francis Lam’s article “Is it racist to ban shark’s fin soup?” at salon.com. There have been plenty of articles, such as “Calif. shark fin bill would ban Chinese delicacy” from sfgate.com and “Soup Without Fins? Some Californians Simmer” from the NYTimes, about the bill and the surrounding controversy. However, besides my own culture, I was curious about other cultures and the need for environmental sustainability.
My own experience with 魚翅 (shark fin) is a little hazy. I remember having it once at a wedding when I was really young. I do not recall shark fin at more recent wedding banquets (in the U.S. and in Taiwan). 魚翅餃 (shark fin dumplings) are on the menu at dim sum restaurants, but I doubt it really has shark fin. I think the dumplings either have imitation shark fin or are made in the shape of a shark fin. I think shark fin is not a significantly important part of the culture. There are plenty of other food related customs and traditions that are more important. From a cooking perspective, there is also imitation shark fin that can be substituted to recreate the texture.
I started thinking about environmental sustainability and food culture. In “Shark’s Fin — Understanding the Political Soup”, I learned that Caspian Sea caviar almost disappeared due to overfishing. A ban occurred in 2005 and hopefully population numbers are improving. There are some that equate the ban as an attack on Chinese culture. But, as Andrew Beahrs writes in “Twain’s Feast: America’s Vanished Foods”, there are plenty of foods native to America that no longer exist due to overfishing and the changing agricultural landscape. One way to ensure that the ocean maintains its health is to ban the fishing and catching of certain animals. The ocean has its own cycle of life and once that cycle is broken, the earth will not be what it used to be.
I feel that it is necessary for California to ban shark fin. After all, we are home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Seafood Watch Program. Overfishing is a serious problem and if we are to save this planet from falling apart, we need to do something about it. It is not enough for individuals to stop eating a particular seafood. The animal should not be removed from the ocean in the first place. It is also important to note that shark fin is not the only culturally linked food that has environmental consequences. There are delicacies in each culture that are probably better kept in memories or in stories. There are other parts to one’s culture that are worth celebrating without damaging the earth. Without a healthy earth, all cultures will disappear.