A Hong Kong ad calling for people to stop consuming shark's fin. Bus ads in San Francisco urge the same.
A Hong Kong ad calling for people to stop consuming shark's fin. Bus ads in San Francisco urge the same.

California Proposes to Ban Shark's Fin Soup--Is it Anti-Chinese?

A bill recently introduced in the California Legislature may strip shark's fin soup from Chinese-restaurant menus for good.

The move shouldn't come as a shock. Environmentalists have long fought for a ban on the sale and possession of the fins, which are largely harvested by slicing them off live sharks, and then dumping the shark back in in the water to die a slow, painful death. (Read Dave's post, "Why Is Shark's Fin So Controversial?" for a thorough rundown.)

And yet it does.  

Called the "Rolls-Royce of the sea" in a front-page New York Times story on the issue, shark's fin is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, served both as an expression of prestige and an offering of respect. Shark's fin soup is a star on the Chinese banquet menu, often positioned next the words "market price." (A bowl for 10 can run up to $100 or more.) A ban would be a blow to tradition and to restaurants that make the dish, including King Lobster Palace in Orange and Capital Seafood in Irvine.

So it doesn't surprise me that some Chinese-American community members are firing back.  

Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who's running for mayor of San Francisco, called the proposed state law an "unfair attack on Asian culture," saying in a statement that many sharks can be sustainably fished. (Note: The bill was originally co-sponsored by Chinese-American assemblyman Paul Fong and has many Asian-American supporters.)  

Others have also pointed out a possible racially charged subtext in the ban.

"Read just one page of the 400 comments on the [San Francisco Chronicle] article, and you'll catch echoes of Americans' fear of the rising Chinese middle class, who are identified as the primary market for shark's fin, and the persistent suspicion and disgust many Americans feel toward other cultures' foods," writes SF Weekly's Jon Kauffman.

I did read some of those comments, and still, I'll simply call the proposed bill . . . sad. Necessary, but sad--and worthy of the sense of shock it has received.

For me, while growing up, shark's fin soup was always a treat, an oooh-worthy dish reserved for the most special of occasions such as weddings or 80th birthday parties, when everyday broths such as egg drop and hot and sour just wouldn't do.     

Slurping the delicately chewy, gelatinous fin in the piping-hot broth brings back fond memories of sitting at the Chinese banquet table with my many cousins--but then again, so does sticking duck heads on chopsticks and starting a battle in our plastic-protected seats.

The fact is, our consumption of shark's fin is threatening the ecosystem, killing an estimated 73 million sharks per year. It has to go. There will be plenty of other inspiring, history-filled dishes to fill the gap on the Lazy Susan.  

It just needs a proper farewell, not the anti-Chinese bullshit it's been getting.


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