Year of the Shark?

When I first heard the news that two major supermarket chains in Singapore – Carrefour and NTUC FairPrice – had announced in January 2012 that they were discontinuing the sale of sharks’ fins here, I was surprised, to say the least.

I greeted the news with more skepticism than cheer, poking and prodding at the announcement as a cynic would. Yet, the movement seemed to be growing here, especially after Shangri-La announced a couple of weeks later that it had banned shark’s fins from all of its 72 hotels, most of which are located in Asia.

It was intriguing to say the least, to see massive corporations crumble under the mounting disgust and objections of anti-shark fin consumption protestors.

However, I continued to wonder how anti-shark fin activists would help stem the tide of shark hunting. Why are Westerners engaging in a witch-hunt against those who hunt and consume sharks – don’t they have better things to do?

After all, the consumption of shark fin soup is part of the Chinese culture, with some 95% of all shark fin in the world consumed within China, according to marine conservation group WildAid.

Shark fin is not so much popular because of the taste of the fin or even its much-enjoyed sinewy texture, but something rather more intrinsic to human nature – pride.

Shark fin soup’s beginnings date back to China’s Ming Dynasty, and was a delicacy coveted by emperors because it was rare, delicious, and required elaborate preparation. Today, it similarly symbolizes wealth, power, prestige and honor.

Personally, I grew up loving (I still do) sharks’ fin soup – a delicacy consumed only on special occasions: on birthdays or during Chinese New Year. As a child, I never bothered questioning how exactly fishermen obtained sharks’ fins for sale to restaurants. All I knew was that I enjoyed the broth, and of course, the fin itself whenever presented with a bowl of the good stuff.

However, with my growing years came the dawn of self-awareness, and my ignorance was no longer an argument that held any water. I knew that sharks were hunted specifically for their fins, and that they were being treated terribly.

I continued to justify my nonchalance toward the issue by reminding myself that sharks hurt people, and the thought of sharks being killed was relegated into the deep recesses of my mind.

I was finally forced to acknowledge how truly brutal shark fin hunting was when watching a documentary like the video above. Fishermen would bait, then yank sharks out of the ocean and remove the fins, before finally dumping the now helpless sharks into the ocean to drown.

And so, I decided that I needed to take a stand, one that I wouldn’t find hypocritical. Many people I know proclaim their intense hatred for the “cruel” treatment of sharks, yet still enjoy foie gras – fatty duck liver – produced by force-feeding ducks before their slaughter.

Therefore, I have decided that I will no longer consume shark fin soup, unless of course, substitute fins are used. This decision was not borne out of my desire to appease critics – not least the Westerners who know nothing of our culture – but rather was a personal decision that weighed heavily on my conscience.

Ask any chef and they will tell you that the taste of shark fin soup is not shark – it is usually chicken broth. Studies have found that shark fin does not contain high levels of nutrition content, as is popularly believed.

So, if you breakdown the value of a shark’s fin, is it really worth the lives of millions of sharks a year, just for an overpriced bowl of chicken soup? The shark fin itself can be replaced by cheap gelatin-based substitutes, which taste and feel like a genuine shark fin.

Eating shark fin soup for the so-called prestige – that, I can live without. So my word of advice to anyone reading this is simple: Is it really worth it?

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About Shaun Tan

You want news? Shaun gives you the news. He is a final-year student in Temasek Polytechnic's Diploma in Communications and Media Management, and is a frequent participant in extreme impromptu napping.

Posted on February 6, 2012, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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