Shark's fin soup is one of those symbols of affluence that sparks more disgust than mink fur coats and eating bluefin tuna. And rightfully so. As China's growing middle class exercises its new-found wealth, the popularity of the once-occasional delicacy has driven a brutal shark-finning industry that kills some 73 million sharks a year, according to The New York Times.
But the West Coast U.S. bans on serving and possessing shark's fin in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and most recently, a proposed ban in California, have prompted some protests of discrimination.
"The practice of shark's fin soup has been in our culture for thousands of years," California Senator Leland Yee told The New York Times. "There ought to be a way to find balance between the environment and preserving culture and heritage."
Another critic of the ban, restaurant owner Kinson K. Wong, argued that "People come to America to enjoy the freedom, including what's on the plate"
Salon writer Francis Lam has also weighed in on the issue, saying the ban isn't "racist" as such, but "disconcerting" nonetheless.
"[I]'s the kind of thing that smells a bit of cynical political posturing, scoring cheap environmental points because no politician is going to lose any votes that matter," he writes. "Get rid of grody-sounding food that only the Chinese are stupid enough to save up their money for? Easy! … [But] don't even think about doing anything about factory farming, the cheap-meat industry that is unequivocally ruining huge swaths of our ecology and our health."
(For the record, Mr. Lam says he agrees with bans that would protect sharks from over-consumption.)
He also quotes a Chinese-American chef Jonathan Wu: "It's a tough call, but I support the ban. While we are at it, I'd also ban Caspian caviar and bluefin tuna until their fisheries recover - no doubt, that would raise an uproar in certain other cultural communities."
Sure, enacting a ban on a culture's delicacy can rub some people the wrong way. The question is: Can the taste, status symbol and cultural value of any dish justify environmental degradation, inhumane practices and the threat to a species?