When Toronto’s city councillors debate whether to ban the sale of shark fin soup this week, they will be echoing an emerging generational divide within the Chinese community, with Chinese-Canadian newlyweds on one side and their immigrant parents and grandparents on the other.
The soup, which is often served at Chinese weddings but has been blamed for declining shark numbers around the world, has traditionally been a “must” for lavish, elaborate Chinese banquet hall dinners. But there are signs of a shift, said Carmen Luk, a Toronto area wedding planner whose clients are primarily of Chinese decent.
“The last Chinese wedding I had, the couple did not want it,” Ms. Luk said.
The rift will be on full display tomorrow at Toronto’s city hall, when Chinese protesters are expected to rail against what they call an unfair and discriminatory bylaw, while the two councillors spearheading the ban try to push it through.
Despite a city staff report released earlier this month, which found that the sale of shark fin is not a city issue and is an issue better suited for higher levels of government, councillors Glenn De Baeremaeker and Kristyn Wong-Tam have urged their fellow councillors to support a prohibition. Other Ontario cities, such as Oakville, Brantford and Mississauga – as well as the U.S. states of California, Oregon and Hawaii – have already enacted bans on the fins, which are sometimes violently sliced off sharks as part of a controversial method known as “finning.” The method involves tossing the fin-less, bleeding shark back into the ocean to die.
Several high profile Chinese-Canadians have publicly supported the proposed ban, including author Wayson Choy. At a city committee meeting several weeks ago, Karen Sun, the former executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto chapter, also argued in favour of the ban for environmental reasons. Her wedding is scheduled for this May and the soup – which is often priced according to the volume of fin per serving – will not be on the menu, she said.
“It really is more a status food, and it is for older generations,” Ms. Sun said. “For a lot of people in my generation, we really just do it for grandma and older aunts and uncles. So there’s some pressure there, when people get married, ‘Oh, grandma will be disappointed if there’s no shark fin.’”
Restaurateurs and hall owners are banking on support from those elders. The Toronto Chinese Business Association has railed against the proposed bylaw. In a statement, executive director Barbara Chiu said the law did not account for fishermen who use ethical and more humane methods for catching sharks. She warned that a ban will create a flight of wedding parties from Toronto.
“Among other things, high-revenue dining feasts [which often include serving the shark fin]... would be lost to the easily accessible 905 suburbs,” she said. Store owners will also be forced to break contracts with suppliers and waste any bulk purchases of shark fin they have already made, she added.Report Typo/Error