“[Chinatown Neighborhood Association Member Marcus] Lee noted that the law allows consumers to eat shark meat steaks, but not shark fin soup, leading to racial tensions. “How can you save the shark if you ban eating only the fins, but not the shark meat?” Lee asked. “This ruling is not the solution to the problem. In order to save the sharks, you might as well ban the whole shark entirely.” “
An earlier lawsuit against California’s fin ban, filed by the Asian-American Rights Committee of California, also pointed out the cultural significance of shark fin soup. According to the Huffington Post:
” “Shark fin soup is an Asian cultural delicacy with origins in the Ming Dynasty. It is a ceremonial centerpiece of traditional Chinese banquets, as well as celebrations of weddings and birthdays of one’s elders,” the committee wrote in its complaint. “
My personal views on this issue are complex. Populations of many species of sharks are declining at alarming rates (which has numerous negative ecological consequences), the single largest driver for these declines is demand for shark fin soup, and this demand primarily comes from Asian cultures. With very few exceptions, conservationists are not racist, and there are very good reasons to campaign for reducing shark fin soup consumption (and reducing shark fishing in general) . There’s a big difference between criticizing something because it’s different from your own culture and criticizing something because it creates negative ecological and economic ripple effects worldwide. However, when conservationists who are primarily Westerners criticize something that is done primarily by non-Westerners, it undeniably creates what politicians call troubling “optics”. In short, I don’t think campaigning to reduce shark fin consumption is racist, but I can understand how some people might.
I asked my twitter followers what they thought of the claim that criticizing shark fin soup is racist, and added some of the best contributions to the excellent discussion that resulted to a Storify. Check it out below, and feel free to continue the discussion in the comments below.
3 comments to Shark fin soup, conservation, and racism: A Storify of yesterday’s twitter discussion
Great post and discussion David. It’s an issue that has a lot of nuance to it. Let me play devils advocate here and suggest that yes, to some degree there’s been racism.
Let me explain.
If you go back and read many of the comments on anti-shark fin media and articles leading up to the ban in California for the most part you see white anglo saxon names attached to many comments about the Chinese community that were simply put – outrageous.
It was a prevalent theme and one that was left completely unchecked.
By letting these unbalanced voices get away with suggestions that “all Asians are like locusts” or in the case of Canada where a letter was circulated suggesting that Chinese Canadians would be poisoned and no one in a shark fin ban leadership position said or did anything:
The effort gave away a major trump card, the moral high ground.
It’s a leadership thing. Let’s face it for the most part this effort began as a western anglo saxon effort here in California and came on the heels of another very contentious effort to ban the sale of live frogs and turtles directed at the Chinese American community.
That ban was successful but overturned by the courts a year later.
That ban was also filled with unbalanced individuals who said and wrote some pretty horrible things about the Chinese community so in context they were already reeling from one perceived anglo effort, and then came the fin ban with much of the same ingrained nastiness.
The fact is no one wants to admit or even engage the racism discussion because they feel that by doing so they will lose the moral high ground or it will take away from the debate and noble effort to ban fins.
By not doing so, by not stopping to counter the few online who were overtly racist, that is now a moot point.
The California courts have this one and where it goes from here will be a lesson on how to manage or not manage food bans for years to come.
To sum up my personal views.
I would love to see shark fin banned and believe it will happen but not in the way most who seek bans want it to happen. I am also very sensitive to cultural issues be they food, religion, or other. I think when you have an issue like food you have to see it in a cultural context first and foremost.
Nothing in the world speaks to culture like food it is the very fabric of a culture regardless of it’s pedigree. For one culture to suggest to another that it cannot consume a thing and ram home legislation in a short period of time is not wise.
I am a huge fan of efforts like those of Claudia Li and her team in Canada with Shark Truth who has, in the face of great cultural push back, managed to bring awareness and change to her own community in a way that is both admirable and downright smart:
Claudi serves as a template for change within a community and while what she is doing is not fast, there’s no denying that it is working and the specter of counter lawsuits that can set precedent and set back efforts for decades are non existent with this particular brand of conservation change.
Like or Dislike: 30
Both incredibly racist and incredibly stupid and ineffective. Problem is this is a non-profit campaign and people who work for non-profits are all pseudo-scientists/pseudo-policy makers with no real solutions except to yell loud and solicit donations. Problem with shark fins is that its an underground global trade. Shark finning is already illegal. So banning it is going to do what???? ALL SEAFOOD IMPORTS should have insanely strict chain of custody and if its not compliant with laws trhere should be extreme fines imposed. Any seafood that is imported from outside the USA is suspect. Why do we impose Magnusen-Stevens on our fisheries and then allow seafood imports from anywhere in the world??? Shark fins should be landed attached to the shark and tagged before its removed. Tag should have to stay on until the moment its cooked.
Like or Dislike: 00
and this by the way is the method already used for red abalone in CA, so why not sharks are well??? In the meantime, other people in California are still allowed to shoot sharks with bow and arrow for sport and this is perfectly OK with everyone because they aren’t Asian (mostly white dudes in camo hats) and thats the truth of the whole matter. There are plenty of videos on YouTube if you don’t believe me.