From ‘Don’t curb our taste for shark’s fin soup’, 7 Jan 2012, ST Forum
(Colin Loh):…While I understand that the inhumane way in which sharks are culled for their fins may be a major concern to many, I still enjoy my shark’s fin soup and hope that the farming of sharks happens soon. As long as an animal is not unduly subjected to unnecessary suffering, all meat is, pardon the pun, game.
After all, pigs at abattoirs are herded through rings where they are either stunned by electricity or gassed before they are slaughtered. While it is one thing for restaurants to discourage diners from ordering shark’s fin soup and substitute it with similarly tasty concoctions, it is another to loudly proclaim during a wedding dinner that fellow diners should be ashamed of consuming the dish.
The ‘healing properties’ of exotic animal parts are not ‘alleged’ but anecdotal. Similarly, should we ban traditional Chinese medicine, which is experiential rather than scientific?
I wish for reasonableness to prevail this year.
While this shark’s fin soup lover was preparing this letter in response to the Vegetarian Society for complaining about stir-fried snake, NTUC decided to pull all shark’s fin products off their shelves come April. This was followed by Carrefour in a string of copycat proclamations of ‘social responsibility’ in light of the ethical, and politically charged, issue of shark finning. But what’s absurd about this sudden surge of empathy is that these major chains did not submit to any concerted, well argued call to ban the sale from environmentalist groups. No, this wasn’t a decision made in light of facts and figures of declining shark populations, contaminated mercury or new studies showing that sharks die a slow, painful death with their fins lopped off. This came from an exaggerated outrage to a Facebook post by a Thern Da Seafood employee about ‘screwing the divers’. It was reported that Facebook flamers and trolls threatened to boycott Fairprice for manager Chris Lee’s indiscretion, who has since been fired and unwittingly become a shark saviour and martyr, whose thoughtlessly profane comment accomplished within 24 hours what the anti-shark’s fin camp with all their marine research, catchy slogans, emotive sob-stories and pie-charts have been trying to do for more than a decade.
The inhumanity of finning has been argued as somewhat of an exaggeration or ‘urban legend’ if you will. According to animal expert Giam Choo Hoo, most fins are taken after death, and shark MEAT itself is still consumed in many parts of the world (In fact, if you want to feel good about yourself ‘not wasting the poor shark’, you can check out Hwee Kee in Hong Lim Complex, Chinatown). Nonetheless, it’s not the scientists and activists that purveyors of the delicacy are worried about, but rather their Facebook-savvy potential customers. In 2009, Meritus Mandarin pulled out a bizarre concoction of ‘sharks’ fin mooncake’ in response to online vehemence. Posts include:
“Hello, it’s a terrible shame that your restaurant owners are publicly displaying a total lack of intelligence by selling shark fins. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
“…This barbaric act of promoting overpriced shark’s fin mooncake reflects badly on the hotel, Chinese people and Singapore in the eyes of the world! We are all standing united to boycott Meritus Mandarin and Pine Court Restaurant!”
Again, the use of the ‘B’ word. It’s likely that such crusaders spew diatribes against the shark’s fin industry and how it’s a disgrace to CHINESE culture on one hand, yet slurp up drunken prawns and suckling pig with gusto on the other. I personally wouldn’t miss the taste, or rather lack of taste, of shark’s fin (in broth or mooncake form), a food that I suspect could be chemically synthesised to perfect mimicry if there wasn’t a fear of incurring the wrath of the global conglomerate of shark’s fin suppliers. The only reason for shark’s fin soup’s appeal is not so much for its gustatory pleasures, but rather that it’s expensive, and anything expensive and scarce must be good stuff. It’s like mediocre wine packaged in a grand bottle with a hefty price tag and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Food journalists and chefs used to wax lyrical over this revered piece of cartilage, calling it a ‘measure of sophistication’ and ‘luxurious’. In the 50′s foodies were already proudly publishing recipes like shark’s fin in BROWN sauce, and feeding this to royal guests like Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. Today, anyone swooning over shark’s fin or even suggesting how they should be cooked would be treated with the same contempt as one who feasts on aborted foetuses.
Still, NTUC’s reaction to Facebook postings may be counterproductive to the Cause, as shark’s fin lovers may rush to stockpile the delicacy before the ban in April. Traditionally regarded as a prize dish to woo guests as a display of pomp and generosity, the ethics of shark’s fin soup has emerged as a fiery polemic short of making its way into Parliamentary debate over the past decade. To date it has been banned from Cold Storage (2011) and RWS in 2008, though one has to be skeptical if these big-time players were genuinely jolted by a sense of duty and moral conscience rather than merely pulling off a publicity stunt on account of sustainable fishing. In fact, RWS was caught out serving the supposedly banned dish only to high rollers, which makes its ‘moral’ position somewhat dubious. Shark, of course, isn’t the only depleting marine resource in the oceans, and no one is going to pull TIGER PRAWNS off the shelves since, well, prawns presumably don’t suffer as much as sharks.
In June last year a British woman suspended herself with fish hooks in protest against the violation of shark rights. And all that’s needed here was a Facebook ruckus. Now, if only Finding Nemo had been about a lost baby shark instead of a clownfish…