From ‘ You’re what you eat’, 5 Feb 2012, article by Sumiko Tan, Lifestyle, Sunday Times.
…Growing up, I had shark’s fin soup coming out of my ears. At any one time, we’d have pots of it in the fridge where it would have turned into jelly and had to be heated up…While I didn’t dislike the dish – the fins are tasteless but the soup is flavourful – I developed something of a phobia for it.
Those days, no one batted an eyelid about eating shark’s fin soup. The Chinese have for centuries revered shark’s fin as a delicacy and it was served as a treat – a symbol of respect, honour and prosperity. Today, no one can escape the bad press surrounding it.
…I would never order a bowl of shark’s fin soup for myself…But if I am served a bowl of shark’s fin – like at my recent Chinese New Year’s Eve reunion dinner – I will take it.
I’ll take it because it is there. I’ll take it because the soup is tasty. I’ll take it because it will be a sheer waste of money to leave it untouched to be then thrown away. Mostly, though, I’ll take it because it will be rude to my host if I don’t.
…In my world view, animals – unless they have been domesticated – were created to be killed by humans for food. And if you’ve watched documentaries, you’ll know animals in the wild are vicious. They rip apart and kill each other all the time, whether for food or to protect themselves or their young. It’s all part of nature and the cycle of life, so why are some people so hung up about what animals might be ‘feeling’?
(See more of her article under Comments below)
Perhaps at some point in history sharks were as abundant as ikan bilis, that Sumiko could afford to ‘get sick’ of shark’s fin soup, but from my own experience encountering unsavoury comments from shark-lovers on a previous post, she’s asking for a brutal slugfest from eco-warriors all over the country.
Here are some nasty remarks from the Twitterverse:
Sumiko Tan – you might want to read a few books on ethical consumption before you excrete what’s passes for an opinion. I am happy to help.
Sumiko Tan the Apex predator
Who cares if you continue to eat sharks’ fins or not Sumiko tan! Waste of newspaper space. Completely skipped her musings n read abt fd.
Sumiko’s argument on the ethics of eating shark’s fin against the backdrop of inevitable cruelty in our domestication of animals for food seems sound, until she brought up the biblical concept of man’s ‘stewardship over the planet’, and how animals were CREATED to be killed for food. If animals were created solely for food, you would have headless, fat unfeathered birds without beaks, claws or wings to fend off attacks from hungry homo sapiens. You would have suckling pigs sprouting out of the ground like flowers in the spring, and crabs would be just be a couple of overgrown, non-functional pincers. Heck, you would just need to set up a hotpot by a river bank and fish would just leap happily into it.
If sharks were created to feed us, why the razor sharp teeth to chomp swimmers’ torsos off with? Why not do away with the body altogether and just have fins latching onto rocks like barnacles? Fins evolved to steer these mean killing machines, not to make guests happy at Chinese wedding banquets. Every appendage of ‘God’s creations’ was built for survival, whether it’s a tiger’s penis or a scallop’s adductor muscle, and only happen to be delicious (don’t know about tiger penis) because that’s nature’s way of motivating carnivores to prey on them for their own survival.
As omnivores with no compelling reason to depend on animal flesh as part of our diet, it’s hard to take an objective stand on eating other sentient beings without appearing heartless or hypocritical. Sumiko has chosen the former, and at the same time suggesting that people who shun sharks’ fin like monkeys’ brains are hypocrites if they so much as eat Chicken McNuggets. Meat lovers who take the ‘humans are entitled to eat other animals’ approach should rear an animal from birth and then personally slaughter it for dinner, and perhaps they would think twice about that ‘face on the plate’ before talking about animals’ ‘feelings’. Anti-shark’s fin lobbyists should state for the record what they wouldn’t consider cruel eating, before boring wedding guests with their depressing statistics on shark kills which they took off Discovery Channel.
I do not deny enjoying meat, but I don’t believe a cow willingly sacrificed itself for my sake. I ate an animal that another human killed, and the animal probably suffered more than it deserved to. Blood and guts were spilled, and perhaps somewhere out there a calf is yearning for its dead mother. I’ll be the first to admit that I won’t slit a chicken’s throat so that I may eat it, though I may turn into a vegan for a couple of weeks if forced to do so. Better someone who savours every last drop of a depleting resource than one who eats it halfway and tosses it aside. So yes, Sumiko can have her soup and drink it and no one should stop her, though the looming soundtrack of ‘Jaws’ may play insidiously in the background while she’s at it.
Postscript: I’m floored by the amount of heated attention generated out something as trivial as Sumiko Tan eating shark’s fin soup. Many provocative opinions from both sides of the fence on this one, and here’s a summary of what has been said both by those against the practice and those who don’t mind the occasional delicacy.
1. Eating shark’s fin is cruel and eating a farmed animal is less so. Hell, you can’t even compare the two! I’ve seen the infamous Gordon Ramsay video myself of how sharks are sensationally dumped after being finned. Any argument on cruelty is assuming an anthropomorphic stance on how the victim might suffer under the circumstances. Because farming is industrialized and certified to conform to certain ‘minimisation of unnecessary suffering’ protocols, we usually assume that farmed animals have it easier. Still, a chicken spends its entire life cooped up and ‘enduring’ hock burns and all sorts of disfigurements, whereas a shark spends most of it in the wild prior to its untimely, ‘agonising’ demise. Sure you can be ‘humane’ in treating and ultimately killing an animal for food, but only by our own standards of what suffering means to them. Those who rely on the ‘farmed animals suffer less’ argument should spend some time at a chicken farm/slaughterhouse and see for themselves before one takes their views seriously.
2. Sharks are endangered and if they go extinct, eventually we would too. There are other ways whereby we’re already indirectly destroying the oceans, by widespread overfishing, going on luxury cruises, or supporting oil companies with a history of spills. Shark conservation is just one of many other proactive deeds we should be doing, and we shouldn’t be obsessing over a ban on one product while ignoring the blight of other hazardous human activities like tourism, industrial sewage or global warming on no less relevant marine lifeforms. If we elevated the shark to deity status while allowing its prey to dwindle through our actions, it kinda defeats the whole purpose, does it.
3. Sharking finning is not ‘sustainable’ and wasteful. Farming isn’t exactly ‘green’ either.
4. We shouldn’t impose our beliefs on others. This is personal, of course, and if you think embarrassing someone at a banquet is worth it for ‘the greater good’, then by all means, as long as you can define what that ‘greater good’ is, and are well prepared to be challenged on the subject. A related hot button is about ‘personal choice’. The question, then, is whether we have sufficient grounds to stop someone from making one. Smoking, for example, is a personal choice, and its effects are immediate (second hand smoke), and you have an obligation to your fellow man to intervene. Can you do the same for someone ordering shark’s fin soup, say, your grandmother on her 88th birthday?
5. Not wasting food is not an excuse. What’s the alternative then, if you’re stuck at a wedding table with 9 shark-lovers and you’re the only one who doesn’t think it’s ‘such a big deal’? The only way to make such a rejection effective is a dramatic walk-out (not that the bride and groom would host another banquet any time soon anyway). Otherwise leftovers would just be shared backdoors among the kitchen staff or nonchalantly dumped. In fact if you’re a true eco-warrior you shouldn’t be wasting ANY kind of food, and better find a means of it being consumed or put to good use. Yes, even if you’re being served monkeys’ brains.
6. All animals are fair game. No it’s not fair game. Animals are defenseless against our tools of capture. If not for technology we’d still be chasing rodents down burrows for dinner, not to mention catching trout with our bare hands. We eat large wild beasts today because we can, and part of the reason why shark fin eaters annoy us is because they don’t really HAVE TO eat the damn thing, especially since it lacks any significant nutritional value, or taste for that matter.
Filed under: 2012, Animal abuse, Local food, Weddings | Tagged: Animal abuse, local food, sumiko tan, Weddings | 44 Comments »