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A Foodie’s Shark Encounter: Shark Fin Soup

Food Lovers — By Victoria Gutierrez on August 3, 2009 at 9:47 am
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Normally foodies and sharks don’t necessarily go together, but as increasing awareness is being directed to exactly where our food is coming from, Chinese delicacy Shark Fin Soup is being brought under scrutiny.  But before we delve into the environmental implications of this dish, a bit of food talk is in order.

Shark fins are one of the Asian delicacies that is desired almost purely for its rarity (other examples are sea cucumber and Bird’s Nest); in all fairness, shark fin imparts little more than a gelatinous texture to soups heavy seasoned and augmented with vegetables, beef, and spices.  This is a work-intensive ingredient that requires much preparation to go from a tough piece of cartilage to something edible.  Once only the occasional course enjoyed by royalty and the very upper echelon of society in China, Thailand, and Singapore, Shark Fin Soup became much more popular along with the rise of the middle class in Asia.  Today there are special ‘Shark Fin’ restaurants, and it is expected that Shark Fin Soup will be served to attendees of any wedding or graduation celebration.

So, where is shark fin coming from and why is it so rare?  It’s exactly what it sounds like: the dorsal fin from sharks and ray-like sharks.  Domestic sharks are occasionally slaughtered from their fin, but the bulk of shark fin comes from fishing boats catching sharks on the open waters, slicing off their fins, and throwing them back out to sea.  Unable to swim properly without their fins, the sharks end up suffocating or dying a slow death.

Cruelty is not the only reason to not eat shark fin soup.  Here are some other issues I see with the practice:

  • Sharks are at the top of the food chain, live to old ages, and are slow to reproduce. As far as a sustainable source of food goes, sharks are about as far from sustainable as you can get.  As a result of this, more than 20% of all shark species are endangered as a result of hunting for their fins.
  • Many shark fin are treated with Hydrogen Peroxide to make them look more ‘appealing.’ While some people tote Hydrogen Peroxide as a ‘cure all’, consumption of it can lead to irreversible tissue damage.
  • Because of sharks’ relatively long lives and the nature of cartilaginous tissue, shark fin is extremely high in mercury.  Aside from brain damage and general sickness a la Jeremy Piven, mercury can cause sterility in men.

Thankfully, a younger generation in East Asia is turning away from Shark Fin Soup as a fixture on all wedding menus.  Reuters recently published an article detailing this phenomenon, complete with an interview of a man who gave pictures of dead sharks to his wedding reception attendees along with a lobster (not shark fin) soup.

Have you eaten Shark Fin Soup? Would you eat it given the chance? Can you think of other questionably obtained delicacies? Leave me a comment!

Photo Courtesy of Conveyor belt sushi / Creative Commons

Tags: China, delicacies, Shark Fin Soup, sharks, Singapore, Thailand

    3 Comments

  • Liz Kao says:

    VERY informative and eye-opening article. I had no idea about the fishing process. And I’m glad you noted both the animal suffering and health effects angles…as culturally, the former has been less of a lightening rod for change amongst Asian communities. The latter is starting to make people think twice about what goes into Asian food ingredients.

    -Liz

  • Victoria says:

    Thanks for your comment, Liz. It’s definitely hard to get people to change their eating habits purely based on the effect on animals, but telling them how it affects THEM is certainly more successful!

  • Nicole Nadel says:

    Hot looking site, also in web browser Internet Explorer

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