I saw an article in the Sunday edition of Singapore’s national newspaper recently, and a writer named Sumiko Tan defended the consumption of shark’s fin soup. As you may or may not know, shark’s fin soup is a Chinese dish frequently served at banquets/weddings as a symbol of wealth and prosperity.
As its name suggests, its signature ingredient is the fin of a shark – which provides no taste nor nutritional value to the soup (on the contrary, it contains an unsafe amount of mercury). It’s basically like the stone in the Stone Soup folk tale, except it results in a shark getting its fin cut off before getting dumped back into the ocean to drown.
Needless to say, this article really bothered me.
Why did it bother me? Well, obviously I don’t really like the message that she’s trying to convey – that it’s okay to have shark’s fin soup. But you know, everyone has their right to an opinion, so I can let that one slide.
But what really bugs me, are her reasons for eating shark’s fin soup: because it’s a dish that has a lot of ties with Chinese traditions and culture. Because it would be rude and ungracious to her host if she doesn’t accept shark’s fin when it’s served to her. She even goes so far as to say this:
“In my world view, animals – unless they have been domesticated – were created to be killed by humans for food.” – Sumiko Tan
Wow. That one statement definitely conjures up an image of some self-entitled bitch in a fur coat, with trapped live fish in her key-chain, force-feeding powdered rhino horn tea to her husband in a desperate effort to get him to sleep with her again.
But let’s go back to my gripe, which is the use of cultural traditions as excuses for barbaric behavior. I hate it when people cite traditions whenever they’re accused of doing something inhuman.
Got a problem with clubbing baby seals? It’s okay, because it’s a traditional rite of passage. Not happy with 12 year-old girls being forced by their families to marry old men? Don’t fret, it’s part of our culture and we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years.
Well fuck tradition! These vile practices are deplorable and should be discontinued immediately!
If somebody is serving dog meat at a banquet, you just don’t touch that stuff, no matter how impolite it might be to your host. If some creepy old guy offers you a romp with his 8 year-old daughter as some twisted way to cement a business deal, you shouldn’t give a damn about being ungracious or hurting his feelings – you just say no!
Granted, some traditions are important because they help preserve your culture. But at the same time, societies and cultures change. As we learn more new things about our world, we change our ways and evolve as a society. We adopt new ways of doing things, and rethink those practices that are now deemed questionable.
Clinging onto inhumane practices just because they’re cultural traditions is like stubbornly refusing to believe that the Earth is round, or insisting that homosexuality is a result of demon possession, requiring the victim to be exorcised by fire.
A tradition that involves barbaric acts is a tradition that shouldn’t be preserved; supporting or overlooking these so-called traditions serves only to retard the progress of humankind.
Sumiko Tan feels that the people who try to raise the awareness of issues like shark’s fin soup are merely bandwagon groupies and noise-makers with holier-than-thou attitudes who like to bully anyone who is not like them.
Maybe there is some truth to that statement, but for every Michael Moore there are hundreds of people like Rosa Parks, Richard Attenborough and Al Gore.
Either way, it’s better to say something and raise some awareness than be the person who stands by and watches as someone is being stabbed to death (warning: the video in this link is horrifyingly disturbing).
The consumption of shark’s fin is definitely an important issue, but I think the real underlying problem is people like Sumiko Tan, who are okay with atrocities simply because of traditions, and won’t speak up against it because “it’s rude” and doesn’t want to be perceived as a bandwagon groupie.
In her words: “If I have to choose between ranting about cruelty to sharks and hurting the feelings of someone who had served me the dish because he wanted only the best for me, I will keep quiet and eat up my shark’s fin soup, anytime.”
I wonder if she’d cite her “culture” excuse and turn a blind eye if someone close to her was being eaten alive as part of some cannibalistic society’s ritual. Would she also keep quiet and eat the human stew just to spare the village chieftain’s feelings?
Here’s a graphic from Wild Aid with some basic facts about shark finning. For more information, click on this link.
PS Fuck it if I come across as a bandwagon groupie. I’m not particularly well-informed, but most people know when something’s not right, and I just wanted to say something about it.