“Food lovers are still tucking into shark’s-fin soup at restaurants that specialise in the delicacy, despite the recent launch of a booklet that tells people what kinds of seafood to avoid to prevent their extinction” (Seafood Guide Fails To Dent Demand For Shark’s-Fin Soup, Miss Pamela Chow).
I read with great interest the report “Seafood Guide Fails To Dent Demand For Shark’s-Fin Soup” (April 30, 2010) by Miss Pamela Chow; which presents an intriguing dilemma between conservation consciousness and traditional cultures. Increasing levels of affluence and prosperity throughout the Asian continent have greatly boosted demand for shark’s fin soup as a form of Chinese cuisine delicacy in feasts and banquets. The astronomical increase in the demand has cemented shark’s fin soup as a standard dish in an assortment of Chinese functions, especially since it has been an important symbol of individual reputation and status.
A hard-handed approach by environmentalists in persuading Singaporeans, especially Chinese families, to immediately stop consuming shark’s-fin soup might not be particularly beneficial; given that it is a dish with tremendous cultural significance. Many are steadfast in defending the dish’s integrity and a variety of connotations. Aside from the Singapore Seafood Guide released by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), conservation groups and environmentalists should seek alternative methodologies to gradually reduce the demand.
It should be premised that millions of sharks are killed each year through a “finning” process: in which the fins are cut off the fish, and the helpless still-living fish is mercilessly thrown back into the sea and left to die. In this day and age when environmental awareness has evolved into a lingering zeitgeist, the younger generation see genuine incentives in developing a form of ecological conscience. Hence, associations should focus their efforts towards this group.
Progressively, there should be a developing comfort in terms of openly discussing the detrimental impacts of continually or excessively consuming shark’s fin. The younger generation should not be afraid of bringing the subject to the table, even if it means they might be confronted with dissenting opinions or even general discomfort during the discussions. This seemingly confrontational approach might not sit well between strangers, but honest exchanges can be developed between families and friends on food and sustainability. Dialogue is an extremely pertinent first step to honestly acknowledge sharks as endangered species; and equilibrium has to be struck between such concerns with cultural consciousness.
While these efforts might seem negligible; collectively, they will yield tangible benefits in the long run: especially when one is looking at the bigger picture. Local groups must remain resilient and consistent in their efforts to continue reaching out to Singaporeans, and hopefully – eventually – bring the dish off the dinner table.
A version of this article was published in My Paper.