The eating of shark fins - which just about everyone now knows is quickly wiping out shark populations worldwide - is a practice that should be deeply troubling and totally baffling to anyone who hasn't been raised on the idea that it's a good thing to be eating.
The fins are tasteless, and are made of cartilage - which, when cooked slowly over long periods of time is converted to gelatin. The very same gelatin you might buy in, say, a packet of gelatin. Except that a packet of gelatin doesn't cost $150, doesn't make you especially virile, and serving a packet of gelatin at a banquet meal might make you look like a peasant with bad manners. The appeal of shark fin is part Chinese medicine mysticism, part ostentatious new money posturing, and, to a far lesser degree, part food tradition.
I've published a few stories on the utter foolishness of eating fin, and when interviewing researchers I stumbled across a strange fact: Many Chinese claim they don't know that 'fish wing' (yu chi) is from a shark at all, or that harvesting these 'fish wings' are rapidly ushering in the extinction of species. It's widely eaten in Bangkok as well, though I've never seen a story on the practice here.
Reading another story on the subject, I bumped into this conventional talking point. Here it goes: "According to a 16-city survey by WildAid and the China Wildlife
Conservation Association, about three-quarters of the people
interviewed don't know the soup is actually made of sharks' fins and
that eating the soup endangers sharks and the wildlife balance in the
Which is weird, on many levels.The primary one being that fish don't actually have wings. Secondly, most shark fin restaurants (it is almost exclusively a restaurant food) proudly display massive shark fins in glass cases. It is as if Jaws met his match at the doorway, and the spoils of the fight have been preserved for all to see. Many of these restaurants also feature actual shark renderings on their signs. And say, isn't it expensive and rare, and cool to eat and all-powerful and restorative and good for your skin and your inner swimmer because - drum roll - IT COMES FROM SHARKS?
I smell shame rather than ignorance. That, and chicken soup with cartilage floating around inside.