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Jan 12, 2000 11:14 AM

Jawing Off on Sharks Fin

  • j

In his San Francisco report, Senor Hound singles out a dish of sharks fin for specific praise. Sharks fin, of course, can taste very good indeed. But the ``harvesting'' of sharks fin is one of the most ecologically disastrous practices in the world--wild sharks are basically stripped of their fins and thrown overboard to die. Because of this, dozens of shark species have essentially become extinct. I'm not one to get worked up about animal rights or anything, and I cheerfully eat more than my share of foie gras and rabbit kidneys, roast veal and bleeding chunks of cow, but regular old fish maw soup is plenty good enough for me.

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  1. argh. It's coming back to me now...I think you may have told me this about a year ago and I selectively managed to forget it.

    this raises lots of issues re: the responsibilities of food writers. What do you do? do you not order the stuff? order but not write? write with a caution?

    10 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff

      I don't suppose I could let this topic pass without comment. I think everyone must make a personal decision about what is food and what ought not to be food. The only way to do that is by full disclosure. Frankly, I think people would eat a lot less meat if they really knew and thought about how it gets to their plate. Still, it's a personal decision and I try not to get too preachy about it (although MU and others might not agree that I am 100% successful). Food writers inevitably make an endorsement by eating something. Even if you say "the shark's fin soup was insipid" you still are endorsing the consumption of shark's fin by suggesting that it could have been palatable. If there is something that, in your mind, raises potential ethical issues about a food, I think you owe it to people to let them know about it so that they might make their own, informed choices.

      - VF

      1. re: VF

        It is, of course, an insult to our brother and sister omnivores to assume that we haven't thought very carefully about what we eat and how it gets to our plate. In fact, the eating of animal flesh is something very close to a sacrament in nearly all cultures of the world. Even McDonald's customers are aware, at least in a primal way, that they are subsuming another creature's flesh into their own. Driving an entire species into extinction is another story.

        1. re: j gold


          You wrote: "It is, of course, an insult to our brother and sister omnivores to assume that we haven't thought very carefully about what we eat and how it gets to our plate."
          At the risk of starting an incendiary thread, I must strongly disgree with you. I believe that our rank and file brother and sister omnivores couldn't possibly care less about how what they eat gets to their plates. Your premise assumes that some sort of thought process is going on. I don't think that there is. p.

          1. re: j gold

            Hmmm... I didn't think I was insulting you. If I were, I'd have been meaner.

            I think that SOME people DO think about their food and its source and still choose to eat meat. I never said anything to suggest otherwise. Many (most), however, don't actually know the details, just like they don't know how their car works, or what's involved in delivering their mail. The ubiquity of bad food (by this I mean lousy preparation of inferior ingredients) is a clear indication to me that many people don't give what they eat a second thought.

            - VF

            1. re: VF

              I think carnivorous beasts, certainly including our species, are hardwired to respect the animals that we eat, in some deep, primal place that has nothing to do with whether some of us get our meat shrinkwrapped at the A&P. There is a difference between eating a pork chop and eating a rutabaga, and the difference does not change if the pork chop was factory farmed, fried in PAM or sluiced with catsup: we eat meat not in spite of the fact that it comes from animals but BECAUSE it comes from animals.

              1. re: j gold

                With all due respect, you're living in a fantasy world if you think the average person gives the animals he or she eats much thought at all. I know there are many cultures (preindustrial cultures, that is) that venerate the animals killed for food in the hope that the spirt will allow itself to be caught and killed again, but the culture we live in isn't one of them.

                You're on especially shaky ground when you call such feelings "hardwired" and suggest emotional abstract concepts like "respect" can be attributed to "all carnivores."

                Getting back to people, please tell me how this deeply ingrained respect manifests itself. Other than cartoon Thanksgiving turkeys wearing chef's hats, I mean.

                - VF

                1. re: VF

                  I have to agree with VF here. As a former Veggie, I can tell you that most people get disturbed when carnivores talk about the actual living animals. They don't like to think about how the animal got to be shrink-wrapped at the A&P, as evidenced by the rush of converts to vegetarianism that appears whenever 60 Minutes airs a show on meat-packing. It's disgusting, really. Anyone read The Jungle lately? What about Charlotte's Web?

                  1. re: Tara

                    You know, agriculture is a nasty thing. Wine is made out of rotted grapes, cheese out of rotted milk, bread out of rotted grain. Fruits and vegetables are nourished with excrement, are knocked up by puking bees and are infested with more insects than an A&M professor could name. It would be lovely if we could all live on distilled water and chunky-style New York air. But we can't, and don't...and really, thank God. And while vegetarians would have us think that eating tofu is somehow more moral than eating an onglet medium rare, side of fries--and to them, it may be--they are doing us no favors by assuming that omnivores are the way we are because we poor, deluded dears just haven't thought the issue through. Cry not for us...we're eatin' steak.

                    1. re: j gold

                      Believe me, we're not crying for you J.G.

                      While you, a professional food writer I believe, seem to have considered the issues involved in the mass production of flesh-food, that hardly indicates mass thoughtfulness on the issue. Then again if your earlier comments about "hardwired respect" for food animals held by "all carnivores" are any indication, merely considering the issue isn't worth much without decent information. That was the original point I made, after all, that people deserve information. You, after all were the one to tell Mr. Leff he shouldn't eat shark's fin.

                      In any case, I have never suggested that there is a correct answer to the question. I've said all along it is a personal decision. It is, however, a decision that most people make by default. They eat what they've been taught to eat. The whole Chowhound concept is based on the premise that some people want a broader range of culinary experience. That broad range of experience can only be expanded further by consideration of these issues.

                      - VF

        2. re: Jim Leff

          I think food writers (and I’ve been one for almost 20 years) have to come down on the side of sustainability. In the long run, it’s in our own best interest to champion resource protection, organic farmers, and artisan producers because the alternative is even more mass-produced, tasteless food.

          But it’s hard to find the moral high ground. Every fishery includes some incidental catch that’s usually tossed overboard, a lot of our pork comes from industrial hog farms that cause water pollution, supermarket chickens live appalling lives (and the people who process them suffer debilitating repetitive motion injuries), the agribiz that delivers fresh fruit and vegetables to the market in winter uses massive quantities of fertilizer, pesticides, and fuel, and the list goes on and on.

          So what do you do? As a writer, I try to stay informed, and if a restaurant or market makes an effort to support sustainable food production, I try to point it out. Local (which is Portland, Oregon) chef Greg Higgins, whose eponymous restaurant is considered world-class, only serves wild, line-caught salmon, and last year he bought all of his greens from local growers, even during the winter. But he doesn’t preach about any of this on his menu, so it’s up to food writers to let the public know about it.