Is Banning Shark's Fin Racist?
According to the New York Times, 73 million sharks are killed annually just for their fins, and numerous species of shark are already nearing population collapse. This December, a federal ban on shark finning in U.S. waters was passed, but since it doesn't regulate the sale of imported shark fins, it's not keeping the expensive ingredient out of markets and restaurants here. AB 376 doesn't attempt to identify and eliminate loopholes ― it completely shuts down trade.
Frankly, SFoodie can't blame Yee for seeing an anti-Chinese subtext in the ban. Read just one page of the 400 comments on the Chron article and you'll catch echoes of Americans' fear of the rising Chinese middle class, who are identified as the primary market for shark's fin, and the persistent suspicion and disgust many Americans feel toward other cultures' foods. SFoodie was with Yee in his fight to preserve the sale of live frogs and fish in Asian markets. The xenophobic taint of the animal-rights rhetoric in that proposed ban was evident.
But this isn't the same thing. Globally, we've reached the point at which the collapse of an ecosystem has to take precedence over one culture's culinary heritage. No matter who the primary "market" is, overconsumption is taking sharks ― and bluefin tuna, and Atlantic cod, and hundreds of other species ― away from all of us, and we all have a right to demand action. The situation is becoming drastic, and drastic, across-the-board bans are warranted. SFoodie has no problem with any producer seeking an exception to a worldwide shark's fin ban ― as soon as they prove, irrefutably, that they can raise and harvest the fish sustainably.
What Yee and the anti-AB 376 camp demonstrate is that the bill's advocates need to keep their language sharp and culturally sensitive. They also need to keep spokesmen like Assemblyman Paul Fong (the bill's co-sponsor), Slanted Door owner Charles Phan, and Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook) in front of the campaign. A Chinese-born chef like Yan may be able to sway voters that scientists and activists will never reach.
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