We were driving down the QEW when my father told me that we would be eating shark fin soup at dinner. This was, of course, not the first large chinese formal dinner for me. For some strange reason, I have been going to these dinners all my life, even though I am not, by any means, chinese. Eating with chopsticks, those little red envelopes with money in them, and drinking copious amounts of green tea was normal to me by my teenage years. Through the family of my father’s best friend, and now his life partner, I have been consistently exposed to the tendencies of chinese culture.
[As a side note, there is a part of me that wonders if this might be what we could call quintessentially “Canadian.” When traveling in Paris, I had tried to explain the differences between Americans and Canadians and I had a lot of difficulty with this. I wonder: is a half-dutch, half-british suburban girl growing up with an asian influence on the side and having friends of all nationalities the True Canadian? Is this what it means to be Canadian? I’m not sure. Can someone explain how New York is any less multicultural than Toronto? Or is New York an anomaly in the bigger picture of the US? Is Toronto an anomaly in the bigger picture of Canada?]
Alright. So, being the environmentalist, artist, Canadian that I am, I immediately protested. I had seen “Shark Water.” I knew the eco-consequences of this. All I could think of was a shark being hauled out of the water, it’s fin being sliced off while still alive, and being thrown back into the ocean to die a slow death. I remembered my tears.
But what was I to do? The only white girl, my father’s daughter. The only one who couldn’t speak Cantonese. Should I be the one to make a scene by rejecting the dish? I was sitting at the table with the guest of honor. And this dish was being served as a symbol of how important she is. So I decided. This will be the one and only time I will eat this. I will try it. I will judge this for myself. I will not make a scene (if I had been 17 years old, I’m sure I would have done the complete opposite).
And so, as the bowl was placed in front of me, my father leans over and says “It’s very good for your knees, for the ligaments.” And then his partner leans over to me and says,”It’s great for your skin, for the collagen.” And then her son, leaning over to his 5 year old cousin (who doesn’t want to eat it) says, “Just eat it, it’s good for you. Very healthy.”
I realized at that moment, it would not make a difference. Whether I ate this soup or not. And though I never will again (it was completely tasteless), I realized at that moment, that the cultural force was so strong, that it would be like moving mountains to eliminate shark fin soup from the menu of chinese weddings and other feasts. Whether it was for the so-called health properties, or the simple display of wealth and importance, it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter if all sharks became endangered, or if the balance of the oceans was upset so much that it caused the entire oceanic ecosystem to collapse. It wouldn’t matter that this “soup” funds organized crime, or that finning is a truly inhumane act, or if scientists claim that it was actually HARMFUL because of the high levels of mercury found in fins. And even if it wasn’t a $1.2 billion dollar industry, it just wouldn’t matter, because deep at the heart of the culture, there are beliefs, superstitions, and absolute conviction that these pieces of stringy white cartilage, from the fin of a shark is just plain “good for you.” And this will never, ever change.
Suckling Pig & Jelly Fish Platter
Braised Whole Abalones with Oyster Sauce
Winter Melon with Shrimp Mousse in Crystal Sauce
Shark Fin Soup with Cured Ham in Supreme Broth
Buddhist’s Delights (I thought this was funny after the soup)
Roasted Crispy Squabs
Braised Lobsters with Supreme Sauce
Steamed Fish with Green Onion in Soya Sauce
Fried Rice with Seafood & Shredded Conpoy
Braised E-mein Noodles with Enoki Mushroom