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Over the past few months, there has been an ongoing conversation about the ethics of foie gras and California's ban on it. But before the foie gras controversy was brought to the public's attention, Shark Fin Soup was a hot-button issue. And given that it is Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, we would feel wrong not taking a closer look.
In The Best Food Writing of 2011, a collection of works edited by Holly Hughes, Jonathan Kauffman explains the issue in great detail, in an essay entitled: "Shark's Fin: Understanding the Political Soup." Kauffman explores the dilemma of preserving the cultral importance of traditional dishes such as Shark Fin Soup, with the ethics consuming sharks, many of which are endangered.
According to The Huffington Post, researchers at Stony Brook University recently discovered that 8 different species of sharks considered either endangered or threatened appeared in shark fin soups across the country. Researchers made this discovey by taking DNA samples from soups served in restaurants nationwide (even though many states have legislation banning shark finning).
This kind of DNA testing of our food demonstrates the importance of conscious consuming, but raises another question as well: If shark-finning is illegal in the United States in the first place, then apart from being careful not to order soups that use endangered species, (which without DNA testing would be impossible to know), should consumers be ordering it at all? If not, then why is it on menus? Some of the current legislation prohibits importing shark fins without the sharks' carcasses, but somes states ban the sales of shark fins all together. And then we return to Kauffman's questions on the debate about preserving cultural traditions when practices are considered by many to be unethical. Now there's some pretty intense food for thought at a Shark Week watch party.
Threatened Species Used in Shark Fin Soup Across US from The Huffington Post.