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Should You Eat Shark's Fin?


Shark's fin soup has always been a popular gourmet specialty of Chinese cuisine. It dates as far back as the Ming Dynasty and has remained a coveted delicacy because of its rarity, flavor, and elaborate preparation. The dish is symbolic of affluence and is a staple dish in important occasions, including weddings. Not only does it symbolize wealth, prestige, and power–it also serves as a sign of respect and appreciation for honored guests.

However, many debate the ethicality of eating this dish, raising concerns over the sustainability of its magic ingredient—the shark fin. Those who are pro eating shark’s fin argue that this dish is good for the health. But is it, really?

What Happens to the Sharks?

Shark fins are harvested through shark finning, a process in which the fins are removed from a live shark, after which the animal is returned to the ocean. Unable to move efficiently through the water, the sharks sink to the ocean floor where they would either die of suffocation or wait to be eaten by other sea predators. While this may seem like a victory over the vicious sea creatures that are often portrayed as heartless villains in movies, finning actually affects the marine ecosystem negatively, as it disrupts the ecological balance of the food chain. This, along with the inhumane implications of shark finning, is why many countries have already banned the harvest, sale, and consumption of shark fins.

Health Benefits of Shark’s Fins

Contrary to popular belief, shark fins don't merit health benefits. If anything, they can be dangerous to human health. Sharks are apex predators; since they are on top of the food chain, they accumulate great amounts of toxins in their body because of their diet. These toxins are consumed by humans who eat shark’s fin. These poisons have been linked to neurological and cardiovascular problems, as well as serious health issues like infertility, Alzheimer's disease, and degenerative brain diseases.

Does It Really Taste Good?

From a gastronome's standpoint, shark's fin soup can be described as a bowl of true gastronomic artistry. While some may argue that the shark fin itself doesn't do much to improve the dish's taste (much of the taste comes from the broth and other ingredients), some are also quick to point out that a dish isn't all about the flavor or the aroma. Playing a huge part in the experience of eating shark’s fin is the texture, which is the controversial ingredient's biggest contribution to the dish. More than its taste, people enjoy the dish as a social status.

To Eat or Not to Eat: My Opinion

As a conservationist, this is my opinion: Shark’s fin soup nothing but a bowl of good broth with a few strands of really expensive, cruelly-sourced gelatin.

So, back to the question: Should you eat shark's fin? I certainly wouldn't.

The Alternative: Mock (Fake) Shark's Fin

Fake shark's fin is widely used today. In fact, if you are paying less than $100 per bowl, you are probably eating the vermicelli made to look, taste, and feel like the real deal (so don't feel so bad). Mock shark's fin can also be made using cellophane noodles often mixed with chicken breast, pig's skin, and Jinhua ham. This sustainable pretend-dish is even available in microwavable packs, and you can get them in convenience stores all over Hong Kong and China.

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