Yao Ming’s presence in the fight to ban the selling of shark fin soup in China is being credited for an affirming-wave of anti-shark fin sentiment in Yao’s home country. The ancient practice of culling a shark’s fin for high-end cuisine has been derided for decades outside of China, as the shark is usually left to bleed to death in the sea instead of reasonably harvested for its entire body. The growing number of endangered sharks was affecting the food chain and delicate ecosystem balance in the Pacific Ocean.
According to the Washington Post, though, things are changing as more and more diners from Yao’s home turf are becoming aware of just how destructive the shark fin trade had become. We reported on Yao’s participation in the fight two years ago, and in the time since we’ve seen significant and tangible change for the better. From the Post:
Thanks to a former NBA star, a coalition of Chinese business leaders, celebrities and students, and some unlikely investigative journalism, eating shark fin soup is no longer fashionable here. But what really tipped the balance was a government campaign against extravagance that has seen the soup banned from official banquets.
“People said it was impossible to change China, but the evidence we are now getting says consumption of shark fin soup in China is down by 50 to 70 percent in the last two years,” said Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, a San Francisco-based group that has promoted awareness about the shark trade. The drop is also reflected in government and industry statistics.
“It is a myth that people in Asia don’t care about wildlife,” Knights said. “Consumption is based on ignorance rather than malice. ”
But in 2006, WildAid enlisted Chinese professional basketball player Yao Ming, who played for the Houston Rockets, to front a public awareness campaign. One ad showed diners refusing the soup when confronted with the gory reality of sharks whose fins have been sliced off. The finless fish are often tossed back into the sea to die.
If anyone is still wondering what the dish actually tastes like, watch this clip of Gordon Ramsay attempting to understand what’s so darn special about the bowl (NSFW, with one F-bomb):
For those of you that don’t want to sit through the video, understand that the fin itself is a completely superfluous part of the actual dish. It’s a basic chicken and soy broth, flavored with pork and augmented with fresh coriander, bamboo shoots, and red wine vinegar. The fin has next to no taste after days of washing, rehydrating, and boiling. I’m sure the broth itself is fantastic (you can’t really go wrong with chicken stock, pork and soy sauce), but the fin is needless. It’s all for show. “The broth is delicious,” Ramsay concludes, “but it could have anything in there” instead of a shark fin.
That “show” used to be relegated to the elite class in China. Now, with the growing middle class, more and more were acting the part of the high end culture and paying money for a soup that is more about status than taste, with a wildly destructive influence on both the sharks that are maimed and left to die for one part of their anatomy, and the overall food chain structure that the massive harvesting of shark fins is on its way to destroying.
Or, was on its way to destroying. Thank in large part to a giant of a man in both stature, and commitment to the greater good.
As huge fans of Yao’s, there is a downside of not being able to watch the retired Yao Ming play NBA basketball later this month. But after reading more and more about his off the court exploits, it’s hard to balance our selfish need to watch him toss in jump hooks, and the actual progress he’s making in his home country.
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