To Eat or Not to Eat—Everything


My parents brought me up to believe that it’s polite to eat everything you are offered by a host, and so I do. Over more than a decade of travelling in China, I have eaten insects, intestines, rabbit heads, and dog meat, and I think I can truly claim to be omnivorous. But these days my willingness to eat everything is clouded by ethical and environmental issues. On my first evening back in Shanghai, I was served shark fin soup at an internationally famous restaurant. This is a most pernicious Chinese delicacy: The boundless appetite of the Chinese nouveaux riches for fins is driving many shark species to extinction, and I never order it myself. I usually warn Chinese hosts that I don’t want to eat it, but on this occasion I forgot, and its appearance on the dinner table caught me by surprise. Rejecting it would have been like a slap in the face of the well-meaning chef, so I’m ashamed to say that I ate it. But this will be the last time. I’m going to follow the example of the Taiwanese president, Chen Shui-bian, who has banned such endangered delicacies from the menus of state banquets, and of Chinese celebrities like the basketball hero Yao Ming, who have all publicly pledged not to eat shark fin soup.

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