I ate shark-fin soup once. Dining from a prix-fixe menu a lifetime ago on a trip to Asia, I had no idea what it was or that sharks had been maimed for that day’s “delicacy.” The taste simply didn’t translate. I might have managed the broth if not for the bland-tasting intruder. As I hesitantly chewed on a rubbery bit, its slimy coating slid disconcertingly around my mouth. To humor my host, who paid a lot for the meal, I chewed maybe two more bites . . . but that was too much. I’ve eaten odd foods before and since. None has made such an impression on me as shark-fin soup did.
So when California and Toronto recently passed bans, I was among those who did not shed a tear. I ate it out of ignorance before the issue had gained so much attention. But many people around the world buy and sell the soup's key ingredient with full knowledge of the cruelty and controversy involved. Because of its popularity at weddings and business banquets, hotel chains typically offer shark-fin soup on event menus. But as the practice of shark-finning came under increasing scrutiny several years ago, a few hotels responded by offering other soup options, often in a footnote on the menu. But shark-fin soup still sits prominently on many menus, even at a number of Western chains.
Leave it to Asia’s oldest hotel company to remove it from the menu completely. The parent company of the prestigious Peninsula Hotels announced its decision a few days ago. Clement K.M. Kwok, the CEO of Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, said, “By removing shark fin from our menus, we hope [to help preserve] the marine ecosystem for the world’s future generations . . . [and] inspire other hospitality companies to do the same . . . Our industry will play a role in helping to preserve the biodiversity of our oceans.”
At the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Hong Kong, Silvy Pun works to protect sharks. She explained: "The Peninsula hotel chain is setting an example for other hotels and restaurants to follow. The decision also suggests that consumers have become more eco-conscious and market demand is changing. Shark-fin soup is no longer a must-have item."