Saturday, January 12, 2008

Wedding without wading into Sharkfin Soup

12 January 2008

Dearest friends,

I ate sharkfin soup recently at a wedding dinner. Yes, confess I did. It was a tough decision to make though. Two heavy guilts hung heavy over my head - one, I felt indicted as party to a cruel act; second, I felt it would be a damn shame wasting the food set before me.

You see, I have been brought up not wasting food. I also hate cruelty to the core of my soul. But should I state a conviction in front of my fellow guests and waste food in the process? It would be a double blow to the poor shark, I thought. It's like it died for no reason. So I ate, and I felt lousy inside.

Strangely, it never crossed my mind that not eating the sharkfin soup would amount to insulting my host. On the contrary, it was my host who came around the table and gamely poked fun at my table of 'nature conservationists and activists' by making an audit of guilty part-takers of the soup. I owned up of course. Yet, though I love my host as a wonderful friend, I felt I was fished out of the 'proverbial soup' there and then, and finned like the sharks. It felt sore... really sore. I left the dinner like a shark wriggling in pain outside... in the dark-night-sea and rumbled homeward bound on a bus in deep thought.

The saving grace of this experience is that I learned something I never really thought about. Thanks to the little discourse and debate amongst us 'nature conservationists and activists' at the table that night - and to a very large extend to my good friend Ria Tan - I knew better. Yes, I should know what to do from now on. Never will I be made to feel as I did again.

I learned some simple steps and I want to share them so that you can avoid the pitfall I fell into. It will help, I think, a great deal, i.e. if you want to stop the cruelty of shark-finning. Small steps these are, but I think they will make a big difference.

A) When you receive a wedding invitation card...
1) Call up the host and find out if sharkfin is to be served. If no... great! No problem.
2) If yes... you have to make a decision to go or not. Of course, be tactful. However, if it is a dinner you cannot avoid...
3) Decide whether you want to educate and advice your host. If you do...
4) You could suggest to your host to consider an alternative dish to replace the sharkfin soup. (But please... not turtle soup, ok!)
5) You could also suggest a mock vegetarian 'sharkfin soup'.
6) If you sense you have won over your host - Good! But if your host is not sure, or not agreeable...
7) You could suggest having a table or two which are 'sharkfin-less'. If the host agree... Great! You saved some sharks!
8) Lastly, if you go and still find sharkfin soup served to your face... well, you have arrived at the same dilemma I have just recounted! I cannot advise you... but you can think about me though!

B) When you are the host inviting friends and relatives...
1) Print in no vague statement that 'No Sharkfin Will Be Served' in the invitation card. You could be tactful though, and...
2) Educate them with an attached flyer about shark conservation, the cruelty involved, etc. But...
3) Please... in the absence of sharkfin... do not serve frog legs, turtles and rabbits at your dinner! But then... alas...

Here lies a greater dilemma that is hardest to digest: what about the beef and chicken, etc, that we eat every other day? What do we deem is more cruelly slaughtered or not, what is more painful or not? What is worth saving or not?

I have no answers at the moment. But I do lift my hat to (and salute) all my anti-cruelty-to-all-forms-of-life vegetarian friends for their power of conviction. If, by going through what I just wrote is any indication to go by, maybe I have just taken a little step towards realizing vegetarianism myself. I think this greater dilemma is one everyone should think about when they are thinking about what is happening to the sharks today. Divorced of that, I don't think we can ever teach our children wholesomely what cruelty is... or can we? Don't forget about cruelty inflicted by humans to humans too... Iraq War for instance... Did we speak up then or kept mousy-quiet for fear of being labelled as 'terrorist' sympathisers?

This is just my confession... my learning curve... my honest thoughts. I hope it helps. HOPE - yes. Indeed, we have only recourse to hope in the end.

Joseph Lai
LOVE & PEACE to all


Hema Bharadwaj said...

What an experience. i dont envy you. But i admire yoru thoughts adn convictions.

i started out life as a vegetarian... but around the age of 6.... i was introduced to meat. I enjoyed it for many years until the year when my 13 year old sister declared she wanted to become a veterinarian and hence.... "I can't treat and eat"... so we all reverted to vegetarianism... as though our conciences suddenly had woken up after a deep slumber.... and we all went cold turkey in the house... albeit one at a time and over the next 5 years. My youngest sister only recently converted. My veterinarian sister married a Buddhist...a vegetarian... who discovered that his meat days were over as he suffered from psoriasis... adn vege days helped him. so on and so forth... slowly my brothers-in-law and sisters adn some other close friends have converted... it has been a wonderful experience.... its a very personal choice. perhaps you can find organic, free range meat at first... so the additional cost... will make you feel the importance of the meat you eat. i read jane goodalls's book... harvest for hope.. and she gives wonderful choices on which fish, meat etc.

good health and happy eating, hema

Joe Lai said...

I tried many times and succeeded in cutting down meat intake substantially, but than come a time always, full of temptation, and I will splurge (urgh... so frustratingly hopeless) and eating meat like normal again. I will try again. Maybe one day I will be full vegetarian. I have you and alot of good friends who can be my role model aka guiding light.

Thanks Hema! : )

Joe Lai

SD said...

Hi Joseph,

I ran into the same problem as you did a month ago when a cousin got married. I decided to go the hard-headed way and decline the soup. Of course, then I had to field questions from incredulous relatives, but it will pass. They might accept your stand, but it doesn't mean that they will adopt it, so the bowl that you passed up wil surely be taken by another person!


Joe Lai said...

Thank Shundeng,

I thought about this before too. Passing the bowl may seem the right thing to do, but really... does it make anyone less guilty by letting someone else do the eating for you? Is it more tolerable?

In any case, I am not going at length now to explore all the varied circumstances there might present themselves at the table of any dinner. It is a futile exercise liken to solving the problem 'downstream'.

What I wrote essentially suggests steps that solves the problem 'upstream' - before it happens.

Btw, what you suggested actually happened... it was my other friends at the table who (as you suggested) passed their bowl to me. Ya, that happened! Not that I think they thought it less guilty for themselves, but I certainly didn't feel good from my perspective. You see my rationale now?

Joe : )