Today’s post was inspired by a panel at Pantheacon two weeks ago, Gods and Radicals. I recommend reading the ‘zine after you finish with this post. During the discussion (in a tiny room meant for 25 and upwards of 75 were trying to take part), I found myself thinking of ideas to expand on for this blog. Eventually I decided to write out a pet theory I’ve had for several years.
If you are not familiar with the food, shark fin soup is a delicacy thought to have originated in China over 1,000 years ago. It was a delicacy found at special events such as weddings. Now it has become a more common dish, often found at business lunches as a sign of prosperity. In order to sate the demand for shark fins there is now a booming business of finning: cutting off the dorsal fins of sharks and throwing them overboard. Without this fin, sharks are unable to move, sink to the ocean floor, and die.
When I was younger my dream was to be a marine biologist. Sharks were one of my favorite aquatic life forms. Now they are a commodity. This is problematic on multiple levels. First, as apex predators, sharks serve a vital role in their ecosystems. (I’m not going to be going into details of that here but if you’re interested in learning more I highly recommend the book Where the Wild Things Were.) Second, and what led to my naming of shark fin syndrome, is the waste. The fin is not the only part of the animal which has been considered edible. I imagine that at least part of the reason why the fin was originally made into soup was to minimize the amount of leftover shark after it has been consumed. Instead of respecting the animal, and the hunt, now it’s simply another commodity. And who’s to care about dead sharks or decimating the cycle of life in the oceans? Sharks may not be the prettiest animal in the ocean and have the man-eater reputation thanks to Jaws. But that does not make them unnecessary, or only valuable by what prestige they can bring to humans.
I see this kind of thinking rampant in our cultures. With foods, it’s the wanting of specific cuts of meat, or latching on to a “super food” billed as a panacea when other, more common fare can have the same benefit but does not have a good PR department behind it. While my syndrome applies to things where we want a small amount of something while ignoring the totality, I think it applies well to other aspects of our society. Our overculture teaches us that if we want it and can put out the money for it, we should just be able to have it without consequence. If we want cheap goods, we have a right to them, along with overseas slave labor to make it and people receiving below-poverty level wages to sell them to us. Cheap food? Sure! Complete with migrant workers to pick it, monoculture grains (corn, wheat, and soy primarily) genetically engineered to withstand synthetic fertilizers and pesticides hosed over them and made stronger every year because the bugs feeding on them quickly become resistant, and causing the food which does come to our plate depleted of nutrients. Diamond jewelry or rare earth metals? War in African countries. A full wardrobe? Sweatshops in Bangladesh collapsing and killing workers.
How do we combat this waste? I wish I knew. Despite its marketing, making individual choices isn’t going to do much when the people in power are able to sell personality responsibility over making major ideological changes to the world at large. The back of the Gods and Radicals zine reads “An Other World Is Possible.” We need to actively work toward this world.