With some alarm I noted the opening maneuvers in the long sought after anti-shark fin battle for California this week.
It is a conservation strategy (if one could call it a strategy) that all but kicks in the front door of the Asian American community and penalizes them for eating shark fin soup or so Senator Leland Yee would have you believe.
The campaign began less than one week after the Chinese New Year.
The Asian American community in California is a savvy, politically well connected group, and they now have a new cultural and shark-fin champion, Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) who has taken the side of Chinese Americans and business interests in this fight.
“It seems that there are more and more examples where individuals or groups of individuals are trying to limit our heritage and our culture,” Yee, flanked by supportive restaurateurs and chefs, told reporters this week before evoking memories of racism against Chinese Americans.
Yee then went on to serve up a hot steaming bowl of shark fin soup to reporters and guests (we could not make this up).
I had come to understand that this campaign was to be a "quiet backroom campaign", and even offered strategic campaign advice to first enlist all of the top Asian chefs in America to back the California effort prior to any conservation launch by primarily non Asian anti-shark fin groups.
How we got here is anyone guess, but make no bones about it, Sen Yee is a smart politician who is running for San Francisco Mayor. Thanks to the anti-shark fin groups he has all but locked in the Chinese American vote using race as his wedge issue. Unfortunately.
In a campaign to eliminate a food source from a culture, a modicum of dignity and respect is called for. This frontal assault is bad for conservation, bad for the Asian American community, and most of all has destroyed the message of species loss and decline, replaced by a non Asian vs Asian cultural heritage argument that cannot be won. Sen Yee now owns that argument and has the bowl of shark fin soup to back it up.
A culture battle is one that conservation cannot win, and should it succeed in winning, will not want the unintended blow back when it does. So Yee is playing a tough game.
It is time to rethink the campaign, now, as all eyes are on California and the Asian American community for the outcome. Or as said by SF Foodie more eloquently this week:
What Yee and the anti-AB 376 camp demonstrate is that the bill's advocates need to keep their language sharp and culturally sensitive. They also need to keep spokesmen like Assemblyman Paul Fong (the bill's co-sponsor), Slanted Door owner Charles Phan, and Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook) in front of the campaign. A Chinese-born chef like Yan may be able to sway voters that scientists and activists will never reach.
Why conservation groups did not push for a limit on endangered shark species and mandatory testing of all shark fin is beyond me, but here we are, and as one famous voice from history once said "Alea iacta est".
Patric Douglas CEO