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Old 11-14-2009, 03:47 AM - Thread Starter
 
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This isn't really about families - well, it kind of is - but it's definitely a multicultural issue so I'm posting here, but mods, if you think it belongs elsewhere, please feel free to move.

Here's the dilemma: one of my husband's best friends is getting married next weekend, and we are invited and happy to be going. They are lovely people and it should be a good time - big huge Chinese wedding with a massive feast.

The problem? Shark fin soup. Apparently it will be served, and the thought makes me sick to my stomach. Ecologically, it's worse (at least in my mind) than opting to drive a Hummer whilst eating McDonald's every day. It's not like it has any redeeming nutritional value (unlike, say, factory-farmed meat or industrial soy) and it's just a blatant status symbol. TBH I am a little disappointed in our friends but I suspect that they are unaware of the horrors that the recent popularity of shark fin soup has inflicted on the world's oceans.

So... I don't know what to do. Certainly I don't want to eat it and I would prefer to not let my DD eat it. Should I say something beforehand though? Like "Please don't be offended but I won't eat the shark fin soup because it involves cruelty and environmental disaster"? Should I send them a link explaining the process of finning - a week before the wedding, when it's not likely that they could even change the menu?

Gah. To make matters worse, my DH no doubt thinks I should just keep my mouth shut. He is much more concerned with not offending people or causing a fuss than with maybe raising a little awareness. And I feel I need to defer to him since he is half-Chinese and I am very white, and I get the sense that speaking out or even mentioning that there MIGHT be a problem with something to do with the feast would be a far worse sin for a Chinese wedding than an Anglo wedding.

So... anyone run into this before? How likely is it that our friends are simply clueless? How likely is it that they - as opposed to the bride's parents - had anything to do with the menu chosen? How likely is it that they would be horribly offended if I sent them information about finning and shark species extinctions? I know that this is a "traditional" feast dish, but I also know that prior to about 20 years ago it was a strictly regional, upper-class dish... it's become a traditional status symbol, and I am SO not a fan of status symbols - but this is a cultural thing, right?

Also, am I overreacting? Is serving shark fin soup really worse than, say, serving McDonald's hamburgers? (not that I would eat those either...but I wouldn't have the same visceral reaction, because sadly I am exposed to the reality that McDonald's exists every day.) Should I just be a good guest, slurp up the soup and say nothing? Do the demands of hospitality exceed environmental concerns, especially as there is probably nothing that could be done to remedy things at this point?

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Old 11-14-2009, 04:08 AM
 
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First off this is a celebration, not a place to protest. I do believe if you sent info on shark fishing, it would probably be taken as an insult. The nice thing to do is just politely say no thank you, when it is being served and leave it at that for the time being. Later on you could possibly bring it up in a civil conversation after the wedding. This again is just my opinion.
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Old 11-14-2009, 04:13 AM
 
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Found this in new posts. I don't know much about the cultural side of this, but I think you are totally in your rights to politely decline to partake in the soup (or let your daughter partake) but it would be very impolite to try to change the menu or mention the concerns to the couple. Especially so close to the wedding date, don't bother them with this. I know, it could be very tough if you have strong feelings about it.

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Old 11-15-2009, 12:11 AM
 
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Saying something will achieve nothing but hurt feelings.

The cultural association with shark fin soup goes beyond it being a status thing, such as caviar would be. It is a lucky dish.

The parents at all kinds weddings often have more say than the couple does. Chinese weddings are no exception and Chinese culture puts a very high value on obedience to elders, so if the parents want the shark fin soup it would be extremely difficult for the couple to have said "no." I wanted to have a vegetarian wedding, that didn't happen, and it wasn't just the Chinese side of the family who made a stink about it.

It is definitely too late to be changing the menu, saying something won't make that happen.

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Old 11-15-2009, 02:32 AM
 
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I think that saying no-thank you could be offensive too, but I think you are well within your rights to do so. (I say this not personally knowing that much about Chinese culture, but having dined enough cross-culturally to know that not eating something one has been specially prepared can be offensive)

I think that saying anything about it/why/emailing links is just too much and would be rude. If they ask you about it some other time, then of course, talk about it, but not at or about the wedding.

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Old 11-15-2009, 03:11 AM
 
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I think that saying no-thank you could be offensive too, but I think you are well within your rights to do so. (I say this not personally knowing that much about Chinese culture, but having dined enough cross-culturally to know that not eating something one has been specially prepared can be offensive)
Not eating the soup shouldn't be a big deal. It's not like being at the person home where they will personally prepare it and hand it to you. You'll be seated at a table probably with 9 or more people per table, there will likely be several tables.

If it is done pretty traditionally, then the servers will give each guest a bowl of rice and most of the dishes will be served by putting a large serving dish in the middle of the table for people to just take what they want from. Soup is often brought out in individually served bowls like the rice, though not always.

It's very easy to simply offer your bowl of soup to someone else at the table or simply ignore it, the couple will not check to see if you drank your soup. It probably would be difficult to send it back to the kitchen though, since the servers will be in a rush to get the next course out and won't linger once the soup is dropped off (there are several courses and soup is an early one.)

The couple probably will come around to have a drink say hello, but they won't be checking on whether you ate the soup.

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Old 11-15-2009, 03:22 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you, everyone. I will follow your sage advice and not detract from the happy day.

I may wait a respectable week or so and then write a post on my food blog about rethinking food traditions...

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The cultural association with shark fin soup goes beyond it being a status thing, such as caviar would be. It is a lucky dish.
Not if you're a shark. Or an ocean. I can understand, more or less, why it was originally lucky, but now it is so emblematic of waste, destruction and cruelty that thinking of it as "lucky" goes beyond ironic. I wonder if a campaign to rename it "death soup" would catch on...?

I will, of course, mention other cultural traditions that carry similar ecological and karmic burdens - mass-produced Christmas turkeys spring to mind, the growing popularity of "kobe" beef... I'm open to suggestions for others - I have no desire to pick solely on the Chinese...

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Old 11-15-2009, 09:31 AM
 
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I'm a vegan so I deal with this frequently. I politely decline anything that I am opposed to eating, but I do tell the truth whenever people ask me why I don't eat whatever it is.
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Old 11-15-2009, 04:51 PM
 
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That really is a tough one, and I am curious to see how you will write about it.

Many wedding traditions are based in horrible practices that are interpreted in modern times as sexist, patriarchial, classist, ecologically unsound, etc. Things are slowly changing as (mostly brides) people become more aware of the histories behind things. I changed certain traditions for my wedding based on sexist values from the distant past. I'm only one, but there are more like me out there. As I'm sure there are other Chinese families that are a little more aware.

As for the soup...I think a wedding is one place that you opt to keep your values to yourself and politely decline the soup. I've done that at many places and no one questions you or singles you out...not during the 10 course banquet!
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Old 11-15-2009, 05:23 PM
 
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I wouldn't eat it. And, I wouldn't say anything, unless asked.

The only thing about blogging about it afterward is that it seems passive aggressive. It may seem quite ungrateful to gripe about cultural traditions after attending their wedding.
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Old 11-15-2009, 09:16 PM
 
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I would definately not send literature or make any comments on why you think it is bad, this is not the time or place. That would be just as inappropriate as someone who was a vegetarian(becasue they disagreed with killing animals) to send literature or comment to the bride and groom about slaughterhouses at their beef/chicken/fish/whatever food you disgree with meal. Your dilema is whether you will eat it or not, not what they should serve to their guests. I'm sure you wouldn't want somone telling you what you should/shouldn't serve at your wedding.

Lots of foods are lucky or not lucky based on the way the word sounds, not on the food itself. This is a big deal in chinese culture, especially for an important meal. For example if some food sounds like the word "wealth" that food would be served at chinese new year. 4 is an unlucky number becasue the word four is very similar to the word for death. I don't know enough enough chinese to know what "sharks fin soup" sounds like. Also, yes it is an expensive food and that is partly why it is used, but this is hardly unique to Chinese culture. If you went to a formal "western" wedding, would you not think it likely that you would be served prime rib (expensive) over hamburgers (cheap). In chinese culture the guests, especially the older ones, are going to expect sharks fin soup.

If you don't want it just don't eat it. In a big banquet the server will either bring a small bowel for each person at the table, or bring a big bowl and ladel out the soup into the small bowels at the table. If you don't want it, just don't take it. No one is going to care, the server will remove the uneaten soup when they clear for the next course. The bride and groom and family aren't even going to see whether you eat it or not.
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Old 11-15-2009, 10:12 PM
 
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It's very easy to simply offer your bowl of soup to someone else at the table or simply ignore it, the couple will not check to see if you drank your soup. It probably would be difficult to send it back to the kitchen though, since the servers will be in a rush to get the next course out and won't linger once the soup is dropped off (there are several courses and soup is an early one.)

The couple probably will come around to have a drink say hello, but they won't be checking on whether you ate the soup.
Yeah this is what I would do. Although I am verrrrry opposed to the idea of shark fin soup. (Can they find no other use for the rest of the shark that is usually gaffed and tossed still alive and finless back into the water?)
I also wouldn't want to ruin their wedding day.
There are plenty of things I don't eat, whether I morally object or I just don't like. I doubt the couple will think twice about what you ate, or even notice.

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Old 11-15-2009, 10:44 PM
 
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I'm about to get married, and if someone posted something a week after my wedding about something they thought was a poor choice, it would seriously affect my opinion of them

I'd wait at least 3-4 months, if you do it at all.

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Old 11-16-2009, 02:37 AM
 
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As PPs have pointed out, there are countless serious ethical problems which could come up in the course of a wedding. To name just a few, the bride's gown could be manufactured by child labour; the ceremony could contain blatantly sexist themes or homophobic or anti-Semitic scriptural passages; the food at the reception could derive from inhumane treatment of livestock, ecologically disastrous farming methods, or the exploitation of workers in developing nations. Even without guests who are philosophical vegetarians or teetotalers, the event would be like a Civil War reenactment if every guest felt the need to point out these inadequacies.

I am not making light of the issue. All the things mentioned above are valid and important concerns, some of them absolutely dire. None of them should be brought up to the people being married, or their families, ever! Tolerance is most appropriate when we feel absolutely certain we are right and justice is on our side.

My suggestion would be to go to the wedding, be a courteous guest, and then find a way to work against this practice, through an organization perhaps - but without going back and mentioning the fact to your newlyweds.
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Old 11-16-2009, 06:52 AM
 
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As PPs have pointed out, there are countless serious ethical problems which could come up in the course of a wedding. To name just a few, the bride's gown could be manufactured by child labour; the ceremony could contain blatantly sexist themes or homophobic or anti-Semitic scriptural passages; the food at the reception could derive from inhumane treatment of livestock, ecologically disastrous farming methods, or the exploitation of workers in developing nations. Even without guests who are philosophical vegetarians or teetotalers, the event would be like a Civil War reenactment if every guest felt the need to point out these inadequacies.

I am not making light of the issue. All the things mentioned above are valid and important concerns, some of them absolutely dire. None of them should be brought up to the people being married, or their families, ever! Tolerance is most appropriate when we feel absolutely certain we are right and justice is on our side.

My suggestion would be to go to the wedding, be a courteous guest, and then find a way to work against this practice, through an organization perhaps - but without going back and mentioning the fact to your newlyweds.
:

Or just don't go . .. . if you're that opposed (and I think that's a valid option). But please don't post something passive aggressive and/or snarky that they'll see after the fact. You either go and accept their hospitality or you don't because you're ethically opposed. But you don't accept their hospitality and then (semi) publicly slam them and their choices.
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Old 11-16-2009, 01:29 PM
 
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As PPs have pointed out, there are countless serious ethical problems which could come up in the course of a wedding. To name just a few, the bride's gown could be manufactured by child labour; the ceremony could contain blatantly sexist themes or homophobic or anti-Semitic scriptural passages; the food at the reception could derive from inhumane treatment of livestock, ecologically disastrous farming methods, or the exploitation of workers in developing nations. Even without guests who are philosophical vegetarians or teetotalers, the event would be like a Civil War reenactment if every guest felt the need to point out these inadequacies.

I am not making light of the issue. All the things mentioned above are valid and important concerns, some of them absolutely dire. None of them should be brought up to the people being married, or their families, ever! Tolerance is most appropriate when we feel absolutely certain we are right and justice is on our side.

My suggestion would be to go to the wedding, be a courteous guest, and then find a way to work against this practice, through an organization perhaps - but without going back and mentioning the fact to your newlyweds.
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:

Or just don't go . .. . if you're that opposed (and I think that's a valid option). But please don't post something passive aggressive and/or snarky that they'll see after the fact. You either go and accept their hospitality or you don't because you're ethically opposed. But you don't accept their hospitality and then (semi) publicly slam them and their choices.
I absolutely agree.
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Old 11-17-2009, 12:11 AM
 
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It will be very easy to avoid eating the soup, at least in my experience and I've been to A LOT of chinese wedding banquets, including my own. A large tureen will be brought out and the bowls will be filled and left on the lazy susan. Everyone will take their own bowl. Just decline and it will be left on the turntable. Someone else may choose to eat it. Your hosts will not be at the table with you, so no one will even have a chance to be offended. There is so much food at the banquet that there is often large amounts of uneaten food, particularly towards the end of the meal.

I'm somewhat surprised it's even being served. It's not as common as it used to be. In fact, my mother did not even consider choosing the shark fin soup because it's often imitation shark fin made of who-knows-what. There are several other soups that are traditionally served; we had a winter melon soup at our wedding.
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Old 11-17-2009, 12:26 AM
 
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I'm Chinese and I had a med. sized wedding. Like Noobmom, I had an alternative soup to Shark's fin. I think it was Fish Belly or some such thing. There is such a thing as imitation shark's fin. I was told it was made out of gelatin.

As for refusing the soup, thats absolutely fine. Several of my guests refused some courses over dinner because they either had shellfish allergies or allergies to fish itself. Unfortunately in Chinese cuisine, its hard to avoid fish or shellfish especially if its hidden as a sauce. No one was offended as we all understood.

If however someone took the occasion as a place to outright protest, that would be a huge insult. Not only would it be taken as an insult, but some people would take it as akin to cursing the wedded couple's future.

In this case, the best thing would just to politely decline the soup. Maybe make up an excuse regarding allergies?

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Old 11-17-2009, 03:01 AM
 
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I'm somewhat surprised it's even being served. It's not as common as it used to be. In fact, my mother did not even consider choosing the shark fin soup because it's often imitation shark fin made of who-knows-what. There are several other soups that are traditionally served; we had a winter melon soup at our wedding.
We didn't have it either. Of course as I mentioned I wanted to do a fully vegetarian wedding but compromised on a half vegetarian wedding, so we had the wedding catered by two restaurants that worked together sometimes (my favorite vegan Asian fusion restaurant that is owned by a guy who was originally from Taiwan, and a regular Chinese restaurant that located just down the street and has some connection.) The soup was one of the vegetarian dishes, though I don't remember exactly what kind we had.

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