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Tim Terhaar

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We All Eat Our Shark's Fin Soup

Posted: 07/22/10 12:32 PM ET

The New York Times reported today on public backlash against Citibank's promotional offer of 15% off a dinner which included shark's fin soup. As glad as I am that there was enough of an outcry to compel Citibank to withdraw the promotion, this incident signals much deeper, still-ingrained sociopolitical attitudes and institutions which need to be exposed and dismantled before any real improvement can be made in the lives of nonhuman animals.

Every year, 100 million sharks are tossed back into the ocean to die after their fins have been cut off. It's an astonishing number of animals and an astonishingly cruel method, but it's utterly common. In the US we consume 8.6 billion chickens under the age of 13 weeks every year. And that's just chickens. Factory farm conditions are well-known by now. Chickens are bred to have extra-large breasts, which are difficult for the animals to carry; they have their beaks clipped; they live in battery cages that allow almost no range of movement; they are electrocuted.

Is US treatment of chickens substantively different than Chinese treatment of sharks? Both practices are conducted in order to produce food. Neither food product is essential to a healthful human diet. In fact, consuming chicken or shark is not necessary in any way. In the case of chicken, it is relatively cheap and convenient. In the case of shark, it is a luxury good -- a status symbol. In both cases, people buy a product which they know is the flesh of an animal which was, for all intents and purposes, tortured.

There are good alternatives to eating meat. And if eating meat is unnecessary, then the animals industries which manipulate animals as though they were machinery or inanimate industrial inputs are predicated on the infliction of massive amounts of unnecessary suffering.

Who would admit that s/he thought it okay to inflict unnecessary suffering on a living creature? We need to realize that the exploitation of animals -- the treatment of animals as our property -- is inextricably linked to our perceived and legalized ownership of the environment. When the NYT thinks it relevant to report that "Citibank's Web site in Singapore still advertises an offer for a 15 percent discount at the Imperial Court Shark's Fin Restaurant that has also been criticized by participants in the Facebook discussion group. (Despite its name, the restaurant offers plenty of nonshark dishes.)", there is a serious problem with how we conceive of activism.

To financially support a restaurant that serves shark's fin soup, regardless of whether it "offers plenty of nonshark dishes" is to support economic systems which commodify living things. To give Citibank money is to give tacit consent that "Citibank's fast response shows that companies can't fall behind an informed public on important environmental problems like shark fin soup.'' It's too late for companies to demonstrate that they can "keep up to speed." Their existence is part and parcel of the capitalist systems of domination which incentivize the devaluation of the material world through the imposition of a hierarchy of moral significance and the equalization of all categories of property as worth only what they cost.

It's time to work towards ending unnecessary animal suffering. Stop eating meat. Stop purchasing animal-derived products. And please, do your best to divest from all corporations and organizations that contribute to the debasement of life on Earth.

Respect.