There are a few boxes a serious food lover is obliged to check off when visiting San Francisco: a burrito joint, a temple of California cuisine, a house of dim sum. So President Obama was just trying to be thorough by popping into a Chinatown establishment to pick up some dumplings and buns in the course of his Bay Area voyage. But of all the dozens of restaurants he could have visited, he (or, more likely, his advance team) chose what may have been the worst possible one: Great Eastern restaurant.
The big problem with Great Eastern is that it serves shark fin soup, which is the product of what is widely considered one of the cruelest animal treatment practices on earth, shark finning. Shark finning is also doubly illegal in San Francisco; it's banned by both California and federal law. Critics have been quick to note that Obama himself signed the Shark Conservation Act into law last January.
Great Eastern's sale of three kinds of shark fin soup, ranging in price from $28 to $48, is not in itself illegal. California restaurants have until July 1, 2013 to sell off their remaining stock of shark's fins. And Obama didn't order anything remotely resembling the delicacy. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he stuck to the safer waters of "shrimp dumplings, pork dumplings, steamed pork buns, Shanghai dumplings and stuffed mushrooms."
That hasn't stopped animal rights advocates from pouncing on his choice of restaurant. Nor, for that matter, has the shark fin connection been the only line of attack. SF Weekly food critic Jonathan Kauffman said that Obama should have known better than to go to such a middling dim sum establishment. And HuffPost UK took a comedic -- and non-culinary -- tack by noting that many of the pictures taken at Obama's Great Eastern trip show one of the proprietor's hands in an unseemly location.
Here's a slideshow of pictures from the visit: