Diaspora diaries | South China Morning Post
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Diaspora diaries

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 January, 2011, 12:00am

When Claudia Li was a little girl, she used to beg her grandmother to take her out for dim sum so she could have her favourite food. Growing up in Canada, Li would get startled looks from non-Chinese friends when she confessed to how much she enjoyed eating chicken feet.

'I asked my grandmother why do Chinese people eat chicken feet and she told me, 'Chinese people don't like to waste, so we eat every part of the animal's body,'' says Li, 24, who was born in Vancouver.

A few years ago, inspired by a documentary, Li decided something should be done about a less laudable Chinese culinary practice. She started Shark Truth, an organisation aimed at discouraging Chinese-Canadians from serving shark's fin soup at wedding banquets.

'I remember being told that this was a very expensive dish and that I was lucky to get it on this special occasion,' says Li, of the first time she tried the delicacy, at an upmarket Vancouver restaurant. 'It's only now I have learned the atrocious consequences of shark's fin soup.'

Shark Truth has been able to convince dozens of couples to leave the soup off their banquet menus.

Li's mother, an entrepreneur, and her father, a computer programmer, moved from Hong Kong to Vancouver in 1984 to seek better career opportunities. Li grew up in a traditional household with a tight-knit family that included her grandmother and aunt. While her parents worked long hours, Li's grandmother and aunt took care of the children. Daily trips to Chinatown, to buy fresh produce for family dinners, were a regular occurrence.

After finishing high school, Li studied at the Chinese University of Hong Kong before relocating to Glasgow, Scotland, to work as a business consultant. Having returned to Vancouver, she is now employed by another conservation group and dedicates her spare time to spreading the message about shark's fin soup.

'Although my grandmother passed away, those lessons of conservation, learned from growing up in poverty, have stuck with me,' Li says. 'When I learned about how cruel, unsustainable and wasteful the shark-finning industry is, I immediately reacted because I know it doesn't fit with our true traditional Chinese values.'

She also wanted to address the misconception that sharks are dangerous (they kill fewer than four people a year on average) and highlight how close to extinction they are being pushed to satisfy the demand for fins.

Volunteers with the non-profit organisation host educational seminars for engaged couples and speak at wedding fairs about the environmental repercussions of serving shark's fin soup.

Li says it is difficult to convince older generations to forgo shark fin, because they fear 'losing face' over not providing the traditional dish at wedding banquets. She believes the key to reducing consumption is to prove to couples that more and more people are eschewing the delicacy because of the damage it causes.

After she learned about the lack of regulation covering shark finning, Li began to realise personal decisions and small behavioural changes were important in conservation issues.

Recently, the American state of Hawaii passed a bill banning the possession and sales of shark fin, the first law of its kind to target the demand side.

'With the right public awareness, community support and political willpower in place, change through legislation can be one strategy for permanent action,' says Li.

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