The Chinese penchant for eating endangered species is in the news again. Today the BBC ran a report by Moscow correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes about the poaching of Asiatic black bears in northeastern Russia. The culprits? Suppliers of bear’s paws and gall bladders to China, where the paws are an ancient delicacy, and the gall is prized for its medicinal properties. And last week, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that a man in Yunnan Province had been jailed for 12 years for killing, and then eating, a rare and endangered Indochinese tiger (in this case, the man at least claimed that it had been shot accidentally, after dark.)
Bear’s paw is one rare Chinese delicacy that I have never been offered, thank goodness. If in the future I do see one on a dinner table, rest assured that I will restrain my curiosity and refuse it. And yet I can’t help wondering if eating such things, gross and unconscionable though it may be, is any worse than driving a car, travelling by plane, using consumer goods whose manufacture and disposal causes catastrophic pollution, or eating a lot of factory-farmed meat. It’s much easier to make a moral point by refusing bear’s paw (particularly if it’s not part of your own culture) than it is to address seriously the impact of our consumerist lifestyles on the planet and its biodiversity, isn’t it?