Greed and biodiversity

Slow-cooked bear's paw with duck wings (from an old Chinese cookery book)

Slow-cooked bear paw with duck wings - image from an old Chinese cookery book

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?

12 Responses to “Greed and biodiversity”

  1. Stuart Fellows

    I don’t know: there a lot of idiots about who can junk food themselves to death, but should they take the wild ones with us? We can farm, but we can’t (and shouldn’t try) to recreate.

  2. Peter

    Resorting to an ascetic lifestyle vis-a-vis St. Francis would be a stretch for most people in developed societies in this day and age. And people tend to adjust their actions in light of fiscal considerations/ramifications.

    That said, as supposed stewards of the earth, consuming endangered species owing to spurious superstitions concerning longevity and virility are antiquated concepts that need to be addressed and significantly altered. Do think that you are correct in appraising that pontificating about this whilst employing some moral yardstick is a dubious claim – but given the callous nature endemic to human behaviour, not sure as to the means to police such activity or even raise the clarion call on a wide scale.

    Human beings are ingenious yet asinine at times – can’t tell you how many times left in wonderment when a celebrity is asked about a geopolitical issue on which s/he obviously isn’t well versed in, but is queried solely b/c of their public profile. Policy wonks aren’t glamorous enough…

  3. alex

    The sourcing of any ingredients from China at this moment in time seems ethically problematic. As a bipolar person myself, my love of all things Chinese and my passion for the Chinese supermarket have kind of disappeared. The bear, its paw, and the refusal to hypothetically eat it is a minor point.

  4. Susannah

    I am a Chinese-American food writer who just finished your memoir. I was so inspired by it, and your story — and don’t get me started on the writing. The first thing I thought when I finished it was, I can’t wait to send this to my mother! Anyway, I know it’s not kosher, but I’m still dying to see what a braised bear claw really looks like.

  5. Fuchsia

    Susannah – I’ve added a picture of bear’s paw to my post…

  6. kaiserhornet

    I would eat most things but even I would pass on this, duck wings, yum

  7. Susannah

    Oh my goodness. I had no idea exactly how much likeness it would have to, well, a live bear’s paw!

  8. Rebecca @ Inside Cuisine

    Fuschia, sorry I missed your session at the World Food Conference as I was in the other stream.

    Retaining diversity is an important issue for the world – thanks for bringing it to peoples’ attention. You’re so right though, there are also many other challenges in food ethics, and sustainability let alone health. I’m a great supporter in a move back to fresh seasonal local. PS just linked your blog to my site. @frombecca

  9. James

    I’m quite adventurous in what I eat, having tried things like rattlesnake, alligator, crocodile, zebra, etc… As well as trying durian in Bangkok and scorpion in Beijing. But I try to avoid eating endangered species, and species as smart or smarter than humans (this therefore excludes whales, dolphins, cats, and people.)

    If you are concerned, I highly recommend the Seafood Watch, sponsored by the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

    Admittedly, their guides are US-centric, but ocean fishing is globalized, the tuna caught off Gibralter is flown to Tokyo, so I view the recommendations on the species as global. (And, perhaps with some global queries, they may publish an International guide.)

  10. marguerite white

    It is a vile practice,bears shouldnt have to put up with humans extreme digestive systems.Nor should any animal.

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