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Appealing for Wildlife: Three Rejections

by Rongguang Zhao

Personal Perspectives

Fall Volume: 2008 Issue: 15(4) page(s): 33 and 34

Treasure Nature: Reject Cooking Endangered Species. This declaration was published in the name of all professional chefs at the First Oriental Cuisine International Competition and the New Cooking Art Forum in China. Treasuring nature and protecting the environment are important themes and attendees were encouraged. They agree with this author that this beautiful planet is becoming devastated, many living creatures destroyed by man's excessive activities, and something must be done.

Since ancient times, Chinese have wanted to live in harmony with nature. Professional chefs should be duty-bound to take responsibility and reject bad behaviors that impact endangered species. They need to and did support the three rejections in this declaration: Treasure nature, refuse to cook endangered species, and reject sellers and eaters of rare plants and animals.

The conscience and consciousness of Chinese chefs can approve these actions because they benefit mankind and the future of China and all world communities. Can they get one million signatures for this historic action hereafter called: The Three Rejections? To date they did gather numerous signatures, the exact number still uncalculated.

I have rejected cooking and eating rare species for more than thirty years; I avoid gluttony and I do not indulge in tobacco and alcohol. They can, too! Though I have seen bear's paw, giant salamander, Chinese sturgeon, and other illegal foods served at banquets and other feasts, I have rejected them with not a single exception.

Someone said, "Your rejected behavior does nothing to prevent others from eating them; and restaurants still cook them." I have faith that chefs and ordinary people will join me and reject them, too. If they do, there is hope for endangered species in China and all over this world.

Eating rare animals considered delicacies are a tradition reported in many places throughout China; they were a part of China's past history. Though many wild animals are in demand, the negative impact of consuming them can be stopped if these three rejections become part of the catering industry, with chefs in the lead.

The popularity of eating wild animals is mainly due to illegal operators. Eating wild and rare was the ultimate in Chinese cuisine. However, if chefs do not make dishes using these wild and rare ingredients who will? And, if they do, that can negatively impact their cooking career if the restaurant industry forbids this behavior. In addition, illegal hunting for edible wildlife will then end. Consumers will no longer ask for them if chefs do not prepare them. In contemporary Chinese society, restaurant operations are at the core of eating wild and rare animals. Therefore, chefs are directly responsible, and if they cease to prepare these foods, consumption will be seriously reduced and soon eliminated.

However, responsibility of chefs and restaurant owners is not enough, nor is it fair. The key lies in supply and demand. Consumers who eat wildlife must be prohibited and penalized for so doing. As it currently stands, the Chinese government ban is not strictly enforced. People's indignation and media criticism is also useless. It is a cliché to even discuss these items because people doubt the true motivation of the government and they do not expect any practical impact. They just ignore these items of advice.

In the past some media and authorities did expose these practices, but their actions were only symbolic. Chefs and consumers involved were never blamed, and operators continued to run their illegal businesses. Chefs continued to cook these animals without hesitation, and consumers continued to eat these endangered species with not a single negative thought. Operators did nothing to stop sources of these illegal foods. Attacking distribution was difficult to investigate because owners did not betray their sources nor did they betray their customers.

Today, young and middle-aged chefs are different than chefs of thirty-plus years ago. They are more receptive to new ideas, new concepts, and with less conservative thinking. I have confidence that this group can and will participate in these rejections. I think chefs who attended this forum will adhere to growing media attention and not use rare animals. Chefs' professional conduct is subject to many external factors, and I hope every one of them will join those that already have accepted these three rejections.

This forum and this magazine give me a chance to impact this process. Another food culture forum, did, as well; it was the First Oriental Cuisine International Competition. They invited me to hold a forum to promote recognition of this idea. I offer thanks to them and four people who approved this idea including Mr.Ji Hongkun, a famous Chinese culinary educator and founder of scientific theories of modern Chinese cooking, Mr.Wang Saishi, editor-in-chief of Dietetic Culture Research, Prof.Cai Tongyi of China Agricultural University, and Miss Tian Shan, a delegate from Japan.

To all present chefs, do promote Chinese food culture. Work together with me to support these rejections. We can influence Chinese food consumption and foods eaten all over the world. At an Earth and the Human—International Healthy Diet Culture Forum, scholars from the United States, Japan, South Korea, and food organization personnel discussed a series of significant issues such as the human diet, health, safety, and environmental protection. The majority in attendance expressed indignation and scorn about eating wild animals.

The spirit of the rejections are lofty but the power to persist may not be strong enough. There needs to be more support from the government and more support from the public. It is impossible to realize the goals of these rejections with efforts only from professional chefs. Are you willing to join them and practice these three rejections? I surely hope so.
Zhao Rongguang is a professor in the Chinese Dietary Culture Institute at Zhejiang Gongshang University in Hangzhou, China.

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