Alternative Alternative Medicine
angry doc is *shocked* by this letter published in the ST Forum today:
Bird's nest, the viable alternative
MY EFFORTS to educate and advise my friends to stop consuming shark's fin have been futile.
There are two main reasons for this:
Despite shark's fin being nothing more than collagen and is tasteless in itself, it is regarded as an expensive dish.
Hence, it is seen as important to include shark's fin in the menu for a proper banquet so as not to be appear stingy towards your guests.
Most standard Chinese banquet menus include an item of shark's fin.
As Mr Bernard Harrison noted, 'Save the sharks, forgo that bowl of fin soup' (ST, Dec 6), it comprises 40 per cent of the cost of the meal. Most restaurants also do not offer viable alternatives.
In fact, I was unable to take the shark's fin option out of my own wedding dinner because my family believed that shark's fin was expected and there would be a 'loss of face' not to serve it.
If we are to start consuming less shark's fin, then the Restaurant Association of Singapore and the Singapore Chefs Association must take the lead by offering environmentally friendly alternatives in their menus that are comparable to shark's fin in terms of prestige and perceived value.
I attended a wedding at the Regent Hotel recently, and the menu included bird's nest instead of shark's fin which was a welcome surprise to me.
Bird's nest, I believe has greater nutritional value and no less valued than shark's fin.
Hopefully, the representative bodies of restaurants and chefs in Singapore can take the lead and create new dishes to replace shark's fin in banquets and make our small contribution to the conservation of the shark species.
I am sure, as we become more environmentally aware, we would welcome and endorse ethical choices in our menus.
Oscar Lee Shing Kian
Unfortunately, bird's nest comes from the nests of birds, and their harvesting contributes to decline to the swiftlet population, and the practice of 'farming' the birds in 'house nests' reduces the biodiversity of the birds.
As for the therapeutic value of the bird's nest themselves? Well, it seems that while 'there is a water-soluble glyco-protein in the nest which promotes cell division within the immune system... it is destroyed during the cleaning process. Therefore, the soup is actually of low nutritive value.' (source)
Ironically, while it is said to be good for the skin and to alleviate asthma, bird's nest soup has also been known to aggravate eczema and cause anaphylaxis in those who are allergic to it (so do a number of other foods, of course, but bird's nest was the 'most common food-allergen source' in that small study surveying a local population).
(All that is not to say that bird's nest soup is harmful to the general population, or that it cannot have any nutritive or therapeutic value at all; but in the absence of evidence, angry doc wonders if the occasional bowl at a wedding dinner is going to make much difference to one's health.)
Now angry doc is no Captain Planet nor fish- or bird-fancier, but he is nevertheless curious as to why someone would suggest replacing consumption of shark's fin with bird's nest as 'environmentally friendly', or why so many foods considered to be of therapeutic value in Traditional Chinese Medicine come from animals or animal products which are rare or hard to harvest.
(You can read more about the bird's nest trade here, and also about Singapore's role in the international trade in shark's fin and bird's nest here.)