WHEN Jenny Chau and Ben Lai tie the knot atop Grouse Mountain next month, they'll be leaving behind generations of Chinese wedding tradition.
The two have opted not to serve shark fin soup to the 140 guests at their wedding banquet, taking a stand on an environmental and ethical food debate that's cropping up across the Lower Mainland.
The pricey delicacy has drawn fire in recent years for the inhumane way in which its main ingredient is harvested, with fins typically hacked off living sharks before the animals are thrown back into the ocean to bleed to death. Removing them in large numbers also upsets ocean ecosystems, according to conservationists, because it allows prey species to become overpopulated.
"We've been looking at videos and understanding how exactly they kill the sharks for their fins," Chau said. "It's inhumane, and it's not environmentally friendly. We just don't think this is a must. There are so many substitutes we can replace it with."
The bride's parents are supportive of the idea, though they weren't excited at first, worrying what older wedding guests might think. Serving the soup is considered a symbol of a family's status. Failing to serve shark fin to wedding guests could invite suspicion about a family's means.
"A lot of people are against it, because it is a prestige thing, and they think it's a must - especially the older generation," said Chau.
The bride-to-be has eaten the soup at many Chinese weddings herself, but the trend is changing, especially among young Chinese couples who are increasingly choosing to host their wedding receptions at locations other than Chinese restaurants, such as resorts and golf courses.
Shark Truth, a Burnaby-based advocacy group, is holding a contest aimed at encouraging young Chinese couples to find alternatives to shark fin. This year's winning contestants will receive a honeymoon in the Galapagos Islands.
Chau and Lai's decision comes as municipal governments are facing lobbies to ban shark fin from local menus. City of North Vancouver council voted in June to have staff craft a bylaw that would ban its possession, sale or distribution within city limits.
"That's good to hear," Chau said. "One step at a time, we can slowly get people to oppose (it)."
To vote for Chau and Lai in the Shark Truth wedding contest, visit www.happyheartslovesharks.org.
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