Having just returned from a diving trip to the Galapagos Islands, the news that California may soon join Hawaii, Washington, and Oregon in banning shark fin soup was a pleasant surprise. The Galapagos are the site of some of the earliest research about evolution and they are also a designated a protected marine reserve (although poaching remains a problem). These attributes make the island chain a major draw for divers drawn to observing sharks – Hammerheads, Galapagos, Silkies, and the elusive Whale Shark. It is nothing short of wondrous to make eye contact with these magnificent and shy creatures and observe their gentle curiosity.
From this perspective, the growing demand for shark fin soup and the risk of extinction this ancient, apex species face are mind-boggling. But that is where this is headed. Shark fin soup, deep Chinese cultural history notwithstanding, smacks of conspicuous consumption and aspirational spending. How else to explain a food purchase for as much as $100/bowl and where the key ingredient adds virtually no flavor!
In California, where many Chinese-American politicians support the ban and bill AB376, the opposition to the bill comes from businesses with a stake in the market – Asian Food importers and distributors. To better understand the tragedy unfolding in our oceans and on our restaurant tables, I was curious – exactly how big is the market for shark fins?
While battles in Washington DC take a breather, there is no end in sight for one of the main culprits exacerbating budget problems. Healthcare, in the form of Medicare and Medicaid costs, eats up about 21% of the federal budget and is projected to grow substantially in the years ahead. Overall, the Congressional Budget Office projects healthcare costs in the USA to grow from 15% of GDP in 2007 to 31% and 46% of GDP in 2035 and 2080, respectively. These are astounding statistics.
While there may be numerous structural reasons for the USA’s exploding healthcare costs, underlying it all is an unhealthy diet ‘enjoyed’ by an apparent majority of Americans. A new study, “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011” (Trust for America’s Health), outlines the staggering obesity epidemic both in terms of sheer numbers and rate of expansion (no pun intended!). Thirty-eight states have adult obesity rates above 25% and twelve of those are above 30%. Contrast this to twenty years ago, when not one state had an obesity rate above 15%. Obesity of course, is a precursor to a variety of debilitating and expensive, if not heartbreaking diseases – diabetes, heart disease, cancer – growing in epidemic proportions today.
Where does this state of affairs lead us?
These stories are getting old. Fortunately, there is new news coming out of Detroit pointing to rebirth and general optimism – and even comparisons to Tribeca and Berlin.