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A Matter of Taste

Around the globe, delicacies are highly prized for their delicious flavors and supposed ability to, say, increase libido or improve memory. Yet the ecological consequences of some special foods aren’t so palatable. The popularity of bird’s nest, shark-fin, and turtle soups, along with dishes containing songbirds, seahorses, or mollusks, is contributing to the animals’ demise. “We have to ask ourselves if we really benefit from eating that type of food,” says Massimo Marcone, a food scientist at Ontario’s University of Guelph and author of In Bad Taste, a book about odd delicacies the world over. “You can’t just keep on eating until you’ve realized you’ve destroyed something.” Government officials in some countries have launched efforts to protect species, including the ortolan songbird in France and the white abalone in the United States. Elsewhere celebrities are putting their time where their mouths are. National Basketball Association star Yao Ming, for instance, has spoken out against eating shark-fin soup, a dish widely served in restaurants in his native China. While these measures help, the fate of these species ultimately depends on eco-conscious diners. “Decadence has to be tempered with being responsible,” Marcone warns.—Susan Cosier

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