For the last three months, I’ve been yearning to blog or write an op-ed on AB 376, the state bill that would ban the sale of shark fins in California. I haven’t been more excited about a marine conservation bill in nearly a decade. But to be honest, having an environmental biologist like me write about shark conservation wouldn’t add much momentum to get the bill passed.
After all, nearly every major environmental and animal rights group in the nation strongly supports the bill. Many of these groups persuaded globally known actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and January Jones to advocate for the bill via Twitter and op-eds. Even the Monterey Bay Aquarium, generally neutral on environmental bills, decided to sponsor the bill and hire well-respected lobbyists to fight for shark conservation.
The one person I know that could really make a difference in the fight to enact the shark fin ban is my brother, Jonathan. After all, there is no food writer more highly respected nationally than Jonathan. He’s the only food writer to earn a Pulitzer and he’s received seven James Beard Awards, the food industry’s equivalent of the Oscars.
Also, Jonathan’s writing delves into both the worlds of food and modern culture. His writing on Chinese food is particularly distinct and well respected, as nearly every significant Chinese restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley has a copy of one of his reviews plastered on a window or framed in the lobby.
Unlike my brother, I’ve never consumed shark fin soup. In fact, I remember threatening his physical harm at a Monterey Park Cantonese seafood palace that actually had a cart featuring the item for $30 a bowl back in the1990s. Jonathan eagerly called the cart driver to our table just to get a rise out of me. He thought it was hilarious. I wasn’t laughing.
Although, there are a lot of creatures (blue fin and live octopus) and body parts (goat penis) that my brother has consumed that would never pass by my lips, I knew that Jonathan hadn’t downed a bowl of shark fin soup in 20 years. So three months ago, I did the unthinkable. I asked him if he would be willing to write an op-ed on the shark fin ban bill for the Los Angeles Times. I hadn’t asked him to write an environmental piece since his days as a columnist for the long-defunct LA Times magazine.
As any editor that has ever worked with my brother can attest, getting Jonathan to agree to write a piece is a guarantee of stress for weeks on end. He has the habit of saying yes without too much persuasion, but getting him to meet a deadline takes ingenuity, patience and perseverance.
For three months, I sent Jonathan dozens of e-mails on the bill status, the arguments from the opposition, a shocking shark finning clip from Gordon Ramsay (not his favorite food personality), op-eds, and even quotes from Yao Ming, a strong shark supporter and one of our longtime hoops favorites. Every time our families got together — Passover Seder, a trip to the beach, a party at his house — the conversation invariably turned to the promised shark fin piece.
I even invited him to a meeting seeking bill support from our local state Sen. Ted Lieu, accompanied by Shark Savers president Sue Chen and Chinese environmental professionals Yue Rong, Guangyu Wang and Donna Chen. Jonathan planned to go, but a kidney stone ended up knocking him out for a week.
As you might gather, I can be a bulldog on marine conservation and pollution prevention issues, so the irresistible force (or relentlessly obnoxious force) collided continuously with the immovable object. And it was taking a major toll on our relationship as brothers. My patience had run out and I was getting angry.
Finally, I just decided to write an op-ed myself. Time was never on the side of sharks and now it wasn’t on the side of shark advocates either. A major op-ed needed to hit a local daily before the Senate appropriations committee vote on Aug 15.
In classic sibling fashion, as soon as I told Jonathan I was writing an op-ed, he told me that he was almost done. Of course, I didn’t believe him. I had heard those words a number of times before over the preceding three months. A couple of days later, he sent the piece into the L.A. Times and he sent me a copy as well. As his pissed-off brother, at some level, I really wanted to dislike the piece. He had tortured me for three months while the AB 376 went from a sure thing (it passed 65-8 in the Assembly) to trouble in the Senate.
Of course, it was brilliant. And it was so much better than anything I could have written. And he didn’t use any significant information that I sent him. And it was submitted at the perfect time to influence the Senate vote. Classic Jonathan.
Despite my longtime love for sharks and the oceans, and the awe I’ve experienced being in the water with reef sharks, leopards, (the unfortunately named) soupfins, blue sharks, and Makos, I was struck by the fact that I do not possess the skills or understanding of culinary culture to ever write what Jonathan penned. Just as I’ll never dunk like Griffin or hit like Pujols, I’ll never write like Jonathan. As Heal the Bay’s communications director, Matt King, so aptly reminds me: “I guess there’s only room for one Pulitzer in the family.”
That’s for sure. But I’m more than willing to get humbled in our sibling rivalry in exchange for giving sharks the opportunity to thrive in the world’s oceans for another 400 million years.