While the saying goes that the heart of the home is the kitchen, the heart of the community is the market. This is certainly the case in Asia with their wet markets. Here in the United States, the market is often the place where immigrants experience a sense of normalcy in a foreign world, where they can see familiar faces and purchase the food they miss from home.
But providing a culturally sensitive market for the Asian community in the States proved to be a tricky endeavor for the managers at the Great Wall market in Falls Church, Va. Last month, the managers were slapped with felony charges, later reduced to misdemeanors, for selling wildlife under a Virginia law intended to protect native species from poachers. However, none of the bullfrogs, turtles, eels, or crayfish seized from the market were on the endangered list. Lawyers for the store managers assert that the fish and other creatures were farm-raised for consumption.
A debate has risen surrounding this case, of whether this case is a matter of cultural insensitivity or following through with the law. However, the more important issue at hand is clarifying the law. Rather than blindly enforcing these rules, the terms of the law should be made clear, perhaps with an addendum to address the sale of farm-raised versions of the wildlife species banned for commercial purchase. To charge the managers for illegally selling wildlife when their products are farm-raised does not make sense. It does not send a clear message to the community about the legal ways to sell and consume foods that are regarded highly in the community.
The greater issue here is not about cultural practice versus mainstream, but about how our laws protect and define such practices. We should not be slaves to the laws that we create. If a law no longer reflects the needs of the changed population, or a law is enforceable in a way that is not in line with the intentions behind it, that law should be changed. There are many laws that go unenforced for these reasons. According to the prosecutors’ court filings, the market lacked the permits to sell crayfish. This would be a more well-defined charge, one that allows for a solution. But to clamp down on the practice with an assumption that the Asian community seeks to violate the law in favor of their cultural practices — that is cultural insensitivity. More effort and dialogue are needed between those in the community and those enforcing these laws, to better communicate the terms by which the products consumed in this community can be made available to everyone. (end)