Friday, May 15, 2015

One and only

EAT less carbs, warns everyone from endocrinologists to cardiologists and nephrologists. Do we? Or are you still eating rice with “pansit (noodles)”?

My classmate Dem and I belong to the Pinoy population that remains happily not weaned from rice. When we caught up over a meal, Dem and I ended with culinary confusions because it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner.

His pan de sal paired with chips mystified Dem. My Italian-sounding dish swam in the classic Pinoy flavors of oily and salty. But our talk meandered off to rice, for many Pinoys, the one and only.

The year 2004 was the International Year of Rice. “Rice is life” is not just development mantra. The millions living in developing countries depend on rice for 27 percent of their energy and 20 percent of their dietary protein, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Dem and I ordered whole-grain bread because of the benefits of fiber. So why did we dwell wistfully on rice, fluffy, white and stripped off its high-fiber layer of bran, oils, vitamins and minerals?

How many anecdotes about healthy bran and quinoa can you summon? I have none. On the other hand, I can recount from experience eating-out fads that involve rice: “kinamot (eating with hands),” rice with free soup or gravy, and “unli rice”.

Our rice habits define our conformity with and rebellion against culture. Even to please his girlfriend, Dem won’t stop eating rice and pansit. Our other classmate Mark once asked me if his Cebuano hosts, by serving him seven pieces of “puso (hanging rice),” liked or disliked him.

The puzzle’s answer lies in geography, not numbers. Cebu City sellers make small, hard puso. Those in Badian, Carcar and Danao not just make theirs as large as a giant’s fist; they’re soft and fragrant from “tapul,” a purple-hued grain. To verify my answer, Mark should visit Cebu again.

A more complex puzzle concerns genetically modified rice. Last Apr. 8, Bill Gates was spotted in Los BaƱos, Laguna. Officials would not confirm or deny that the world’s richest man visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

According to Rappler, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is IRRI’s biggest philanthropic sponsor. It funnels $18 million annually to IRRI’s food and nutrition security programs, which seeks to come up with climate change-ready varieties that can adjust to drought or survive under water for more than two weeks.

Due to its experiments with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), IRRI clashes with environmentalists and farmers. In the eye of a controversy is Golden Rice, genetically modified to contain higher amounts of Vitamin A, the lack of which weakens the immune system and causes blindness and death.

After passing IRRI field tests, Golden Rice may be available commercially by 2016, reported the Agence France-Presse in Nov. 2013. Those opposing Golden Rice say the GMO conflicts with the Philippines’ goal of creating a niche in the export of organic or specialty rice. Aside from threatening biodiversity, Golden Rice’s claimed benefits to human health are also questioned.

How informed are we about GMOs? For a public that’s just torn whether to eat a cup of rice or half, fried or steamed, the motto, “rice is life,” should resonate more as an issue affecting life and death.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s April 12, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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