Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Tao of Rice

When the Dow is down, the price of petroleum and almost everything else is up, and life in general looks a little rocky, I don't call my broker, my therapist, or my spiritual adviser. I pull out a bag of organic brown rice, my ancient stainless steel rice pot, and get cooking. The ultimate "slow food", brown rice cannot be prepared or eaten in a hurry. An hour spent in the kitchen making a fragrant batch of this simple grain is a perfect antidote to the up and down cycles of life in the turbulent 2000's.

Although anthropologists do not agree on exactly when humans began rice cultivation, there is good evidence that large scale rice farming dates at least as far back as 5000 BCE. Before the era of domestication, people gathered wild rice. Today rice provides one fifth of all the calories consumed by the earth's human inhabitants.

Most rice eating cultures place a high value on "white" or milled rice. Milling removes the outer layer of bran, leaving a light colored, faster cooking grain, an important consideration in countries where cooking fuel is a serious budgetary factor. However, the rice bran contains important B vitamins, minerals, and essential oils, all of which are lost in the milling process.

Japanese prison inmates today are routinely fed brown rice and barley, which are cheaper than white rice and viewed as low- status foods by the general population. A study done on inmates at the Fukushima prison found that prisoners with type two diabetes experienced a dramatic improvement in their blood sugar levels during their time as inmates and were able to reduce or discontinue their diabetes medications. This outcome was attributed in part to the high level of dietary fiber and nutrients in brown rice and barley.

Brown rice first gained popularity in America in the 1970's, when a wave of heightened consciousness about healthy food spread across urban and university culture, where it became emblematic of a new approach to eating and marked a significant departure from the t.v. dinners and meat and potato diet typical of the post war Eisenhower era. Now widely available in natural food stores, brown rice has become main stream enough to be featured in recipes published recently in The New York Times.

Although learning the tao of rice takes a little time and patience, its rewards are many. No matter where the Dow is, a simple brown rice meal always tastes great, costs pennies, and provides quality nutrition and shelter from any storm.

(Coming soon: Basic Brown Rice Recipe)