Column: Nothing nice about rice price

Rice is extremely popular in our household — and I’m not talking about Condoleezza. I’m talking about theRice
type of rice that looks warm and elegant at a dinner party.

My wife cooks rice almost every day. And when she isn’t cooking rice, she’s often making something out of rice, such as dosa and idli. She practically survives on rice. That’s why I’m concerned about the rising price of rice, even more than the rising price of gas. I need gas to run my car, it’s true, but I need rice to run my wife. Sure, she might operate on wheat or corn for a few weeks. But eventually I’d have to take her to the people mechanic.

Me: "She’s been very sluggish lately, ever since I started filling her up with wheat and corn."

Doctor: "You’re an idiot! Don’t you know that she’s got a rice engine?"

Me: "A rice engine?"

Doctor: "Yes, she’s highly adapted to using rice as an energy source. Putting wheat and corn in her is like putting beer in your car. Only an idiot would do that."

Me: "Yeah, that’s true. Lemonade is cheaper. Will she be all right? Is there any permanent damage?"

Doctor: "I’m not sure. Put her on the jack. I’ll take a look under her."

Billions of other people share my wife’s affinity for rice — and that’s just in India and China. Many people in Asia eat rice (or a rice product) three times a day. For them, it’s not just a staple — it’s the entire stapler.

The price of rice has risen so fast, some people are paying twice as
much as they did a few weeks ago. They’re furious — and understandably so. Just
imagine how college students would feel if, all of a sudden, the price
of beer doubled. There’d be riots on campus.

So what’s causing the price increase? I attribute it to three factors:

1. Biofuels. Too many farmers are growing corn and other crops to produce biofuels such as ethanol. The farmers association slogan "We put food on your table" has been changed to "Food? Who said anything about food?"

2. Weddings. Too much rice is being thrown at newly weds. We need to change this tradition, which unnecessarily wastes good food.
Next time I go to a wedding, I’m throwing fruitcake.

3. Drought. Farmers in some regions have been unable to grow rice and other crops, despite praying day and night to the rain gods. A few desperate farmers have even invited Dustin Hoffman to visit, because they heard he was the "Rain Man."

How dire is the situation? Well, several countries, including India and Vietnam, have stopped exporting rice, while Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart, is restricting customers to four bags of jasmine, basmati and long-grain white rice per visit. Four bags. In some Asian households, that’s breakfast.

It reminds me of the time I visited a friend’s house for dinner.

Friend: "Here’s the appetizer. Rice chips."

Me: "Thank you. What’s for dinner?"

Friend: "Fried rice with some rice soup. And for dessert we’re having rice pudding."

Me: "Yummy! Anything to drink?"

Friend: "Yes, rice wine. It’s homemade, like everything else."

Me: "Really? Where did you learn to cook so well?"

Friend: "Rice University."

Photo by Chris Traweek

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If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

Comments

  1. Aah, my wife also runs off biofuels.

  2. Parameswaran says:

    This one, about “…..Nice about Rice” is one of the best humor columns from
    Melvin Durai that I have read recently. Thanks for making me laugh and
    enjoy the article and allowing me to forget some of the daily worries (as a
    rice eater, scarcity of rice in the market?). Melvin, you are doing a great
    service to humanity in making them laugh and be in a happy world, allowing
    them to forget their worries for a brief moment.
    (Via email)

  3. Too freaking good…I loved the Biofuels one and I’m definitely going for the fruitcake in the next wedding i attend…

  4. It’s really a good one.
    (via email)

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