02
Sep
10

writing but not blogging: rice edition

I’m still squeezing in some time to write, but most of it hasn’t been too bloggable. I spent about half an hour after work last Thursday (8/26) at 826 Valencia‘s Write-a-Thon, in support of their after-school tutoring and other work. Here’s part of what I scribbled down:

…Southerners—whether black, white, or other—led the United States in rice consumption before easy shipping, broadcast media, and convenience foods started to wear away at the country’s regional cuisines. The states that led in rice production also led in rice consumption: South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas. South Carolina is where rice was first cultivated in future United States territory—in fact, South Carolinian rice planters chose their slaves particularly for their expertise growing the grain in Africa. After the Civil War, Louisiana took the rice-growing crown that South Carolina had worn for almost two hundred years. In the twentieth century, newcomer Arkansas and long-time secondary producer Texas “vied with Louisiana for dominance.”

Outside of the South, certain ethnic groups were associated with rice-eating: East Asians in California, Caribbeans in New York. In Texas (along with New Mexico and California), so were Mexican Americans. Rice was also associated with poverty, and the rice-eating regions and ethnic groups were, overall, poor.

At the time of the first National Food Consumption Survey in 1955, there was already a sign of the trendiness that would nationalize rice-eating and make rice a relatively chic grain. Rice consumption remained high among the poor and dropped as incomes increased—all the way to the upper end of the income distribution, where there was an uptick in rice consumption. By the mid-fifties, rice was well on its way to overcoming its traditional image as a fattening grain for the poor and ethnic.8 In fact, it would soon play a large role in a countercultural “western arcadian lifestyle,” the culinary branch of which would mature in the 1970s with Alice Waters’ California take on nouvelle cuisine and its emphasis on “light, fresh foods in their natural forms.” What could be lighter, fresher, or more natural than (self-evidently slimming) Asian cuisines, which both nouvelle and California cuisine appropriated gladly?

All of the quotes are from a 1983 Geographical Review article by James R. and Barbara G. Shortridge on the changes in US rice consumption between 1955 and 1980. The Shortridges find it an anomaly that Texas, alone among Southern rice-producing states, had increased consumption during that time, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the state’s increased production, its Asian immigration during the period, and the growing popularity of Tex-Mex at the time.


Long-Grain White Rice

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