Sunday, June 1, 2008

Last Straw

I have never been choosy with the way I eat my rice. As long as it is satisfactorily cooked and not underdone and gritty, I'll eat it with little or no complaint whether it is a bit soggy from adding too much water during boiling or a bit dry from too little water or overcooking.

My late father like his own father wanted his rice somewhat dry and the rice grains firm while my mother wanted her's a bit watery and mushy. My paternal grandmother preferred it cooked over firewood and used to say that rice boiled on the gas or electric stove was tasteless and bland. She used to get miffed when I would tell her that I could not distinguish the difference. She then would call me an uncultured know-nothing.

Differing views on how this most basic of food grains should be prepared for eating yet everyone agreed on one thing: that a plate of rice was basic to a good, hearty meal and that a family should prepare for the family table the best quality rice it can afford to get.

That rice is more than a food grain to Filipinos is more than true. In Lianga, which is an agricultural town in an area that produces rice in quantity, it is a food crop that is closely intertwined in the culture and psyche of its people. It even has mystical, even supernatural attributes and qualities, the belief in which, as is common in agricultural societies, is deeply rooted in local folklore and myths.

To even contemplate a situation where shortages in rice supply might lead to rice rationing or the inability to have ready access to affordable yet high quality rice, is simply unthinkable for many local residents. It might as well be, as one old-timer succinctly observed, the end of the world and all human existence.

That is why all the hullabaloo about the rice and food crisis affecting the country and many parts of the world is causing a lot of worry to the people here. They already worry about skyrocketing fuel prices, rising electricity costs, astronomical tuition fees for their children in school and the general high cost of living even in this forgotten corner of the world. They have taken this worries all in stride and have survived despite them all. They have done what they can and done away with what they can get along without.

To tell them that they may have to live with the threat of an imminent rice shortage is to hit them right in the center and core of their very existence. For rice is not merely something to eat, it is life itself.

So far, the impact of the so called "rice crisis" locally has been limited to a rise in the prices of all varieties of commercial rice. There has been no perceivable panic buying, massive hoarding or stockpiling of rice stocks. People here an uneasy and anxious but still willing to tighten their purse drawstrings and belts while waiting for the food crisis to resolve itself.

But even then, they know that when that crisis does explode and become really real, they can only hope that that will not be the final straw that will break the camel's back.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely written post. My favorite. And as a Filipino, a very important topic too.