January 15, 2009

The rice diet

Gary Taubes addresses the question: "How do Asians living a seemingly high-carb existence manage to escape the consequences?" Here are a few more variables I came up with worth considering:

1. Cooking medium-grain rice isn't like popping bread into a toaster. Japanese rice cooker technology is amazing. But you've got to scoop the rice out of the bag, rinse it (a long-ingrained habit), and wait for it to cook. And then wash the cooker before using it again.

2. As a side-dish, white rice is not flavored. Try chowing down on a big bowl of mashed potatoes with no salt, pepper, butter, milk. Or a loaf of bread made without salt.

3. Because of government price-support policies, white rice in Japan is expensive. Price signals work not only in terms of demand, but affect a food's social status, and its "culture of consumption." There is such a thing as "luxury" rice that costs even more.

4. You eat the whole rice grain--that when cooked expands considerably in volume--not a ground flour made from the rice. The rice grain itself has a unique and "mouth feel" that is "filling" all by itself.

5. There's no equivalent of gluten intolerance with rice. I suspect that the human body reacts much differently to refined rice carbohydrates and starches than to refined wheat carbohydrates and starches.

6. Chopsticks. Seriously. Chopstick users don't actually eat delicately with chopsticks the way non-chopstick users think they do, but the "shovel" factor is still less than using a spoon.

Taubes believe that the total consumption of sugar is the most important variable. Along with total caloric intake, I think he's right.

Also, having watched a lot of Japanese cooking shows, I don't believe "low fat" is an entirely accurate adjective. It seems that every other recipe is deep-fried this or bacon-wrapped that or smothered in olive oil. High-fat maguro tuna is preferred for sushi. And there's no better "fast food" meal than a deep-fried chicken or pork cutlet donburi.

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# posted by Blogger chosha
1/16/2009 1:10 AM   
I'm smiling at some of these, because they're reasons why Westerners wouldn't eat a lot of rice, but none of them stop Japanese from consuming a lot of it every day. (Even chopsticks are covered because picking up sticky rice is so easy.)

When I got home from Japan I was able to consume a lot more rice than I'd ever been able to before (and I'm West Indian - rice is a staple in my family). And because of the whole 'it's rude not to finish your rice' thing, I used to always eat all of my rice first, no matter how much they gave me.

As to the consequences, I think it's because in Western society our carbs are so often either fried (potatoes/fried rice) or covered in a fattening sauce (pasta). Japanese eat a lot of rice, but it's plain, steamed rice.