Friday, December 18, 2015

Rice Worship

One way sociologists divide the world is by religion. In other words, they identify the dominant religious belief in an area and analyze its way of life.  Of course, monotheistic religions are distinguished from “pagan” religions.  Even among the same set, such as Christian or Muslim, the faithful and researchers find different branches, which of course argue among themselves on which is the most correct version of the Truth.  Yet, by defining religion only as a belief in out-worldly figures, sociologists miss unofficial religions, those formally not recognized as such but whose presence triggers worship-like behavior.

One of these is rice, the simple grain grown in paddies throughout the world.  Of course, the world has its pagans, who think that rice is a uniform white grain that you cook in water with a bit of a salt or, even worse, a starch packed in a bag that you put in pot of water or, blasphemy,  a microwave.  These pagans, not knowing better, are happy in the ignorance and don’t think twice about the matter.

However, in civilized locations, such as Iran, Iraq, Japan and China, rice defines a person’s approach to life. All rice is not created equal. Various varieties exist, each with its own personality, cooking characteristics and taste. The form of the rice can vary, from unshelled brown to processed short white, with many nuances between them. As for the cooking, an entire theology exists. For example, my ex-Iraqi mother-in-law thoroughly cleaned the rice, lightly fried it and only then boiled it, with the aim, almost never achieved, to have each grain fluffy but separate. Chinese and Japanese, because they use chopsticks, aim for starchy rice that sticks together. Whatever the ideal, properly brought women must master the art of preparing rice as it should be or face family ridicule.  Of course, good sons and husbands, not to mention daughters-in-law, must promptly and sincerely praise the rice each and every time it is served, not an easy feat for someone that didn’t grow up in the culture.

As in theology, praise of your own rice leads to criticism of others.  Faults can involve the selection of rice, the seasoning, the cooking or just the feeling that  “we do it better.” Also as in religion, mothers gain great pleasures seeing their daughters-in-law learn to cook it right, i.e. their way. Converting can be so satisfying. Finally, rice even serves a purpose in death.  Some people are remembered for their cookies (even on tombstones!), but how can that compare with the memory of the taste of your grandmother’s rice? Nobody made rice like her!  Even the bravest fear to contradict that.

So, while extremists in some religions may call  for “death to the unbelievers” and act on it, rice worshippers never call for starvation to potato heads or pasta freaks.  The faithful may disapprove of the atheists but do not become violent.  Rice worship is indeed better than god worship. 

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