Rice seems like such a simple food, but it has a powerful effect on the lives of billions of people. In many ways the history of grain is the history of civilization. Just like corn here, imported and exported rice crops are dependent on oil. Just like the potato famine and the 1943 rice famine I suspect that we will see a lot of political rice-unrest in the not so distant future. Like much of our other food sources, rice has lost the peoples reverence. It had become only a commodity and no longer a goddess.

From Wikipedia: The U.S. provides about 12% of world rice trade. The majority of domestic utilization of U.S. rice is direct food use (58%), while 16% is used in each of processed foods and beer. The remaining 10% is found in pet food.

Of all of the industrial food crops in the US, rice is by far the one least processed and most domestically consumed.

A shrine to the goddess Inari

From – Inari is a fascinating goddess in the Japanese Shinto pantheon and she has a remarkable relationship with the fox in Japanese culture. Her full name is Inari-M’yogin and she is the goddess of rice and the spirit of rain. Her name begins the tale: INA (rice) NARU (to grow) = Inari. Quite simple, really, she is the Mother Who Provides, for in Japan rice is truly life. As mentioned in a previous article (Daigoku), rice is also the primal symbol for money in Japan, which explains why Inari has become the patron of businessmen and merchants as well. 

From – In much of Asia, rice is viewed as the embodiment of a tender, beautiful, timid woman who dislikes being man-handled.  Men can prepare the land but women have to plant, weed, winnow, and cook rice.  At harvest time, the pregnant earth mother is delivered.  The soft white grains are treated gently like a shy young girl, so rice is not to be thrown on the floor or squandered.

Rice is also the prototype for acceptable human behavior — unassuming, sensitive and gentle.  At a fundamental level, consuming rice is not just the eating of a meal; it is an act of bonding with the earth. In Japan, according to Shinto belief, the Emperor is the living embodiment of Ninigo-no-mikoto, god of the ripened rice plant.  In the Japanese Buddhist world view, there are 10 categories of existence: Rice is second only to the Emperor. The god of Rice called Inari is usually depicted as a bearded old man, but he can transform himself into Wakasaname-no-Kami [Young Rice-Planting Maiden]. In one account Inari killed the Moon Goddess Tsuki-yomi and it is her corpse that gives birth to food plants, cattle and silkworms.  This is the spirit whose alter ego, ally or vehicle is the fox.  And a fox is believed to be able to transform itself into the rice spirit, too. 

I’ll come back to rice again because I think is a very important food in a number of ways. In fact, I could circle the globe (metaphorically speaking) with rice dishes from almost every country. But for now, here is one of my all-time favorite rice dishes from childhood, Rice Pudding. Like Quiche or Crepes it is very easy, versatile, can be for breakfast, dinner or dessert, served sweet or savory.

Rice Pudding and Mango’s

2 cups fresh cooked rice
14 ounces milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup diced mango, plus more for garnish

Combine everything except the Mango’s in a pot. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat until the milk is absorbed. Then turn off the heat and fold in the diced mango and top with toasted coconut or pistachios if you like.


3 thoughts on “Inari

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