Going With the Grain: A Celebration of Rice

While searching the Library of Congress website for public-domain images to go with my last post on arsenic in rice, I was intrigued by some photographs I came across of the 1938 National Rice Festival in Crowley, Louisiana. All were taken by photographer Russell Lee.

Rice Festival Princesses

The event, which was created in 1937 to promote the rice industry, included such festivities as “parades, a rice-eating contest, the selection of the prettiest girl for queen, the awarding of a prize to the largest family, and street dancing to the music of the Cajun and hillbilly bands,” according to Louisiana: A Guide to the State, a book compiled in 1941 by workers of the Writers’ Program of the Workers Progress Administration in the State of Louisiana.

“During the festival day Crowley is surrounded with people from the surrounding countryside,” the book states. “They arrive in all sorts of conveyances and various costumes, staying in the streets throughout the day and attending the dances until late hours of the night.”

A souvenir edition of the 1939 festival, posted on the website of the Wright Group, lists several other attractions, including “two deathly defying performances by ‘Seldon–the Stratosphere Man,’ who performs on a 130 foot pole.” I haven’t come across that image yet, but will keep looking.

Float with Large Bowl of Rice

Winners of the Largest Family Contest

Family Waiting for Parade

The event is still going strong. Crowley will celebrate its 76th International Rice Festival, later this month.

Arsenic and New Science: FIU scientist is trying to take the risk out of rice.

Let’s see what’s on this week’s dinner menu.

Monday: pasta and cheese sauce with broccoli

Tuesday: salmon burgers and asparagus over a bed of rice and arsenic

Wednesday—Wait a minute. Arsenic?

I was disturbed to read a Consumer Reports study about the prevalence of arsenic in rice, which is one of my favorite menu staples. According to an article in the November 2012 issue of the magazine, most of the 223 samples of rice products it analyzed—from baby cereal to basmati—contained detectable amounts of the toxic metal. In addition, arsenic levels were found to be higher in brown rice than in white rice.

Further analysis by Consumer Reports showed that rice eaters had 44 percent higher levels of arsenic in their urine than those with rice-free diets.

Those findings come as no surprise to Barry Rosen, a molecular biologist at Florida International University who’s been studying arsenic, a human carcinogen, for more than 30 years. Rosen and his collaborators are working to reduce arsenic levels by genetically engineering rice grains that will vaporize the toxin. Continue reading