Matthew Alice: Is all rice for human consumption actually farmed from earth? I find it hard to believe that every grain of rice sitting in stores or being processed for sale throughout the world is actually farmed. Think about it: that is tens of millions of grains of rice! Is some of the rice for human consumption man-made? — Ken McClendon, via email
Dang, Ken, did you miss the loads of lentils? Barrels of beans? The world is hip deep in cheap, starchy, nutritious tiny things in bags. But you’re right, rice is probably the king. It’s the staple food for half the world. In 2007 our desperate globe squeezed out 650,193,000 tons of the stuff. That’s 1,300,386,000,000 of your twinkly little 1-pound supermart bags. Makes that rice shelf at Vons look puny, yes? Each of us U.S. eaters chomps down maybe 20 pounds of rice a year. Asia? Consider, in general, 400 to 500 pounds per Asian per year.
Here’s another eyeball-spinning number for you, thanks to some poor schmo who works for a large Arkansas rice vendor and is obviously low on the corporate totem pole (associate grain counter?). Each one-pound bag of long-grain white rice contains roughly 29,000 little units. Brown rice, a little less (the bran makes it heavier). Short-grain rice, a little more. You get the picture. Rice comes in thousands of varieties and sizes, many of them gene-tweaked. Rice Genetics Newsletter informs us that a grain of rice weighs maybe 20 to 30mg. One stalk of rice produces several hundred rice units, depending on variety.
SPECIAL NOTICE: Aliceland Employment Alert! Here’s a tip for anyone bounced from a job due to the crappy economy. If you’re looking for a booming career field, try riceology or riceometrics. Apparently, the world is crammed with people studying rice genes, rice plants, rice paddies, rice processing, rice exporting, rice importing, rice paper, rice wine, rice noodles, Rice Krispies, and everything else rice. The grain is an open book full of itty-bitty detailed information and statistics, mainly from China, India, the United Nations, and the U.S.
So, how many acres of muddy land does it take to produce all that grass (rice is the seed of a plant in the grass family)? Well, consider that rice is grown on every continent except Antarctica. The International Rice Research Institute estimates that 385.5 million acres of rice will be harvested around the world this year, roughly the area covered by the U.S. Southwest, including Texas.
But I digress. Your kooky, forehead-smacking, mouth-gaping question was, Is there such a thing as man-made rice? Nonsense, we said at a recent meeting of the Matthew Alice Bored of Trustees. Har-har, Ken! The general merriment turned into a congenial food fight, and when we’d wiped the rice pudding off the recording secretary, one of the elves stood on the lectern and called us to attention. Ahem: United States Patent #5498435 (1996) “Rice grain-like low calorie food.” Yikes! Man-made rice! It lives! Our heads were spinning.
Once upon a time, long ago, the Japanese developed a noodle devoid of calories, nutrition, and taste. Shirataki noodles, they’re called. Available in Asian markets. The favorite of Nipponese weight watchers. They’re made of dietary fiber, a tiny bit of starch, and thickeners that create an aqueous gel that can be squeezed into the shape of soppy noodles. Still a big seller. Gack! Um, anyway, some enterprising diner apparently figured if the Japanese will eat that stuff in noodle form, they’ll eat it in rice form too (just a guess on my part as to motivation). Hence, patent #5498435. We can only hope he recovered his R&D money in the early years because ten years down the road there doesn’t appear to be any man-made rice on the market. Whew! Whadda question. We need a nap.
Hey, Matt: When did men start wearing belts that went through belt loops that were sewn onto pants? Who invented the belt loop, and when did that become the status quo? — Bob, via email
We move from a question where lots of people know lots of stuff to one where lots of people know practically nothing. According to people who ponder pants, for the most part, your everyday pair was held up by a leather belt or rope or string through most of history. No loops. In the 1700s, the French and Ben Franklin designed buttoned suspenders as pants holders. Levi’s riveted 501s hit the scene in the 1850s, the originals with suspender buttons. Both sides in the Civil War wore belts with no loops. By the 1890s belts replaced suspenders in popular fashion, but they were loopless until society changed big time in the 1920s. Maybe it was all that Charleston dancing that made belt loops mandatory. Anyway, they hit the scene then and never left, except for the big Sansabelt pants scare in the 1960s.