Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Tony Deyal | The rice man cometh

Published:Saturday | December 17, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Wherever we came from to the Caribbean, rice quickly became a staple. You can have it with peas in some countries and you can have your peas with rice in Jamaica, you can have 'pelau' (pronounced 'pay-lawh'), pilaf, fried rice, dirty rice (in the Popeye's fast-food chain) or in some places now shut down by public health inspectors, risotto (Italian rice with plenty butter), and like my 'born-again' friend, you can move completely to Uncle Ben's Converted Rice which, if you know me, you will take with a grain of salt.

Talking about converted rice, first there was the Indian 'basmati' (Hindi for 'fragrant'), described as a variety of long, slender-grained aromatic rice which is traditionally from the Indian subcontinent. While the Indians and Pakistanis developed variations of basmati, the next thing you know a Texas company tried to claim the trademark for all basmati rice including a brand called 'Texmati'. Other US companies came in with Jasmati ('Jas' from 'jasmine') and Kasmati ('basmati' rice with a 'K') but none, including Texmati, is really 'basmati' to a 'T'. Nothing can reproduce the nutty taste of the genuine article, a case this Christmas for being nutty and nice.

Now, the Chinese have reportedly hit the market with a no-name brand which I call 'Plas-mati'. To give it another popular name, the Chinese rice now causing a major scare and hullabaloo in Jamaica has also been called "Bas-Not-Me".

 

CLEARANCE HALTED

 

On Monday, December 12, under the headline 'Customs temporarily ceases clearance of rice into Jamaica amid plastic rice reports', the The Jamaica Gleaner stated: "The Customs department has announced it's temporarily ceasing the clearance of rice at all ports of entry following reports of so-called plastic rice on the market. RJR News had reported that some residents in Manchester have stated that they unknowingly purchased plastic rice. They reportedly described it as looking the same as rice, but being stretchy in nature. ... In the meantime, members of the public are urged to call the JCA or the BSJ and report if they have bought this product or are aware of the place of distribution. It says the reports will help the authorities to take steps to remove the product from the market."

This is not the first time there have been reports that plastic rice made in China has flooded Western markets. According to snopes.com, an online fact-checker, if you bought plastic rice, you would probably notice if your dinner tasted like the bag in which you carried it home. The web investigator highlighted, for example, the claim China has been routinely caught producing fake plastic rice for years now. The story goes that sometimes the rice is also made from potatoes to mimic rice. These fake rice grains look exactly like rice but remain hard after cooking. They've been trying to sneak in their fake rice to cut costs for years now, and most American consumers are none the wiser. It is said that an undercover journalist with the Blue Ocean Network, a popular English channel in China, exposed Wuchang rice in China for being mostly fake.

According to the accusation, in each bag, a small amount of real rice is mixed in with the fake rice, sprayed with a fragrance to mimic the smell of rice, then packaged and shipped all over China. He uncovered that of the 10 million tons of rice, Wuchang produced every year, about 9 million isn't even actual rice. Even more disgusting, eating three bowls of this rice was found to be equal to consuming an entire plastic bag, which is dangerous for your health and terrible for your digestive system. It could potentially be fatal.

Snopes says it is unproven, a verdict similar to the findings of the Jamaican authorities. Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda has declared that the authorities have so far found no evidence of plastic rice. Backgrounding the accusations, Snopes says that since early 2011, social-media rumours have asserted that plastic rice was being manufactured in China, exported and consumed by people in other countries unaware the rice they were eating was in fact not food at all.

 

FABRICATED STORIES

 

In fact, Snopes' research showed that between 2011 and 2016, the story intermittently made the social media rounds, losing even the very basic details from unfounded reports that the faux food was purportedly fabricated from other edible starches (such as sweet potato or potato) and distilling it simply to an issue of "plastic rice".

In October 2016, the claim recirculated on Facebook and inspired blog posts anew. It repeated the rumour that has hit Jamaica and other Caribbean countries that certain rice factories in China have been producing a "fake rice substitute" in place of the popular and more expensive Wuchang rice. It is a mixture of potatoes, sweet potatoes and synthetic resin (plastic). These ingredients are mixed together and formed into grains that very closely resemble rice. The rice substitute is then sprayed with a fragrance to mimic the smell of Wuchang rice, making it difficult to differentiate between the two versions. As some Jamaicans already believe, consuming this plastic rice is extremely harmful and toxic to one's health, and is causing quite an uproar.

Snopes says that since the appearance of plastic-rice rumours in 2011, it has been unable to locate any substantiated reports that anyone successfully passed off plastic rice as the real thing regularly (or ever) in any of the countries in which the rumour took root. As a case study from Indonesia illustrated thoroughly, the rumour was self-promoting: one woman exposed to the plastic-rice rumour became ill and presumed the fake food she'd heard about was to blame. Faulty initial testing cemented the belief, and soon many people were attributing all illnesses to the spectre of plastic rice. Snopes advises that all versions stemmed from one shaky item published in January 2011, and plastic rice has lived in the realm of legend ever since.

In other words, Plasmati, Rasmati, Old Masmati, No Classmati, the indigestion-causing Gasmati, the diarrhoea producing Fasmati, the fact is that there is absolutely not a grain of truth in the plastic-rice rumour.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying you know you've ingested plastic rice if after eating your lunch you can reach up to the ceiling and change the light-bulb.