Eat Softly Now: An Anthropological Chewing of Pampango Rice Preference Transitions
Melanie will be available online for a zoom discussion of her paper at 2pm Saturday July 18th
A zoom schedule will be made available shortly
The turn of the century anthropological rethinking of the senses reinterpreted the human sensoria as dynamic and imposing of change or vulnerable to the social order. As such, scholars have started following changes in the sensory combinations of multiple cultures for nuanced stories they tell. To date, this lens is still underutilized in the area of nutrition and gastronomy, where observation of sensory transitions may identify and characterize privileged gustatory sensations precarious to human health.
Thus, this paper explores the makings of a possible sensory transition in/through the Philippine rice landscape. Recently, Philippine rice grain quality authorities reported cooked rice preference of Filipinos has changed from chewy in the 1980s, to soft in the 1990s, to softer in the 2000s as routine sensory evaluation activities revealed decreasing preference scores for intermediate to high amylose rice. Also, the consumer market, while predominated by soft or intermediate amylose rice, is now selling more market varieties with low amylose.
This paper investigates sensory transition in a rice farming community in the Philippines drawing from an ethnographic study of the rice/fermented landscape in Candaba, Pampanga. It measures textural preferences for rice/fermented rice across three generations of locals. Aligned with emergent contextualized and inter-sensorial anthropological retheorizations of senses, it employs a food elicitations technique to glean preferences from the explosion of sensations, memories, meanings and emotions elicited rice. It presents textures as social intermediaries especially within local meal security praxis. It also confronts with a synesthetic nature of preferences inviting further food-sense-memory centered cultural analysis.
Melanie Narciso is a doctoral candidate of Anthropology at the University of Georgia Athens. She is a nutritionist by training with bachelors and masters degrees from the University of the Philippines and University of Wisconsin. Prior to doing her doctoral studies, she was assistant professor at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños. She is an advocate of food and nutrition security and heritage conservation, researching and promoting these through biocultural diversity, ethnonutrition, taste and memory. Her earlier research has focused on the grain and nutritional quality of rice, food preparation practices for infant and young child, traditional and indigenous food documentation and innovations. Currently, she is in the Philippines working on her dissertation that examines the landscape of fermented food making and consumption in Candaba, Pampanga to describe the state of the art of traditional ferments and the impact of rice modernization on their cultural transmission. She is specifically exploring how societies remember their fermented traditions by studying how culinary and gastronomic memories are constituted/reconstituted in changing landscapes of rice biodiversity and quality.
This study is funded by the National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (BCS-1918273) and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture PhD Research Grant.
Great to hear from you! Thanks for your very kind words. A large factor affecting rice selection is geography. The town is in a catch basin, it gets all the floodwaters when it rains in the nearby provinces. And this comes unexpectedly. It is a gamble to plant rice, and risk is reduced with faster maturing varieties which happen to be harder. It would be interesting to know what the preference is in the neighboring towns also in the basin. Another interesting angle here is, a lot of rice they plant there also goes to other towns; it is delocalized. Even if a lot of Filipinos may like soft rice, this rice gets sold anyway in the larger market as traders use this hard rice as an extender for soft rice (that is more expensive). So the current preference is also largely economically-influenced.
Melanie, your paper is a good example of the payoff for those who dare try to cross back-and-forth between the technical writing of food science and social theory. I am loving this about SAG. It also speaks highly of the graduate program you are attending! Though findings from the fieldsite show 'softening' was not happening, your analysis hinted to its eventuality, rather than try to explain the 'steady aesthetic' in place. Is there something unique about Candaba, other than its landscape, that can help make sense of these against-the-grain findings?
Re noting textural transitions in Australia, the growing popularity of sourdough bread has seen a change from the soft white fluff , (still popular via supermarkets etc) to the much chewier crumb and the hard, in a lot of cases extremely hard, crust of the artisanal breads; in some cases so hard my ageing teeth have trouble.
Wonderful paper! I had no idea that rice texture throughout history changed and that "softness could be the texture of modernity" here in this rice eating country. I wonder if the preference for rice texture would be different in cities and provinces? Congratulations on this paper. It is thought provoking and indeed a good direction to study as we face rice/hunger/nutrition issues here in the Philippines.
'Softness, sweetness and fattiness'. As well as affecting satiety through reduced complex carbohydrate fractions (+ insulin transport/diabetes/obesity), it also strikes me as a devolution into a child-like palate. I was reading somewhere recently that chewiness/effort (or lack thereof) in children's food intake has developmental/muscular implications too regarding delayed speech development (poorly developed masseter, temporalis, medial pterygoid etc). That's not even mentioning psychological aspects mediated by the gut-brain axis and fibrous probiotic-reliant microbiota taxonomies. An excellent paper and one that has sent my brain off in a flurry of further reading and hypotheses-weaving. Thank you :-)