Black Market Rice?

Just the other day (see the April 17 entry), I noted that out of a desire to achieve energy independence and save the environment at the same time, farmers are being encouraged to grow more corn for ethanol. Never mind that Brazil produces a more potent brand of ethanol by using sugar cane instead of corn. Consequently, we’re seeing a smaller harvest of other crops, and food prices are racing upwards because of it.

Now it appears that rice is one of the crops most affected by the reduced supply. I’m guessing it’s because so many people depend on rice as a staple, especially in the Far East. I’ve commented in the past that if Jesus had been a Filipino instead of a Jew, the Lord’s Prayer would have included the line “Give us this day our daily rice.” Maybe it’s also because most of the countries that grow rice, can grow corn, too.

Last week I read that Costco and Sam’s Club are limiting rice purchases to four twenty-pound bags to a customer per trip, to prevent hoarding. They are mainly talking about the fancy kinds of rice: basmati, jasmine and long-grain. Alas, basmati is Leive’s favorite kind, and before she discovered basmati, jasmine rice was her favorite. In fact, the two main reasons why we had Costco cards when we lived in Orlando were dirt-cheap prescriptions ($4 without insurance, and as little as $1 with insurance), and the best deal in town on basmati rice. On the radio last Friday morning, they ran a fake commercial about a “rice for cash” program where if you buy too much rice, you can put it in a zip-lock bag and sell it back to Uncle Ben’s. Who ever thought the day would come when you’d think about making a back-alley deal for a bag of Uncle Ben’s or Mahatma?

If there is a rice shortage, it’s not in America yet. I was in three Asian grocery stores today, shopping for Leive. Of course they had rice: besides the familar white kinds, they had several unusual kinds (wild rice, red rice, brown rice, black rice, multigrain rice, etc.), and plenty of them. No rationing in those stores; if the supply is running low anywhere in the US, it’s because of panic buying. Leive said we can always grow our own. Maybe so when we lived in Florida, but I don’t think the climate and terrain here in Kentucky are suitable for it. We’ll be buying rice again when the kids get here from the Philippines, so we’ll have to pay whatever it costs at that time.

In previous messages I listed things I missed from our Florida days that we don’t have around us now. About the last items on that list are our relatives (especially my parents), our former church, muscadine grapes — and Costco. Well, I think I can now take Costco off that list. So far the best place I’ve found in Lexington for basmati rice is the little Indian store near us, at the corner of Mapleleaf & Man o’War Blvd.  There last year, it was almost as cheap as it was at Costco. If this trend continues, there won’t be any more basmati specials like the “buy one bag, get one bag free” deal anywhere.

The good news is that some scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have just discovered a breed of cyanobacteria that produce a form of glucose, which converts easily into ethanol. Once they can grow these germs, they can do it on non-agricultural land, and return the farms to growing rice and other real food crops. Go for it, guys!

New source for biofuels discovered

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