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Around The Sun: Food For Thought

So if you had to choose a staple food to feed the world would it be potatoes or rice? Steve Harrison considers an important question.

Now here is a puzzling thing regarding the works of God.

In Europe, along with most of the western world, the humble potato is one of the staples in the food chain.

Plant one potato and you end up with a field full of them. All that is then necessary is to dig them up, wash them, then boil and mash them or slice them into chips and fry them – and you have the basic ingredient for a delicious and substantial meal.

Some potatoes grow to such a size that just one of them is big enough to feed several people. Growing them these days is not particularly labour intensive and they can be harvested fairly simply.

In Asia, with its teeming masses, the staple food is rice. One grain is about the size of the cuticle on one of your fingernails. To a feed a person for one day you need about 5,000 of these grains. They grow in bunches on the ends of what appear to be, to western eyes, stalks of fresh green grass. The rice plant has to be sown in very wet soil. The plants seem only to grow well when half submerged.

At one stage in their development rice plants have to be relocated. They need onstant attention, and when harvest time arrives almost everyone in a village has to turn out to help. An outer husk has to be removed to reveal one cuticle-sized grain. You probably need as much as one square metre of land to produce just one bowl of rice.

Which bright spark said “Hey, why don’t we gather in these husks? Get the grains out of them? Boil the grains and eat them? We could feed half the world’s population…’’

A huge percentage of Asia’s population is engaged in some process relating to the production and distribution of rice. That’s what I call labour intensive! If I had been given he task of feeding the world I know which staple food I would have chosen.

However those terraced rice paddies in Southeast Asia provide what photographer’s consider an image of paradise.

And whoever heard of a beautiful potato field?


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