A BAMBOO is a kind of grass that has the courage to grow in groves so they can have more strength and then look like a great forest.

There’s another kind of grass that has no courage to grow into a stronger plant, but gives strength to all who eat of its grains.

Rice is the seed of the grass species Oryza sativa or Asian rice. According to irri.org, seven billion consume rice around the world. I don’t know how old this figure is, but still it’s a staggering figure.

It is eaten as a side dish or turned into a salad around North America and Europe, while in Asia it is the biggest portion on the plate. Rice grains come in many colors such as red, brown, purple and black, glutinous or regular, with white as the most common type.

The Japanese have valued rice since the days past as it could be used as a trade item or currency. They have elevated it to an art form called tanbo, or rice paddy art. They have developed different varities to gain different colors such as purple, to be used on the field. The rice artwork is not “painted on” but in itself is made of rice stalks with different colors based on a pattern.

No doubt people value rice for its power to fill the stomach, its versatility and palatability. We Filipinos have more than a dozen recipes using plain or glutinous rice. Many rice cakes are made for certain occasions, like puto bumbong or purple glutinous rice and yam cooked in a bumbong or bamboo tube.

November is National Rice Awareness Month in the Philippines, with the focus on the consumption of brown rice. However, I want to extend the idea to rice itself and why we, or I should treat it with more respect.

Rice undergoes four general growth stages: germination (when the first shoots and roots start to emerge); vegetative (more leaves, and a gradual increase in plant height); reproductive (flowering begins); and ripening (rice grains are ready for harvest). All these take three to six months to happen.

The waiting time is a time of excitement as well as anxiety for the farmer. Perhaps, he sends prayers to heaven that no storm would reap the rice before its time or that no heat of sun would shine too long to wither the tender shoots.

I remember from long ago a documentary created by journalist Kara David in which she celebrated Christmas among a tribal group. I can’t recall if it was with the Aetas or the Mangyans; however, the story gripped me and taught me more about rice.

The tribe agreed on a potluck for the Christmas midnight meal. She was taken aback when she saw pots and pots of boiled rice neatly arranged in a line, waiting to be served. Every family brought a pot of boiled rice. Kara noted that to a people used to eating rootcrops rice, white as silver, was the festive grain.

Everyone dug in, pairing the rice with a soupy viand. Some of the children ate plain rice with gusto and not a grain wasted.

The tribe she visited gave her the best Christmas feast, she said. Her story also taught me to view rice as the Aetas or maybe the Mangyans saw rice. Not a grain should be wasted and it needs to be treasured like silver.

It is rude to treat rice casually after all the hard work done by the farmer, and after all the joyous welcome the tribe gave boiled rice at Christmas.