Tabada: Golden grain

STREETS of gold.

On a recent journey to the north of Luzon, I saw the local practice of drying rice on the highway.

Even outside the urban centers, Luzon is blessed with superhighways. In Dagupan and Cabanatuan, half of the highways and even narrow feeder roads are covered by rice being dried.

These grain gardens are swept and raked into rows occupying half of the road. Set off by endless rice fields in brilliant quilts of green, the streaming grains, poured by workers into sacks, are redolent of abundance.

For drivers, though, the practice of drying rice on highways is a nuisance. Vehicles are forced to share the remaining lanes in a highway ironically expanded to decongest traffic.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has advised farmers and rice traders not to dry their produce on national roads, particularly the McArthur Highway or the Manila North Road, widened and improved to improve access to the Ilocos Region; the Cagayan Valley Road going to Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela; and the Manila South Road or Daang Maharlika leading to Bicol.

Obstructions placed to prevent vehicles from driving over the drying “palay” pose a threat to road safety, pointed out the DPWH.

Yet, the practice endures. Local culture, particularly the influence of local elites, dictates what constitutes as unbreakable custom.

In more ways than one, Luzon’s thoroughfares of grains are truly “Daang Maharlika (high by birth, rank or title).”

It’s not only the DPWH that’s against the practice of rice-drying on roads. In a 2011 online post, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) of the Department of Agriculture published its “Panatang Maka-palay (“Save Rice, Save Lives” pledge).”

First vow on the list: “I will discourage and avoid drying ‘palay’ on busy roads and highways as this will reduce the quality of the grains.”

The rest of the RICEponsibility campaign is relevant, specially in the approaching holidays, when many Filipinos bond through feasting.

Order rice in half-portions or bring home what cannot be consumed. I remember a catered lunch when two cups of rice were served per participant. A colleague took home the extra rice for her pet cats.

Another PhilRice advice is to recycle cooked rice. Garlic or fried rice for breakfast tastes better when leftover rice is used rather than newly cooked rice.

The PhilRice also promotes more nutritious rice substitutes, such as corn, sweet potatoes, “gabi,” cassava, and banana. Root crops have lower glycemic index (GI), representing less risk for heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

When I put rice on my plate, do I see and value each grain?
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