17,000 Islands 7,000 Rice
Our generation has largely forgotten that we used to grow around 7,000 different types of rice. White rice doesn’t just dominate our plates, but it also dominates our minds and fosters the belief that this is the common thread over Indonesia’s proudly standing 17,000 islands. But upon a closer look, we know there’s nothing very common among these islands.
The wisdom of Indonesia contains in the land. The immense and dizzying range of fruits, the colorful and fragrant spices, the unique kinds of rice, all cultivate a diverse culture, beliefs, and thoughts across the archipelago.
Understandably, Indonesia’s dramatic contour gives rise to a huge variety of rice, vastly different from Sabang to Merauke. Yogyakarta alone produces a wide range of rice, such as Menthik Susu (fleshy, juicy, sweet, fat in shape), Jowo Melik (indigenous black rice), Cempo Merah, Andel Abang, among many else. Another more modern example that results from an innovative farming approach is seaweed rice (beras rumput laut).
Sadly we are content with plain white rice on our plates!
However, this isn’t completely our fault. How we came to assume that white rice is ‘our thing’ was a result of mind-shift that happened between the 70s and 80s. In the 70s, Soeharto launched an initiative to unify our plates, a plan of ‘nasinisasi’ the whole nation. In an attempt to solidify the nation, it seems that Soeharto slightly missed the fact that our diversity is and will always be our strength.
Decades later, white rice is expected in our plates and has become the major staple food of our nation who consumes 60 kg/year per person.
Currently, there are 300–400 types of rice Indonesia produces, but most of these ancient grains are yet to be common on Indonesian’s plates.
Our food, including rice, is a reflection of our own diversity and complexity. A visit to different regions in Indonesia will be marked by distinctive aroma and flavors in the air.
Now, we have largely forgotten about the richness underneath our feet and we settle with a ‘manufactured’ knowledge and understanding of what Indonesia land is capable of producing. Our natural relationship with nature had been damaged. It’s not so far-fetched, then, to say that this leads to misunderstanding and intolerance that prevail in our country.
Complement this with a book forthrightly called “Indonesia Amnesia” by Baltyra.