Michael Specter’s fascinating profile of Vandana Shiva questions the legitimacy of one of the most prominent GMO foes. But this note about rice, inserted almost as an aside, raises another challenging and controversial issue.

Given our increasingly stressed supply of fresh water, and our growing knowledge of nutrition, are we cultivating the right crops?

Indian rice farm 2

From the article:

Nearly twenty per cent of the world’s population lives in India. But the country has only five per cent of the planet’s potable water. “Every time we export one kilogram of basmati rice, we export five thousand kilograms of water,” Pental said. “This is a suicidal path. We have no nutritional priorities. We are exporting millions of tons of soy meal to Asia. The Japanese feed it to cows. The nutritive value of what a cow is eating in Japan is more than what a human being eats in India. This has to stop.”

Pental struggled to keep the disappointment out of his voice. “White rice is the most ridiculous food that human beings can cultivate,” he said. “It is just a bunch of starch, and we are filling our bellies with it.” He shrugged. “But it’s natural,” he said, placing ironic emphasis on the final word. “So it passes the Luddite test.”

Should we completely rethink the crops we grow? Would it even be possible to shift Asian agricultural practices away from rice?