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Poetry Moment: Adrienne Su and 'On the Recommendation That American Adults Consume No More Than One-Quarter Cup of Rice, Twice a Week.'

WPSU Poetry Moment Adrienne Su
Poet Adrienne Su

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “On the Recommendation That American Adults Consume No More Than One-Quarter Cup of Rice, Twice a Week” by Adrienne Su.

Adrienne Su is originally from Georgia and has lived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania for decades, where she teaches at Dickinson College. Su is the award-winning author of five books of poetry, including Peach State, from which today’s poem is drawn.

Given the cooking and eating many of us will be engaged in this week and throughout these last months of the year, Su’s poem is a fitting start to a season of indulgence. It’s steeped in images that signal the weight of our attachments to family and culture. Yet the poem resists easy nostalgia. Su brings in scientific and historical facts, connected to our food sources, often nimbly tucking this information into a word or line. She reminds us of the cost of our attachments. As the poem unfolds, we learn of the ways the poet’s immigrant, Chinese family adapted their native dishes in the U.S., and the poet offers guidance on how to continue this now, in the context of environmental pressures to change our diets. Su’s at-first-glance, light-hearted poem gives us a road map for how to honor the past while evolving to survive in the present.

Here's—

On the Recommendation That American Adults Consume No More Than One-Quarter Cup of Rice, Twice a Week

The rice plant drinks up arsenic,
so show good sense and change your diet.

Studies reveal, where fields were cotton
(Southern states), more contamination.

If your word for food is your word for rice,
change your word for food, or rice.

Deem it a side dish; you can will it.
Learn to love barley, amaranth, millet.

Your grandmother, in the nursing home,
sacrificed the foods of home

in exchange for shelter. You can, too.
If rice was your child’s first solid food,

serve quinoa next, then polenta, grits.
Teach your rice cooker novel tricks.

Mapo tofu may be strange on bulgur,
but your parents always adapted dinner.

If ghosts were going to wipe their brows
in heaven, they would have done it by now.

That was “On the Recommendation That American Adults Consume No More Than One-Quarter Cup of Rice, Twice a Week” by Adrienne Su.

"On the Recommendation That American Adults Consume No More Than One-Quarter Cup of Rice, Twice a Week" from Peach State by Adrienne Su, c. 2021. Aired by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

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