Why is Louisiana Obsessed with Rice?

John and my father have an ongoing joke between them, a running gag. My father thinks people in Louisiana eat too much rice too often. John disagrees. My dad complains when John cooks rice as a side dish or part of an entrée, and the two men argue over the necessity of white rice in our meal. Dad feels the same way about pasta—the arguments pour forth like a garden hose on spaghetti with meat sauce night.


For Easter, John searched long and hard for some sort of main or side dish containing both rice and pasta. He couldn’t find one that actually sounded good, but he vows to try again for Thanksgiving. 


Louisiana is the top three rice-producing state, right after California and Arkansas. The rice fields are mostly in the southwestern part of the state, but the northeastern growers hold their own. Our excellently exiled ancestors the Acadians get credit for bringing rice to the state. Really, between crawfish and rice, they pretty much blueprinted our food traditions. Farmers tossed rice seeds into wetlands near bayous and ponds. This method of planting earned the nickname “providence rice” by the harvesters. My Grandma Goar would have called it “lazy rice”. She believed in hard work and wouldn’t have thought much of farmers throwing grain into a pool of water and not returning until harvest time.


Whatever you’d like to call it, commercial rice production began in the second half of the nineteenth century, and trains chugged the grain to New Orleans for sale. Since 1936 our state hosts the annual international Rice Festival in Crowley, Louisiana. It draws more than 150,000 visitors from around the world. Yep, we’re doing something right!


Fun fact: flooded rice fields provide and excellent breeding ground for crawfish. They love to dine on the leftover stalks from harvested rice. This discovery led rice researchers to develop a rice variety known as ecrevisse, French for crawfish grown specifically for their agricultural benefit for crawfish (https://www.lafayettetravel.com/blog/stories/post/ingrained/).


I’m not here to debate the benefits and concerns of eating white rice. I will tell that, until I had John’s red beans and rice, I’d lived a shallow and meaningless life. Oh, and the cornbread…but that’s a topic for another article. If you’re not smiling after eating this simple and comforting meal, you must have forgotten how.


Honestly, can we have gumbo without rice? And would it be gumbo without it? We need rice in our jambalaya, etouffee, and boudin—I’m pretty sure it’s in our state constitution somewhere, right after the legalization of Mardi Gras beads as currency. Justin Wilson would be rolling over in his gave right now, if he knew my father had questioned the necessity of rice. Will Governor Landry let him remain in our state, or will he deport my father back to Texas?


No matter your stance on rice—long grain or short, wild or domestic, brown or white—you can’t ignore the impact it has on our state. Rice production contributes $308 million to our state economy, and it’s an inexpensive addition to a hungry family. Maybe people in Louisiana aren’t obsessed with rice. Maybe they just know a good thing when they see it.


Jann Goar Franklin graduated Russellville High School in 1989. You can reach her at jann@jannfranklin.com