This Is Where Rice Comes From 

The Photo Blog
July 1 2014 11:00 AM

This Is Where Rice Comes From 

Late morning rain squall on top of Dragonsbone terraces, Longsheng County, China.

Scott Gable

Rice is a staple food for more than one-half the world’s population, but for many of its consumers, its origin is distant and mysterious. Last year, Scott Gable, a photographer who has long been interested in the industrialization of food production, decided to satiate his own curiosity by discovering the people and places behind this ubiquitous food. “The end product is a package of rice or a rice cracker or a rice snack but at the very start of it, rice is still a real food product surrounded by real people and real culture,” he said.

Gable wanted to capture every aspect of rice production: the planting, the harvesting, the factories that package and ship the food. After getting some contacts from experts at Cornell University and conducting his own research, he left for China last May and spent the next four months traveling around Asia. He visited six countries along the way and saw a range of agricultural practices, from the most up-to-date and high tech facilities to farms that still use ancient methods of hand planting and harvesting.

A Hani woman in traditional clothing on top of her family's rice store in Yunnan Province, China.

Scott Gable

A worker at a Taiwanese rice-production facility near Fuli, Taiwan.

Scott Gable

A Hani farmer stands in front of the Longsheng Rice Terraces in southern Guangxi Province, China.

Scott Gable

Employees of Taiwan’s state-run rice experimental station beating rice husks by hand.

Scott Gable

A rice farmer uses water buffalo to ready terraces for planting rice in Yunnan Province, China.

Scott Gable

A traditional Dong tribe basket on rice terraces.

Scott Gable

Gable spent several months learning Mandarin Chinese to prepare for his trip, but the language barrier still presented the largest challenge during his travels. “I had enough Chinese that I could get around in the big cities, but once I got into the highlands or mountains they don’t speak Mandarin. There are so many different languages in China. That was very difficult. There’s no iPhone translation for these dialects,” he said.


In addition to capturing the mechanics of production in fields and factories, Gable captured the cultural elements that serve an important function in the yearly rice cycle. “The festivals, the poems, and the songs are a big part of it. I didn't really need too much translation for that. It was what it was,” he said.

Gable is already at work on a related project, a documentation of corn production. After that, he plans to do a similar exploration of wheat. The three projects together are part of his mission, as a photographer, to inspire people to think about food in a more concrete way. His experience in Asia has personally caused him to be more aware of the rice in his life. “I'm always looking at packages in the food store, staring at the ingredients on the back to see how much rice is in the product,” he said.

An exhibition of Gable’s series, “Rice,” is on display at CEPA Gallery until Aug. 20.

Correction, July 14, 2014: This post originally misspelled Yunnan Province in two photo captions. 

A rice planting festival parade near the village of Pingan in Guangxi Province, China.

Scott Gable

A rice harvester dumping raw rice into catch vehicle in Taitung, Taiwan.

Scott Gable

Taiwanese farmer amid a harvested rice field in western Taiwan.

Scott Gable

Rice farmers using motorized equipment and simple hand tools to plant rice.

Scott Gable

Late afternoon overlooking rice terraces near Longsheng in Guangxi Province, China.

Scott Gable



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Oct. 2 2014 9:19 AM Alibaba’s Founder on Why His Company Is Killing It in China
Oct. 2 2014 9:36 AM Beware the Chasers: "Admirers" Who Harass Trans People
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Oct. 2 2014 9:08 AM Demons Are Real A horror movie goes behind the scenes on an Intervention-like reality show.
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 2 2014 7:30 AM What Put the Man in the Moon in the Moon?
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?