Does Wedding Rice Really Hurt Birds?

CC BY 2.0. Dmitri Markine

At some point we were told not to toss rice at the newly betrothed because of the birds – here's the real reason why we shouldn't.

While we've been throwing things at brides and grooms since ancient times – oh the things we do to ensure abundance and prosperity – at some point in the 1980s, tossing rice became a no-no. In 1988 a law was proposed in Connecticut to ban the tradition, and a few years later advice columnist Ann Landers hopped on the no-rice bandwagon as well when replying to a writer about the topic. Somewhere along the line the idea was hatched that when birds eat uncooked rice, it expands in their wee bird stomachs, and then, egads, the poor things explode.

We really knew it was true when Lisa Simpson confirmed it all in The Simpsons episode "“Rome-old and Juli-eh”:

Lisa: Dad, don't throw rice, it makes the birds swell up!
Homer: Oh, Lisa, that's one of those rumors you get off the Internet.
(Behind them, three birds explode)

Now on the one hand, it makes sense where the idea came from, given how much rice expands when cooking. But in fact, a bird's stomach is not a pot of boiling water and it is designed to break down hard things like seeds and grains. Landers even published a retraction a few months later in the form of a letter from Cornell ornithologist Steven Sibley:

"Rice is not threat to birds," Sibley wrote. "It must be boiled before it will expand. Furthermore all the food that birds swallow is ground up by powerful muscles and grit in their gizzards."

The entertaining video below produced by PBS Studios and ACS shows the chemistry debunking the myth – and now it all makes sense!

If you didn't watch the video, it sets the story straight – eating uncooked rice will not make birds' stomaches explode. However, it does point out that instant rice could be a cause for concern. That said, it's expensive and unlikely to be tossed at weddings ... and birds don't seem to like it much anyway. Smart birds.

So as far as birds are concerned, newly betrothed couples need not worry about rice. But, there are other things to consider. According to the United Nations, roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption each year – some 1.3 billion tonnes – is wasted. Food loss amounts to roughly $680 billion in industrialized countries and $310 billion in developing countries.

Aside from making a treacherously slippery sidewalk and getting rice in the face, doesn't it seem strange to be promising abundance and prosperity by actively engaging in waste?