July 4, 2009
The technology of rice polishing preceded the discovery of Thiamine with the consequence that B1 deficiency diseases such as beriberi were already widespread in the Far East before World War II. Among the documents my father somehow managed to bury and retrieve (twice given his move to the POW camp at Krangi) was a series of public health pamphlets put out by the Straits Settlements during the late 1930s. One of these was based on a radio talk by Ida Simmons who held the remarkable title of Public Health Matron in Singapore. Published in 1940 it focused on the problem of beriberi and infant mortality on the island.
“In addition to hundreds who die, others drag out a miserable existence suffering from malnutrition, lack of energy, retarded growth; and are totally destitute of the joyousness of a healthy childhood.”
If more nutritional forms of rice were not available, the pamphlet went on to point out, it was essential to supplement polished white rice with foods rich in B vitamins such as milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables.
Maggots, lime, grit and dust aside, this would not be much of an option for the POWs at Changi and elsewhere. One strategy was to gather the residues of the milling — the rice polishings — and then administer them as a dietary supplement. None of the principal ways of doing this were particularly pleasant. Here is how my father described it sometime in 1943.
This is the brown bran-like dust which is obtained during the polishing process of rice. It consists of outer skins of the grain & also includes the embryo. It contains an abundant supply of the vitamin B & is consequently used to eliminate certain deficiency diseases such as beriberi & pellagra.
The polishings have not been subject to any subsequent treatment such as cleaning or sterilization. In fact, live beetles occur commonly in the material. The polishings are kept in cardboard boxes.
The daily dosage is 2 heaped tablespoons & one 1/2 tablespoonful: this is to be divided into two parts and taken once in the morning & once in the afternoon.
The best ways of taking the polishings are:-
(1) Mixed with 3/4 pint of water with 1/2 dessertspoonful of sugar added
(2) Mixed with coconut milk
(3) Mixed with boiled & broken rice in morning breakfast (sugar added)
The polishings must not be subjected to heat.
Book B, 80