|Photo by brianna.lehman|
If something’s featured in the New York Times, you know it’s made it as a trend. In restaurants across North America, eating with your hands is not only gaining acceptance, it’s actually being encouraged. I’m certain that people from cultures where eating with your hands is the way of life must think we’re crazy for even considering this a “trend.” After all, what could be more natural, more primal? But of course, to the average North American, eating without utensils is novel, if not downright adventurous. Here are 5 reasons to get your hands dirty:
1) It’s primal
Eating with your hands is common in many parts of the world.Utensils are a man-made invention that not all cultures warmed up to. We’ve learned so much from our ancestors and various hunter-gatherer tribes about health and nutrition – could they be onto something here, too?
2) Improved digestion
Feeling your food is a like a heads-up to your stomach, signaling “Incoming!” Your hands become an extension of the digestive system. Millions of nerve endings in your fingers relay the message that you’re about to eat, including the temperature of the food, level of spiciness, etc. to prep the stomach for digestion. Handling the food with your fingers releases digestive juices and enzymes.
3) Heightened awareness
Many experts have noted the importance of being relaxed and “present” at mealtime. A calm, aware state allows optimum digestion and helps with not overeating. Eating with a fork and knife can become mechanical, done absentmindedly while watching TV. You’ll inevitably feel more connected with your food when you eat with your hands.
4) Engages all senses
The smell of your cooking fills your home. The feast looks appetizing. You hear how crunchy it is as you take that first bite. And of course it tastes delicious. But as far as feeling it, you’re limited to the textures you experience in your mouth. Or are you? Eating with your hands adds a tactile dimension to your meal and engages all of your senses. Some people firmly believe that to completely enjoy your food, you simply must eat it with your fingers.
5) It’s fun
Don’t kids just look so happy and carefree, eating with their hands? Live a little, try something new, have some fun :)
Many cultures that do eat with their hands tend to use rice or some form of bread to scoop stuff up. But don’t let that stop you. What’s more primal than eating steak or meatza with your hands? Besides, in Ghana, people are known to eat soup with their hands!
As a tip, you may find it helpful to know that in countries where you eat with your hands, it’s almost without exception only the right hand that is used. This comes from the practicality of having a clean hand with which to server yourself and pass food to others. Interestingly, the left hand is generally considered too unclean to actually eat with (linked to going to the washroom).
It’s actually quite amazing to watch how clean the process of eating with your hands can be. People often only use their thumb and first two fingers, and don’t get food on their fingers above the first two segments. It’s pretty impressive.
Although observing the pros may be helpful, I would suggest that in the spirit of adventure, you don’t let all the details bog you down. After all, there’s something a little unsettling about imposing formal dining etiquette on eating with your hands, especially if you’re after the joy of the experience, rather than preparing for attending a formal cultural dinner. The only custom I’d strictly enforce is washing your hands, especially before :P Other than that, just dig in :)
Have you tried eating with your hands? How did it go?