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5 Reasons Why You Should Eat With Your Hands

January 26, 2012

Kid-eating-with-hands
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 :)

Getting Started

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?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

John Q Public February 27, 2012 at 4:21 PM

My cousin tried eating with his hands after reading your article and he got third degree burns after sticking his hand in a pot of hot soup!

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Ummearqam September 14, 2012 at 4:24 AM

Well it’s bad to hear abt his burnt fingers but yes we r sometimes anxious and hungry , but his fingers burnt rather than the mucosal lining of his stomach and oesophagus!! Ppl who eat with hands r actually accustomed to the temp. Of food, and also how and what to eat comfortably with fingers, usually the thumb, index and middle fingers, if they do eat liquids, like thick ones, they use the ring finger too otherwise use a spoon, once in awhile it’s ok!!! Pls refer this to ur cousin, as Muslims acquire this as prophetic tradition. Happy meals!!!

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Tia June 18, 2012 at 11:42 AM

I think it’s a mental thing when eating with your hands. Feeling it helps your body to know that you’re full. I googled this because I had to eat with my hands. I think I’ll try this for one full week!

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admin@primalist June 18, 2012 at 8:48 PM

Eating with your hands would be a cool week-long challenge! Let me know how it goes :)

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duttatarayan July 28, 2012 at 2:50 AM

@ John Q Public : well, at-least now he/she knows when the food is too hot for consumption :) , if you are still keen on having your food eaten with your fingers (not hands) then try to first let it cool down to a level where you can actually “dig in” , and as for soups its always better to use spoon lol , its really messy to “eat” soup with your fingers (not hands). Or if you can ,try asking your Asian friends on how to properly have your meal using your fingers (not hands) or google your way again :).

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Adrien October 12, 2012 at 1:15 AM

This eating with the hands trend is a regression, like eating raw meat. The human civilisation made a huge step forward when it discovered that cooked meat is far better to eat than raw, eating with a knife and fork is another step forward.
How can we be so stupid to downgrade ourselves and take example from the less performing civilisations?
If eating with our hands is what it is required to be focused on what we eat instead of the TV, then it is a shame. People should take their act together and take the time to have proper lunch/dinners in family – eating with the hands is just a very bad solution to compensate the failures of our behaviour towards food.

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admin@primalist October 13, 2012 at 9:39 AM

Interesting. My question to you would be what is so “very bad” or “so stupid” about it? It’s fine if you think it’s a silly idea and you’d rather use utensils. I use utensils 99% of the time myself, except on the odd occasion where I simply do feel the urge to eat with my hands. But I’m not opposed to the idea. I’m especially intrigued by the concept of it being linked to better digestion.

Pathik February 2, 2013 at 7:51 PM

I’ve always used my hands. I lift bowls of soup to my mouth and drink it. I tried using a fork, and found the action of impaling my food with it rather barbaric. Sometimes I use a spoon for ice-cream, but for things like rice and semi-liquid food I scoop with bread.

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admin@primalist February 11, 2013 at 3:31 PM

Interesting perspective on the usage of utensils!

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Chelsea August 9, 2013 at 7:46 PM

I’ve always eat with my hands, but I do use my left hand. I write with my right hand, but I also wear my watch on my right hand. I try not to do it too much in public because some people see it as unkempt, but I like what I like.

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admin@primalist August 9, 2013 at 8:07 PM

I would imagine one would get strange looks eating out, especially in North America, as it’s quite uncommon here.

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X September 17, 2013 at 6:41 AM

it is weird to see that many people might feel weird when they eat using their hands, i mean i eat with my bare hands for years and nothing bad happens and it really feels and tastes better when you use your hand while eating (of course you cant eat everything using your hand)

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admin@primalist September 18, 2013 at 8:07 PM

It’s just a matter of not being used to it, everything new feels strange at first..

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