We have long been conditioned in the western world that eating appropriately meant using utensils such as forks, spoons and knives. Generally eating with the hands is left to pizza, hamburgers and little ones, right? In some other countries, especially India, much of Africa and the Middle East, eating with one’s hands is appropriate etiquette and might actually prove to be healthier.
How is it Healthy?
In the Vedic tradition, eating with ones hands is tied to the practice of hand mudras – or meditative gestures using the hands and other body parts. The hands are honored as a beautiful ‘organ of action.’ A famous Vedic sloka or verse suggests that divinity rests within human effort – brought about through the hands.
When we touch our food before putting it into our mouths the millions of nerve endings on the tips of our fingers are getting a temperature and texture reading that is immediately sent to the stomach – like a warning signal. Ayurvedic wisdom teaches that our bodies can respond to this food-touch by producing the needed enzymes and digestive juices before the food even meets our lips – and that the fingers themselves even contain enzymes which start the digestive process upon first touch.
Julie Sahni is a New York chef who grew up in India, never having eaten with utensils until a weekend visit to Europe when she was in college had this to say about hand eating: “Eating with the hands evokes great emotion, it kindles something very warm and gentle and caressing. Using a fork is unthinkable in traditional Indian eating. It is almost like a weapon.”
Experts say eating with the hands engages all the senses and keeps one present while eating. Using utensils can become more mechanical, done without even thinking, as there is no actual physical contact with the food until it touches the lips. When food is touched with the hands, there is automatically more careful attention placed on it – how you will retrieve it, what the temperature is, how much you can carry, how the hand must be held in order to keep the food in it. Some call it ‘primal eating’ since it is plainly assumed in times before utensils people used their hands to eat.
Why use utensils?
Habit is probably number one. We were all handed tiny forks and spoons as youngsters and expected to master the art of food poking, scooping and balancing, even though using our hands was so much more convenient and practical. Over time we became conditioned that utensils were the way- as I don’t suppose there are many mothers out there who would condone using hands to pick up that spaghetti. The natural instinct to pick food up with our hands was eventually snuffed out as we became accustomed to and better at the art of utensil use.
We think it’s cleaner. Don’t we? Eating with one’s hands does automatically create a greater need for napkins and soap. There is really no getting around the cleanliness issue when eating with ones hands. However, when approaching food with the knowledge that utensils will not be used there becomes a higher likelihood that hand washing will take place before the meal as well. A big plus. What’s the matter with having messy fingers while eating anyway? It would surely cause attention to be placed upon the food alone and nothing else. This culture could use a little re-directing of attention when it comes to mealtimes anyway.
Research studies have shown those given food to eat while watching television ate 70% more than those who ate with no distraction. Not only that: “When two groups of people were given the same lunch, half without distractions and half with a game of computer solitaire to play, the distracted group rated themselves less satisfied by their lunch than those who had no distractions while they ate. When these same individuals were offered biscuits half an hour after their lunch, those who had spent their lunchtime playing solitaire ate substantially more biscuits than the group who had paid attention to their lunch and found it satisfying.”
Distraction has a big part to play in how well we eat and what satisfaction and nutrients we get from our food.
Eating with the hands may be the answer called for in order to bring much needed attention away from the screens and busy projects and back to the plate. Food well focused upon brings about better absorption, assimilation and satisfaction leading to better health and a calmer, stress-free life.
Eating with your hands is not only potentially healthier than utensil eating, it can be a lot more fun! When was the last time you ate lasagna or soup with your hands? How about stir fry or rice pudding? Next time you have a big meal with your friends or family, try serving it up without silverware and see what your response is. It’s sure to make for lively conversation and a lot of laughter!
Written by: Stasia Bliss