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.