The first time I ate Ethiopian food I was in my twenties and a little put off, yet fascinated, with the idea of eating without utensils. The overwhelming spiciness of the food soon rendered my hesitation moot as sweat beaded under my hair and began to trickle down my forehead. The experience stayed with me, and in the years since I have grown to love both the spice and the concept of bread as fork.
It turns out there are many cultures that eat with their hands for different reasons— Indian, Arabic and Pakistani among them. I am pretty sure that they all exclusively use their right hand for food saving the left for other digestive matters. But there are different reasons why they choose to eat this way.
When my kids were babies we made a point of letting them eat with their hands to develop motor skills. We took the road less travelled on so many parenting points that the mess making of hand to mouth eating seemed like nothing.
The term raised by wolves was seemingly designed with my children in mind as now at seven and nine they would still much rather use their hands to eat. This doesn’t go over so well in polite company and I am often left giving pep talks to encourage them to eat in a societally acceptable manner when out and about with people we don’t know.
Which leave us heading to my wife’s family reunion this weekend and I can only imagine what lays in store.
My mother is eighty-five and bedridden and as I watch her and her ever declining physicality I am left wondering if she would be well served by eating with her hands as a means of staying able, or at least more able than she is currently.
For the last few months I have been fairly obsessed with ramen, as in I could eat it every day and be very happy. And my aforementioned mother happens to live on the corner of the best Ramen joint on New York (all hail Ippudo).
I don’t mind admitting that I don’t have the best table manners and I was more than thrilled to learn how getting right over the bowl and slurping loudly is encouraged. And of late I have taken to eating with my hands at home, for fun and experimentation.
Why do I need to put broccoli on a fork? It is so sensually pleasing to pick it up with my fingers and place it in my mouth. I haven’t done it in a restaurant, and likely won’t, but it might be time to revisit some of the habits that we take for granted.