Eating with your hands is one of the most intimate relationships you will have with your food. It is sensual, environmentally friendly, clean and your food even tastes better.
Having been brought up partly in a British-style boarding school in Sri Lanka, we were banned from eating with our hands and encouraged to eat with cutlery, though we always ate with our hands at home. Too often at South Asian formal functions in the West, I see people uncomfortably eating Indian or Sri Lankan cuisines with cutlery. It usually takes me and my family breaking the ice by using our hands and one by one others slowly start ditching cutlery. I still find this slow ditching cutlery ritual in public rather funny.
Many Indians, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Nepalese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Cambodians, Ethiopians, Pakistanis and others eat with their hands within the privacy of their homes. Years of colonisation has made us embarrassed of one of the most personal and intimate habits we have – eating with our hands, especially in public – and we are reluctant to use our hands to eat the very food which we love.
When Oprah Winfrey visited India a while back, she created a media storm by looking down at the Indians for eating with their hands. In Norway, there have been a handful of cases of kids of Indian and Sri Lankan children being taken into care for being fed by their parents’ hands. The social services misinterpreted it as force-feeding – and hence child abuse !
why do some cultures prefer to eat using their bare hands?
When people ask the question, ‘why do some cultures prefer to eat using their bare hands?’, I recall this famous story:
Former Indian President Dr Radhakrishnan met with Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill as they sat down for lunch. Before sitting, Dr Radhakrishnan washed his hands and as the meal was served, he used his hands when eating the meal. Churchill asked Dr Radhakrishnan, ‘Why are you using your hands? Use spoon and fork, it’s more hygienic.’ Radhakrishnan’s reply was, ‘Since nobody has used my hand to eat before, my hand is more hygienic than any spoon you can find.’
Today, the Western world is increasingly accepting of eating different kinds of food with our hands – burgers, chips, pizza, fruit etc. The use of cutlery has reduced dramatically and all too often we eat with just a fork.
Not too long ago, most ate Chinese and Japanese food with a fork. Now, using chopsticks is all the rage. Similarly, it’s time we made the jump and start eating rice and curry with our hands too.
So, I invite you to come and join us for a South Indian vegetarian meal at Handfed and learn the joys of eating with your hands. The meal is interspersed with performances exploring the theme of eating with hands by the indomitable hairy drag diva Radha Labia and the Classical Indian dancer turned performance artist Rakini Devi .
Drop the shame. Taste your food. Smell your food. See your food and we will also teach you to touch when eating your food…
What to know more? visit handfed.org, a website dedicated to the joy of eating with your hands. It includes video and downloadable pictorial diagrams of how to eat with your hands, articles, pictures etc. #handfed #ConversationStarters
years of colonisation has made us embarrassed of one of the most personal and intimate habits we have
Jiva Parthipan is a director, creative producer and arts worker based in Sydney and working internationally with dance, performance, film and inter-disciplinary art. His work has been seen at the Tate Modern (UK), Birmingham Rep Theatre (UK) ICA- Institute of Contemporary Art (UK), Liveworks at Performance Space (Sydney), and Powerhouse Youth Theatre Fairfield (Sydney). Jiva has a MA in Performance (Distinction) from Goldsmith College, London and was a visiting lecturer at the Central St Martins College of Arts 2003-2009.