This one took me a little while to catch on to, but in India (at least in Pune) most people eat their meals with their hands–specifically their right hand. You serve food with your left.
Most nights this means using your roti to pick up cooked vegetables and spoon them into your mouth, mixing warm rice and dahl with your fingertips and slowly ladling the mixture to your lips. Then, depending on where in India you are and the family or friends you are eating with, you might lick the remnants off your fingers.
At first, the practice of eating with your hands seems messy–I grant you. And for a long time I was in the bad habit of eating my meals with a spoon because my host family provided us with them. So while everyone else in the program was learning to eat rice with their hands, I was still eating like a westerner. Only in the last month or so have I started to eat with my hands. And now that I’ve finally stopped doing this weird thing where I stick out either my pinky or pointer finger, I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of it.
And as surprising as it sounds, I love it! I’m bringing it back to the US. (Fair warning: this means you, mom and dad, get ready to eat a meal with your hands when I get back).
No, this doesn’t mean I’ll be eating all of my meals from now on with my hands. I can’t even begin to figure out how you would eat spaghetti or soup with your hands, but there are three reasons I think eating with your hands is actually a better practice–for hygiene, for enjoyment and for waste creation.
1. Eating with your hands makes you enjoy your food more. I generally eat slower when I am using my hands and it forces me to really focus on the tastes of the food. Plus, how often do you understand what your food feels like? Your must closer to your food this way.
2. Eating with your hands means you have to wash your hands before AND after your meal. There’s no getting around it. I bet if we washed our hands before and after all our meals in the US, colds wouldn’t spread so quickly and thoroughly across college campuses.
3. Eating with your hands encourages you to finish everything on your plate. It’s all right there at your finger tips. So that’s less food thrown out because you didn’t finish it all. And no silverware to be washed at the end of dinner.
There are lots of great reasons to eat with utensils too, but I’ll save those for another day. For now, it’s rice and dhal for me. No spoon, thank you.