There are a number of things that Indians simply do much better than Americans, or anyone else. Unsurprisingly, the foremost among these relates to food.
Most Indians know the simple and sweet pleasure of eating our meals with only our bare hands. I swear by it myself. When done correctly, the fingers do all the work and your palms do not even touch the food, making for easy washing up afterwards. I feel sorry for the poor saps all around me who sit down to table with silverware three times a day and have no idea how to eat with their hands.
Of course, I know how to use a fork, knife, spoon, or chopsticks as well as the next guy. But there’s one choice word for this system of eating: sad. There are so many reasons why Indians should help lead a new global revolution in food, with a movement to ditch utensils for good. For so many reasons.
It’s Boring and Non-functional. In 9th grade I attended a class called “Introduction to the Business World” or something like that. Our teacher made us watch a long video about eating etiquette. A group of prim and proper men and women wearing stuffy business attire presented how spoons, forks, knives, plates, mugs, bowls, cups, and saucers were supposed to be arranged for business lunches or banquets. I felt a pang of agony just from watching. So much unnecessary work for reasons to this day I can’t understand. And that’s before you even started stuffing your face. Forks were meant to be held in the left hand, knives in the right. Spoons and forks of certain sizes were to only be used for certain courses of the meal. To this day I defy this silly rule. My preferred method, if forced to use silverware, is to use the fork in my right hand like a stabbing spear rather than sitting around trying to cut up vegetables and pieces of meat into bite-sized pieces while the food goes cold. Soup or stews can be drunk straight from the cup or bowl in my opinion. If attacking large pieces, one can simply bring the whole thing up to the mouth and nibble. Better yet, use your hands! Uncivilized, you say? What about…
The Environment. How much metal and plastic (plastic utensils are junk by the way) do we have to mine from beneath the earth to make utensils? How many extra gallons of precious water and chemical soaps are required to wash these things after meals? How much time is wasted on these by ourselves or by workers on our behalf? Billions and billions served. The earth is clearly worse off for it.
It’s different with spatulas, ladles, and other dishes- those are functionally necessary. A fork isn’t.
The Cost. Your hands are free. Utensils are not.
The Feel. They say you eat with your eyes first. We also are tempted by the aromas and even sounds that meals can make whilst being cooked and served- the sizzling, the crunching, the slurping. Why leave out the sense of touch by using unnecessary tools? By touching food directly with your hands, you get the perfect handle (pun unintended) on how hot, cold, or even spicy something is. You feel the texture in a literal way. We should allow our hands to relay that knowledge to our mouths in advance of every bite. Yes, I know it sounds cheesy, but I think the simple act brings us closer to our food- and the earth it all came from.
The Perfect Bite. There is no other way to achieve the perfect bite every single time, with the correct portions of different food morsels tailored to you. Every person is unique and special, and have their own preferences for portions, even within the same family. No celebrity chef can make exactly the bite you would want every time. With your hands, you can pick and choose exact amounts of rice, breads, vegetables, meats, salt, sauces, or anything else that’s fit to eat. It’s suitable for any type of cuisine in the world. Why give up the perfect bite, that from which perfect meals are made?
Hygiene. I would hazard to guess that most of us have eaten at a greasy spoon or even fine dining establishment only to find that the silverware isn’t clean. And that’s only based on what we can see. Many times there are germs, food particles, grease, and other goodies not visible to the naked eye relaxing on that knife. At least with your hands, it’s your own fault if they are not thoroughly clean and antiseptic. You are the master of your fate.
History. People of our age tend to forget that many traditions and institutions of the past, which eating with our hands is under threat of becoming, were practiced by the human race in every corner of civilization for thousands of years for good reason. Only over the last few hundred years- just a brief blip in time- have we systematically given up on our hands, those two tools which are so important to us in so many ways.
Yet there is hope. For Americans, the concept isn’t completely foreign with all food. Even the prissiest nouveau riche Southern belle probably eats the odd roast beef-and-caviar-aoli-with arugula sandwich, or a slice of pizza with her bare hands from time to time. It’s hard wired in our brains- we all know what to do from childhood in this regard.
Knowledge is power. Memorize these reasons and use them as your talking points next time some fellow challenges your use of hands at table. Then teach him the right way to do things. This is an Indian cultural import that Americans should get behind.
Living hand to mouth in this sense isn’t so bad.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor. Pictured are his mother and aunt. They look so happy because they are eating with their hands.