I confess I like to eat with my fingers. Ive always felt that food tastes better when I eat it with my hands. I know common wisdom tells us hands are dirty and food is supposed to be clean but… are my hands really that dirty after being washed? Why is it one of the first things a child does is shove their hands in their mouth? Are our instincts so off base? Why would we want to suck our thumbs if thumb sucking is intrinsically a way of making ourselves sick? Obviously our modern world is full of things that shouldn’t be in our bodies but was the world always so?
I’ve pondered this for years. Although more recently I’ve pondered weather it is so awful that I use my hands to make food for my mother and myself. I wash my hands, of course, before I chopped up meat or rolled out cookie dough or kneaded bread, but it always seemed to me that the foods that I made with my hands actually tasted better than the food that I fallowed convention and only used implements on.
Then I watched the digestion sessions hosted by Sean Croxton and almost every presenter told the story of how food is digested starting with thinking about it and putting the food in your mouth, where the enzymes in your saliva can start to digest your food. They talked about how important this first step really is. Its much harder to digest starches without those mouth enzymes. As I watched a little part of the back of my brain wondered, “What if it starts before that? What if digestion starts when you touch the food?”
What if the skin on your hands has something on it (bacteria, oils, enzymes what-have-you) that help you digest food? What if the real reason that food that you have touched with your hands tastes better, is because it -is- better?
Although the fork is quite common now in western cultures, eating with your fingers was the norm right up until the 1500’s. (1) At that time political upheaval and various social elements began to entice the rich to eat with forks, and what the rich do the poor eventually emulate. Although it took until the 1700’s for the lower classes to completely embrace the fork. (2)
Despite the march of westernization there are still a few cultures that eat with their hands rather than the fork: India, Africa and the Middle East. What I find interesting is that in conventional Indian wisdom, eating with ones hands not only makes your food taste better, it also feeds your mind and spirit, by giving you a tangible connection to what you are nourishing your body with. Perhaps my deranged idea of digestion starting when you touch the food isn’t so deranged after all. Perhaps someday I’ll be proved right. Until then I vow to feel a little less guilty about my enjoyment of using my well washed bare hands to prepare and sometimes even eat my food.