Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
11 Dec

Eat with Your Hands

manwithsteakWe follow the diet of Grok, we exercise the same muscles with the same movements that Grok used, and we just generally do our best to live Primally in a decidedly modern world. At the same time, though, we use cell phones and computers. We drive cars or take public transport. And unless your HMO covers shaman visits, we go to the doctor when we fall seriously ill or break something. I guess what I’m trying to convey is that, as followers of the Primal Blueprint, we get the best of both worlds. We’re Primal, but not to a fault (no coming-of-age blood initiation rites, no dying out because of a sprained ankle). Likewise, we’re modern (modern evolutionary science has given us the tools to conclude that the Primal way is the best for us), but cognizant of the considerable downsides this world entails.

For the most part, I think I’ve arrived at a healthy compromise in all the problematic areas where the Primal Blueprint and modern life could potentially conflict: medicine (preventive care is good, excess reliance on Big Pharma is bad, and most of our health issues can be dealt with by taking care of our bodies and eating the right stuff), the increasing industrialization of food (stick to organic and grass fed when possible, and if you can’t find organic, try to eat only hard-skinned fruits and vegetables, support local farmers, hunt/fish if you can, etc.), exercise (avoid chronic cardio, and stick to lots of low-level aerobic activities, large compound movements and short bursts of speed), various contemporary stresses (spend time in the sun and with family and friends, get plenty of sleep, find time to play). There is one area, though, where I’ve personally struggled for quite some time. It’s an issue that, until now, I had no easy answer for. I was honestly, genuinely stumped. I refer to, of course, the question of cutlery! I’m kidding of course, but this email from reader Ryan piqued my interest:

Mark-

The more I read your site, the more I am getting into being “Primal” – and that just doesn’t cover the types of food I eat, or the topic of this email. But lately, I have been eating with my hands quite a bit.  When I make food at home, I sometimes leave the fork and knife in the drawer.  During and after eating, I say to myself “Now, THATS primal”. So, I gotta ask, do you use your own primal utensils when you eat, or have you shed that part of cavemen skin?

Ryan

ps- When in public, I of course, eat with utensils icon smile

Without a doubt, Grok never used eating utensils beyond his hands. I suppose he probably used obsidian knives and axes to shear huge cuts of meat from a carcass, but it’s not like he was slicing masterful steaks into little pieces. Once he got a workable piece of meat, Grok would tear into his kill with two hands and blood running down his chin (Grok was definitely a rare/medium rare type of guy). And so, our first inclination might be to follow in Grok’s exact footsteps and eschew all silverware. We’d be making a mistake, though: we are not single-minded in our quest to live Primally; we follow only the Primal methods that clearly aid our attempts to live long, happy, healthy lives and work for humans living nowadays (Grok may have had a lot of great ideas about food, exercise, and leisure, but he’d be an entirely unsuitable companion for a lavish dinner at an expensive restaurant). If you’re meeting your future spouse’s parents for the first time, no amount of rationalization and MDA-plugging will sufficiently explain your decision to drink your soup by dipping your face into the bowl or eat your banaganoush with your fingers. Like it or not, we have to coexist with neighbors, coworkers, and even family and friends in a society that doesn’t quite “get” us.

Still, though, there are good justifications for eating with your hands. Most of my readers are American, but eating with one’s hands is fairly common in some regions of the world. Ethiopian food, for example, is based on use of the spongelike injera bread to scoop up food and sop up sauce – no utensils required. Nann is used in much the same way in areas of India, and the Mediterranean countries see a lot of pita and hummus eating. But in the US (and, I’d imagine, much of the Western world), you won’t see the hands used all that much, unless it’s Grandpa picking at the holiday ham or people using dinner rolls to sop up sauces. I don’t know about you, but I think we could learn a thing or two from India or Ethiopia (except for the heavy reliance on breads!). Sure we have our own list of finger foods (burgers, sandwiches, fries, chips, cookies etc.), but we also have a much longer list of hand-to-mouth no-nos.

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One potential advantage of eating with your hands is the utility of it. No matter how deftly you wield a pair of chopsticks or a knife and fork, your hands and fingers will almost always be more dexterous. Think about it: you grew up with these things. As a species, you were naturally selected to have those opposable thumbs and agile digits, and to use them to grasp, hold, manipulate, and maneuver objects. Have you ever spent ten minutes using a knife and fork to get that last morsel of flesh hiding amongst gristle, bone, and tendon, only to give up and rip that sucker apart with your fingers in five seconds? Exactly. Using our hands – without relying on silverware, the metal middleman – allows us to precisely take apart food and get the choicest bits.

Really, though, eating with your hands is a wholly pleasurable practice in and of itself (without needing validation from other cultures where it’s accepted, or from the practicality of it). I personally liken it to one of the reasons I love my Vibram FiveFingers. Just as the FiveFingers allow me to experience the same tactile sensations of running barefooted on the land (while staying safe from nails, glass, and other obstacles) that Grok knew, eating with my hands adds an extra-sensory experience to breakfast, lunch or dinner. It allows me to be connected with my food in a way that simply can’t be replicated with silverware. It’s difficult to explain or articulate, really, but picking up a blood rare grass-fed steak with your hands and just ripping into it, letting the juices run down your chin and even down your elbow (if you’re in understanding company) is perhaps the most utterly Primal act you can undertake. Using brute force and the ripping power of jaw and neck instead of adroitly cutting a piece with your factory-made cutting implement – there’s really no comparison. Nothing against knife and fork, of course, but there’s really nothing like it.

Of course, you’ll have to try it for yourself. As I said before, don’t do it with new people you’re trying to impress or with royalty, or at a fancy restaurant on your anniversary. Try it at home first, preferably with a large piece of meat. Make sure your hands are clean (as Grok never had to deal with enormous public reserves of genetically-hardened bacteria everywhere) and be sure to lick your fingers clean. If you’re camping, hiking, or otherwise Primally living it up in the great outdoors, you probably don’t have to clean your hands (real dirt is good!). Otherwise, just do it! Try all foods. Nuts, raw vegetables, and fruit are obvious choices, but get creative. Lap up soup with your tongue like a dog. Stick your entire face in a bowl of water (like you’re drinking from a stream – the most satisfying way to drink). Scoop up mashed cauliflower with your fore and middle fingers. Go for some Ethiopian or Indian food (but skip the injera and naan, of course).

As always, I’d like to hear from you. Got any great eating-with-the-hands stories? Any foods you feel are perfect for digitized digestion (sorry for that forced alliteration)? Or are you disgusted by the very suggestion that we forego cutlery altogether even if its just in the name of a fun Primal experiment?

Though this is more of an anything goes type Primal challenge, check back tomorrow morning for a “Eat With Your Hands” Primal menu if you’re curious.

ParaScubaSailor Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Going Grubby: The Primal Benefits of Dirt, Dust and Dishevelment

A Sanitized World is a Healthier World?

Grok Didn’t Take Supplements So Why Should I?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Im asian, and my father taught me to eat with my hands with certain foods, like fish. To be honest with you, some of the best foods ive eaten, ive eaten with my hands. When my mom cooks those yummy seafood, everyone is my family would eat without utensils. So fun and so yummy! It just taste better!

    anna wrote on December 11th, 2008
  2. Ribs are one of my favorites foods. I think part of that is because you just get to rip them apart and go after them, stripping the meat to the bone. I forget the silverware with chicken (on the bone) a lot too. I think it just helps to prove the innate instinct of going Primal!

    Holly wrote on December 11th, 2008
  3. Crawfish. Crab. And lobster. Oh yeah. Suckin’ out a crawfish head is just a slice of heaven. And I think I could get a few people to agree with me that those silly nut cracker things they give you with your Alaskan King crab don’t do a damn bit of good.

    McFly wrote on December 11th, 2008
  4. Just yesterday I was caught eating my fiance’s “garbage” with my hands. I cleared the dinner table, she went into the other room. As I was emptying the pork bones from our plates into the garbage I noticed her’s was hardly touched. Leaving around a cenntimeter of meat around the inside edge. So naturally I picked it up off the plate and started going to town on it, only to have her walk in about 5 seconds later, right as I was really giving a good pull with my teeth. She gave me the usual horizontal shake of the head, and said, “you really are a caveman arent you?” I could only respond, with a mouth full of food, a confident, “Mhmm”.

    Ed Greenaway wrote on December 11th, 2008
  5. Awesome story, Ed. Your Primal side was coming out naturally. :)

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 11th, 2008
  6. I absolutely LOVE eating with my hands! I think its so much simpler than dealing with all the appropriate utensils.

    Mara wrote on December 11th, 2008
  7. Ed that is so funny! I am not afraid to eat meat with my hands. While in Africa, my sister used to suck the marrow out of the bones along with her ‘bros.’ It had the most nutrition from what I understand. I love eating Ethiopian with my hands….

    Earth Beauty wrote on December 11th, 2008
  8. I am on the opposite end of many of the commenters so far. I am a meat eater, but use the fork and knife if at all possible. I even opt for boneless buffalo wings whenever possible so that I can stab it rather than pick it up…

    Does that make me a bad carnivoire?

    Benjamin Teal wrote on December 11th, 2008
  9. Don’t worry, Benjamin. This isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. Eat however you enjoy eating!

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 11th, 2008
  10. I have been doing more and more of this recently, both at home and in restaurants. Since in either case I am invariably eating something that comes with a bone or bones it seems the natural way to get all the meat off, and unless I am just very thick skinned, I have not noticed any bad reactions. To be fair, I tend to eat in fairly middle-grade restaurants where people are reasonably open-minded. Although in restaurants I do at least ‘tool up’ to eat the unboned food, at home I am increasingly using my hands for the whole meal, and do agree that an additional dimension is introduced to the experience via this new tactile connection. Some of my finest primal dining moments have involved entire chicken or rabbit carcasses, whereupon even Mrs M, now used to my behaviour, has been driven to pass comment.

    Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later wrote on December 11th, 2008
  11. Well, some of us do prefer an herbalist to a med. industry diet for many things (there are of course situations in which an ER or standard doc is a great choice). I, of course, am biased by being a practicing herbalist by vocation.

    I love eating with my hands, and for most meals, it can be done even in restaurants without offending too many people (soup and tough steaks being an exception). When we have our Wild Foods gatherings we actively encourage people to experience their food in this more tactile and sensual way.

    Nice article (as usual).
    ~Kiva

    Kiva Rose wrote on December 11th, 2008
  12. My only real experience eating with my hands (other than “finger foods”), was when I lived in a remote Mexican village. Tortillas (made fresh over the fire from corn soaked in lime) scooped up beans, mole, and stews; then they were eaten. The average man would go through about 25 tortillas per meal!

    FoodRenegade wrote on December 11th, 2008
  13. sheesh, I meant doctor not diet in that first line…. silly me.

    Kiva Rose wrote on December 11th, 2008
  14. I tend to get too into it when I eat with my hands… it’s a big mess. Plus, after a day of eating with my hands like Grok, when I’m walking to the gym in the dead of night and I venture through the park, I find myself stalking foolish squirrels that have strayed to far from the protection of the tree. It’s a fun game, until someone see you chasing a squirrel looking like you want to eat it!

    Hahaha, thanks for the post!

    All the Best,

    Andrew R

    Andrew R - Go Healthy Go Fit wrote on December 11th, 2008
  15. I even lose my ability to remain grammatically correct… *sees* *too*

    Andrew R - Go Healthy Go Fit wrote on December 11th, 2008
  16. related – also why we have “eye” or canine teeth, right? for the ripping and tearing. yum!

    Christine wrote on December 11th, 2008
  17. Interesting post–some anthropologists (like Loring Brace) feel that modern overbites and malocclusions are due, among other things, to the use of the knife and fork to cut food, rather than using the teeth to hold and tear. The softness of modern diets probably also has a lot to do with it.

    This gets at something I’ve often thought about–we can enjoy the benefits of living as nature intended in our adult lives, but raising kids this way ought to confer even more benefit. I wonder if doctors would recognize primal kids as belonging to the same species as the average overweight and unfit kid of today!

    Nick L wrote on December 11th, 2008
  18. McFly,
    Yes! NO utensil needed to eat crawfish, crab, lobster, and don’t forget broiled shrimp. In Louisiana it’s so nice to go to a cajun restaurant where ” everybody” is having a good ole’ time eating with their hands. Nobody thinks a thing of it because everyone’s doing it. About eating crawfish, cajuns know what it means when you say “don’t eat the dead ones…L.O.L.

    Andrew,
    You’re so right, it is a big mess, sometimes it seems as though the best foods to eat is those without utensils.

    Funny story about the squirrel…L.O.L.

    Donna wrote on December 11th, 2008
  19. In college, I ate many a meal at my freinds house. They were from India and we always ate with our hands (admittedly usually rice and curry). It was a very enjoyable, effective method of eating. I still tend to eat with my hands when I am at home. Like Mark said though… I try to use my utensils in public.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on December 11th, 2008
  20. Thanks for posting this Mark!

    Ryan Denner wrote on December 11th, 2008
  21. Nice! I always eat with my hands. I only eat with a fork or spoon in public. Guess wat….I’m indian! I was living the primal life without even knowing it.

    Parth wrote on December 11th, 2008
  22. Parth,
    It is good to hear that they really ate with their hands back home and weren’t just messing with me! ;-)

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on December 11th, 2008
  23. Ryan, thanks for coming up with the idea!

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 11th, 2008
  24. Finger foods are way better (even the Paleo ones!) than anything that requires a utensil. The smoked turkey I made for Thanksgiving was downed by more people using their finger than with forks!

    George wrote on December 11th, 2008
  25. Interesting is the fact I just prepared a spinach salad with a knife and served it in a bowl, but then continued to eat it with my hands :)

    Pricey wrote on December 11th, 2008
  26. This is a great way to go! Ryan is not only doing this himself, but getting others to join in. He came over to a big party at our house this summer, and grabbed a plate of ribs, mac & cheese, and some veg…and within about 5 minutes, half of the 25 people there were eating everything on the plates with hands only. Pretty cool. Everyone was laughing and having a blast being primal!

    Jim wrote on December 11th, 2008
  27. “Pickin chicken” Love eating chicken of the bone with my hands.

    Another one of my favorites is really digging at the Stone crabs here locally.
    When you eat with your hands you tend to slurp more and make more noises ;-)
    Wonder what grok sounded like…..

    M.

    Marc Feel Good Eating wrote on December 12th, 2008
  28. After long days rock climbing in summer, I grill meat–usually steak–and it’s tricky to eat that with utensils and plate balanced on one’s lap in the night by the campfire. So sometimes I just pick the steak up and chow it that way. It is satisfying, especially since it’s usually well after dark (10pm or later) by the time we hike back and get the meat cooked and I’m really hungry by then. (I bring jerky and nuts, carrots and celery and other stuff in my pack and guacamole and beer in the cooler for immediately upon our return to the car. All finger food.)Ahhh I want it to be summer!

    Danielle Thalman wrote on December 12th, 2008
  29. Oh I do have to say- rarely am I so excited to get home and try something a blogger has inspired me to do, but tonight I’m putting the forks and knives away and tearing into my food like Grok (or Grokina in my case).

    Thanks Mark! Always so inspiring!

    Brynith wrote on December 12th, 2008
  30. Thanks, Brynith!

    I checked out your blog recently. Good stuff. I’m happy to hear you are “going Primal”. Keep up the great work and keep in touch!

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 12th, 2008
  31. I tried going forkless in Malaysia, where traditional Malay and South Indian food are eaten with the right hand. Malaysian/Indian finger food includes curries kneaded with rice. Once was enough. Eating wet food without a utensil feels dirty.

    Sonagi wrote on December 12th, 2008
  32. I am from India and we are taught to eat with our hands – it also saves the pain of maintaining a spoon and stuff – I guess it is the most natural way of eating.

    Jayadeep wrote on December 12th, 2008
  33. Another South Asian here (Sri Lanka) and I also grew up eating with my hands, chewing bones down to nothing, licking my fingers clean at the end and all manner of primal heathen-ry. Some of the best meals I’ve ever had were eaten off a banana leaf, while squatting on my haunches under a nice big tree out in some remote village. Pity I’m stuck in the city most of the time and expected to act more civilised.

    K wrote on December 19th, 2008
  34. Honestly, you actually made me a little excited to start eating different things with my hands. There are only a few things I eat with my hands like fruit, chicken wings, vegetables, and nuts. There are probably a lot more but I just don’t realize it I guess! Very nice blog too :)

    Matt Work Out Plans wrote on July 21st, 2009
  35. Awesome. Thanks for the great post

    Usman wrote on August 28th, 2009
  36. anyone remebers a movie of a guy shouing how to eat a lobster with just your hands?
    if so please e-mail me the link

    michael wrote on August 31st, 2009
  37. My awesome 18 year old cousin made a bet with friends not to use silverware for a month. When Thanksgiving rolled around last year, my brother was horrified. He discreetly seated my cousin far away from his in-laws. I thought the whole thing was pretty spectacular. I wish I had the nerve to do something like that! I mean chicken’s one thing…

    Becca wrote on January 9th, 2010
  38. i LOVE eating with my hands. im 19, and my best dinner i ever had was thanksgiving two years ago, where i was discussing how other cultures eat with their hands with my dad, and then somehow i decided to eat my whole meal with my hands in front of my family… turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, asparagus…. mmmmm

    alyssa wrote on January 29th, 2010
  39. Buffalo chicken wings are a socially acceptable finger food. Just cook the wings and make a primal type sauce. Yummy!

    Eric wrote on September 23rd, 2010
  40. Funny story…
    I have a good friend here in Spain, who can definitely be classed as a bit primal.
    He offered my wife and I to go on a trip with him and his new girlfriend to Morocco, as he knew some ex work colleagues who offered to look after him if he ever considered to hop across the Gibraltar strait…

    Well we all met up and everything was going fine…until supper time.
    No eating utensils and a single big bowl of food in the center of 10 or so people.
    House Rule: Unless you want to go hungry dive in with your paws.

    Boy, was I praying that the custom of washing your hands after going to the bathroom was rigidly enforced in Morocco.
    Unfortunately, I found out a little later that this was not the case.

    Timothy wrote on December 8th, 2010

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