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

Eat with Your Hands

We 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:


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?


ps- When in public, I of course, eat with utensils :)

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.

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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. I tend to shovel food down my throat in large portions when eating with a fork.
    I should really use my hands more … as soon as my braces come off!

    Suvetar wrote on April 16th, 2011
  7. I always eat with my hands, it’s just the way to eat food. Only time I ever use any forks or spoons is if I’m having soup or really saucy pasta. Eating with your hands is much more natural and more people should stop being grossed out by it and eat the way food was meant to be eaten. I hate complete modernization of the world we live in. I couldn’t care less what people think of it.

    squezey wrote on June 8th, 2011
  8. Philippines And Indonesia Are the same xD..
    Sorry my english is bad hehehehe…

    Sim wrote on October 3rd, 2011
  9. I was raised by a Greek father do everything in our house, save for soup, is eaten by hand. My favorite being fresh rotisserie chicken. There is something rewarding and almost exciting about tearing into a hot steaming chicken breast and ripping it off the bone. I was totally unaware that it could be considered uncouth until when I was 18 my boyfriend and I visited a Boston Market and he was appalled at the way I ate. Needless to say I was completely embarrassed but I haven’t abandoned my favorite eating method.

    Shorty wrote on July 25th, 2012
  10. Eating with hands is very common in most of the Middle Eastern and South Asian countries. I also grew up in these regions, I have already learned it automatically by my parents and community.

    Eating with hands is very pleasurable indeed; especially licking your fingers at the end is out of this world. I have noticed if you eat with your hands, you will feel the different taste. I don’t know the science about it but I heard it is because of the enzymes in finger pores.

    Anyway, give a try guys.. You will love it.

    Thyfere wrote on July 11th, 2013
  11. Great piece! I LOVE eating with my hands and will do so in public when I can, luckily many of my friends have all different cultures and eating using your hands comes naturally (Turkish, Surinam, Ethiopian) Great idea to do it more at home though, even if not just with meat on the bone. On of my best eating experiences was using my hands: hubby and I went out to eat locally at a place called “Dining in the dark” where the dining room and all was pitch black so we could experience what it was like for all of the serving staff who were blind or nearly so. After faffing about some in the dark with a knife and fork, I just went to town with my hands as that made so much more sense, I could find stuff, I could find my mouth….voila! Is was strangely very sensual and I loved it!!!

    Nikki wrote on July 15th, 2013
  12. People don’t just use their hands to wield chunks of naan in India, they typically eat the entire meal with their hands, naan or not. That means mounds of rice thoroughly soaked in whatever gravy accompanies the dish. They’ll often use their hands to mix up rice and several dishes, including daal and meat or vegetables with gravy (and by the way, I’ve almost never heard it called “curry” which is the default here in the U.S. That’s because curry is actually a real plant, and when Indian people say curry, they mean it!). The sauce saturated rice will then be lifted with bare fingers to the mouth in big rice balls. I’ve had long discussions with Indian people about how cutlery ruins the flavor. For a while, I didn’t get it, but over time I have definitely come to notice the cold metallic off flavors produced by forks and knives. As far as I’m concerned, eat just about anything with your bare hands. It tastes great! Lick your fingers too.

    Jsteps wrote on April 5th, 2014
  13. I’m Indian, and we often are with our hands at home, scooping up rice and vegetables with out fingers and drinking soup from a bowl. However, now about 90% of the time I would eat with utensils. Recently I watched a video on YouTube, about three guys taking a challenge to eat a plate of spaghetti without using their hands. It was a challenge, the first one to finish eating the sausage at the bottom of the pile of spaghetti, wins. So they dived in and got tomato sauce all over their face, they were slurping up the pasta, it looks seriously fun, and I was reminded of my days eating messily as a child. So today I decided to make the same food, spaghetti with sausages, and try eating it without utensils. It was such a good experience, i’m tempted to eat like this every single time.

    Meg wrote on March 31st, 2015
  14. RibFest is an annual event here locally, beginning of August. Some vendors hand out a few napkins with their ribs. Serious vendors hand out a stack of napkins with their ribs.

    James wrote on July 12th, 2015
  15. This gets me thinking of one of my favorite meal experiences. My father-in-law smoked 4 Cornish game hens, one for each person at the table. We tore into them with our hands. While everyone was being delicate and cleaning their hands every 5 seconds, I let the juices run. End results: three partially eaten hens and one pile of bones.

    Jared wrote on February 3rd, 2016

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