Hand Food: Why Eating With Your Hands Is So Satisfying

It's interesting to reflect upon why 'hand food' is so popular. It's a well-known fact that the natural process of digestion starts with the digestive juices flowing before we put the food in our mouths.
09/22/2016 05:24 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2017

I read in Time Magazine decades ago that America's favorite flavor was 'crunchy.' Similarly, I would say that the world's favorite food is 'hand food.' In other words, it's food that people eat with their hands--no utensils needed. In America, the number one hand food is pizza, followed by chips, pretzels, french fries, hamburgers, and sandwiches. South of the border, it includes burritos, tacos, quesadillas, etc. In India, it's dosas, chapatis, and idli. In fact, in India, they eat almost everything with their hands. In China, it's dim sum. In Europe, classic hand food certainly includes bread, olives, and cheese.

It's interesting to reflect upon why 'hand food' is so popular. It's a well-known fact that the natural process of digestion starts with the digestive juices flowing before we put the food in our mouths. This was revealed long ago by Pavlov's experiments. A natural stage of the process of digestion is picking up the food with our hands. Even from an evolutionary perspective, there was food way before there were knives, forks, and spoons. Our ancient ancestors began their feasts by picking up the food with their hands and putting it in their mouths.

Satisfying the Senses

There's something quite natural and comforting about hand food. It is even to the point where some consider it blasphemy to eat pizza with a knife and fork. It's so natural and organic to pick up a piece of pizza, hold it or fold it, eat it crust first or start at the tip, or however it suits your fancy. The only limit is your imagination. Let's face it, hand food satisfies the senses. We can feel and explore the texture of the food in our hands. We can squish the food between our fingers. We can hold it up to our nose and smell it. We can nibble on it, bite off a big chunk, or whatever we like. If we tried doing that with a fork, it would look barbaric. But with hand food, it's totally acceptable. As we're holding the food up to our face, we can examine it more carefully, deciding what portion we'd like to chew off first. Hand food is an excuse to revisit our childhood. We get to play with our food after all! Let's face it, hand food is fun!

Developing Our Personal Technique

Most people develop their own personal technique and style for eating their favorite hand foods. In India, they traditionally don't use any knives or forks. They scoop up some rice and lentils and sort of mix them together with their fingers. We all have our favorite techniques developed in childhood. Even the classic hamburger: you can take small bites around the circumference or you can start at one point and eat until the whole thing is devoured. Sushi can be picked up and dipped in soy sauce, grabbing some ginger pickle to put on top, and then applying the Wasabi so you get the occasional, concentrated blast.

Infusing Chi or Prana

From the perspective of Chinese Medicine, one might say that we are putting our Chi (energy) into the food before we even take the first bite. That infusion of Chi might be thought of as harmonizing the energy of the food with the energy of your body. When food is eaten with chopsticks or utensils, the food is held at a distance, so this energy infusion happens to a lesser extent. This interferes with the natural process of digestion that begins well before the first bite.

The natural process of digestion is already underway in the kitchen. In Ayurveda, Chi, life force energy, or 'the vibe' is called "Prana." In the tradition of India, the Prana of the cook is very important. It is said to affect the quality of the food. Throughout the world, most everyone feels that way about their mom's home cooked meals. There's a natural connection between mother and child. The Chinese and Indians would view that as a similar energetic quality that resonates with all family members.

Discerning How Much Prana is In Food

In China and India, the amount of Prana in their herbs is very important. Vast sums of money are paid for the highest quality herbs--those that are saturated with Prana. Commonly, in the West, marijuana is the herb in which good quality is held in high esteem. Food with little Prana is like straw. Food saturated with Prana is like lush, fresh grass. With hand food, we can relish, savor, and rejoice through the unification of our energy with that of the food, creating an experience of deep satisfaction.

The vibrant feel, smell, and taste of fresh ripe fruit is an experience common to everyone. Call it what you like (Chi, Prana, or energy), the experience is as undeniable as a lush field of grass, the beauty of a flower at its peak, or the fresh bouquet of just picked herbs. All of them radiate an exquisite feeling that feeds the soul as well as the body.

We love hand food because we feel the food's energy. It doesn't matter if the energy can be detected with a machine or not. The experience is proof enough that energy of food is real. The word "energy" simply names the experience we all relish as we, with our hands, merge and commune our energy with the energy of our food.