Eating with One’s Hands: Cause to Lose One’s Children?


Members of the Cultural Detective community are united in a common purpose: to spread respect, understanding and justice through collaboration in our world. I am so, so lucky to be able to work, each and every day, with such passionate and diversely talented people.

Yesterday was a wonderful day. We held the second in a successful series of two FOLEs (Facilitated Online Learning Events) with a globally dispersed group of movers and shakers; launched a MUCH-anticipated new package (CD Bridging Cultures); got out a blog post and a newsletter; and finished the admin area on our upcoming Cultural Detective Online subscription service. But, I was tired, and feeling rather overwhelmed by all the technology I (have to) work with. I was wondering, as many of us do sometimes, if my efforts were really having a positive impact on the world.

Just then I opened a note from one of my colleagues, a sign language interpreter who is a “foodie.” She reminded me that, yes, every little bit we put out there positively (including via technology) has constructive ripple effects in our world. Bless you and your beautiful work, Anna! Keep reading to see her note and a terrific effect of a recent social networking link.

Here’s the note I received:
Hello dear Dianne,

I am excited to share with you a post and video I made inspired by a story on your Intercultural Competence Newsfeed. Do you remember the piece about:

Norway authorities take away Indian couple’s children for feeding them by hand

My fascination with food and culture spurred me to write a post about different cultures who eat with their hands (including Indian, Ethiopian and Moroccan). And with the help of a friend, we shot a video of this lovely Moroccan gentleman I know giving me a lesson in eating with the hands.

I am hoping to make a series of such videos on cross-cultural food ways. Hopefully it can help build cross-cultural understanding and respect.

Thank you so much for all your wonderful work!

Anna Mindess
Co-author of Cultural Detective Deaf Culture
blog: East Bay Ethnic Eats

Below is the first video in her series, for those who don’t want to keep clicking. We’ve added it to our Cultural Detective YouTube channel as well.

7 thoughts on “Eating with One’s Hands: Cause to Lose One’s Children?

  1. I love this video! Brings back memories of living in Mizoram in NE India while I was gathering stories of village women’s experiences of war and forced migration. Mizos love to eat with their hands, delight in it, and I grew to love it too :) I even developed a bit of expertise with the soupy foods. I experienced it as a physical, tactile way to get in touch with the world of my friends, to live through their world life, in one small way, as they do. Smiles to all for the work you do!

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  2. What a terrific experience of empathy, Nisi! Rather than “putting oneself in another’s shoes,” so to speak, you “put yourself into their hands”! This makes me think that one could experience “hunger” with a sensation in one’s hands; rather a cool thought. I know I often experience “hunger” as the feeling of chopsticks in one hand and a rice bowl in the other, particularly when I am missing Japanese food from my current home in México. What do you all think? Do your hands get hungry?

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    • I have never thought of my hands getting hungry. Intriguing idea :) I do know that my experiencing of eating rice has changed since being in Mizoram. For Mizos, rice, cultivation, and the land are central to their lives, and that meaning is embedded in the Mizo language. So many different types of rice cultivated, at different times of the year, with different smells, textures, uses, and relationships to their culture. In the USA, I have been able to find a larger variety of rices by shopping at Asian markets. Here in Portland we have a Vietnamese mall that reminds me of the places I shopped in Mizoram and Bangkok. Rice as life, and Mizo rice rather than the “inferior” Indian rice :), was an experience I came to understand more deeply during my time in Mizoram.

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      • Oh, Nisi, a whole other thread of thought there, with all the types of rice. I learned the names of fish while living in Japan–my family weren’t big fish eaters growing up. It’s interesting that even though I learned Japanese as a young adult and older, I still need to know what fish something is in Japanese to make meaning of it, for me to know what fish it is. The category is in my brain in Japanese rather than my native English.

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  3. A few other comments on this post, taken from social networking sites, for those interested:
    Olivier Marsily
    • Hi Anna,
    Great initiative to share your experience. I have enjoyed the video and aside of the technical part, paid attention to what your guest explained about the interpersonal and cultural aspects of eating.

    Eating habits say a lot about how we, unconsciously, act and why it is so easy to criticize those who do not conform to our norms. It is also one of the most striking confrontations to one of our own strongest comfort zones. Stepping outside that zone requires openness and confidence.

    My conclusion is: Etiquette is nice but there is no right or wrong one; only the social context is determining.

    Anna Mindess
    • Thank you, Olivier, for your kind comment and wise words. I completely
    agree.

    As a sign language interpreter and intercultural educator for many
    years, I was shocked and dismayed to witness the lack of cultural
    awareness exhibited by many of the Americans I trained (e.g “I don’t
    have a culture, I’m just normal”). So I decided to branch out by
    writing about the interplay of food and culture, in an effort to
    educate Americans about the many facets of their own and other cultures
    with a non-threatening yet engaging subject matter.

    George Simons
    • Thanks for this Anna,

    This is the kind of illustrative work that we really need to give concrete information and tools to support our cultural work. I will add it to SIETAR list of useful videos

    In my Ohio, US American context, people were rather strict about knife and fork management. However, when it came to barbecues and other “finger lickin’ good events,” my mother would humorously remark, “Fingers were made before forks,” in order to give everyone of the guests permission to dig in.

    On the other hand, I was astounded on my 1st trip to Europe to watch people in a restaurant peeling an orange with knife and fork!

    It also it always tickles me to hear the mutual accusation between US American and Europeans around knife and fork habits.

    Americans would think the Europeans greedy because they cut things with a knife in the right hand and fork upturned in the left, and would simply continue to eat the cut pieces with their fork in the same position, keeping the knives in hand and ready to cut the next bite. The USian discourse was “Wow! they’re greedy–they don’t even have enough time to set the knife down and eat properly.”

    On the other hand the Europeans would observe the USians cutting up their pieces than setting down the knife and eating with their fork in the right-hand. Their discourse about this was “Wow! those Americans are greedy–they cut everything up and then just shovel it into their faces.”

    Go figure!

    As a sort of guest of honor at a dinner in the Emirates, I got the privilege of one-handedly opening the goats skull and enjoying the first taste of the brains. My hosts were fortunately culturally sensitive, and had a good time coaching me and cheering me on. The brains were tasty, by the way.

    I did get hungry watching the video, So, if any of you are in the neighborhood, I make a really mean lamb, prune, and almond tagine. In my house fingers, chopsticks, eating spoon, or fork, your choice. Bienvenue! Goes good with the local Cotes-de-Var vin rouge.

    Dianne Hofner Saphiere
    • You always make me smile, George. Greg and I were in the Amazon of Perú one time, eating at a jungle lodge, when the English woman sitting next to me, mouth open, chin on her chest, said to me, “You Americans really DO eat with your fork in your right hand! I would have never believed it!” She was so very aghast and disgusted as she said it that it was quite memorable. I felt utterly barbarian, lol.

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  4. Hi Diane,
    I’m reminded of my experience in India and my reluctance to get dahl all over my fingers. One of my hosts instructed me that each finger has a different taste and you really haven’t eaten unless you’ve also tasted each finger.

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