The other day I observed my 3 year old son eating “non-conventional” food with his hands. I believe it was rice and beans to be exact. “Use your fork!” was at the tip of my tongue but then I refrained myself from speaking as I remembered a statement I had recently heard: "Food just tastes better when eaten with your hands."
I was frozen in a state of personal conflict. Culturally, in the Western world, using silverware isn’t just a norm. Not using utensils can be viewed as barbaric and sloppy. I could just hear the murmurs, “Doesn’t that mom teach her kids any manners at home?” This 5 second moment of hesitation led me to choose silence. I let my son continue his journey through food. He knows it tastes better and doesn’t care what others think, so why should I?
And, what about the massive mess that my toddler will create by choosing to use his hands to eat? I believe it's worth it when the alternative is molding him to fit within a Western way of doing things. I am not saying I am opposed to manners, but who defines manners is the question at hand.
I was fortunate to have spent a significant amount of time through my Masters and Doctorate studies learning about and experiencing different cultures across the globe. I believe I am a better person because of these interactions. I understand that just because my culture does things one way doesn’t mean it is the right way. As a matter of fact, while traveling through India, I didn’t use a utensil at all since Naan bread is the common way for sopping up spicy curries. Ethiopian's use sponge bread to eat stewed meets and veggies, and Mexican tortillas (my favorite) can contain EVERYTHING!!
What I found out about the historical use of utensils is quite interesting and challenges the way of eating many of us grew up with. The taste of food is actually altered in different ways depending on what cutlery one is using. In addition, using your fingers to eat has been shown to improve digestion, heighten awareness and engage all senses. One source explains using your hands like this:
"Feeling your food is like a heads-up to your stomach signaling 'incoming!'. Your hands become an extension of the digestive system. Millions of nerve endings in your fingers relay the message that you’re about to eat, including the temperature of the food, level of spiciness, etc. to prep the stomach for digestion. Handling the food with your fingers releases digestive juices and enzymes." (theprimalist.com)
My favorite explanation however was of a story between a mom and her son explaining the fact that many Indian parents like to feed their kids with their hands:
“My mom once explained to my teenage self that the secret was biochemical: The subtle oils of her fingers imparted some sort of alchemy to the little sphere — a pheromonal cocktail, I suppose — that would only fully blossom in the mouth of her offspring. Others would just call it maternal love.” (www.npr.org*)
I am so relieved to know that you don’t need to have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth** to taste food at its best. You just need the ten fingers and two hands God has created each and every person with to get the most out of the sweet or savory or spiciness of the food you eat. I pray that God grants me the wisdom to raise my kids in a way that demonstrates the beauty found in so many cultures, and that our choices would encourage curiosity and excitement for people from all corners of the globe.
Lets choose curiosity over convenience, just like I chose the broom over a fork. Nothing about the life of Jesus encouraged convenience; maybe because He knew we would miss the best the world has to offer if we did so. Convenience hides behind comfort, while curiosity takes courage.
Speaking of meal time routines, during my research I discovered the wide array of ways people around the globe are saying grace or giving thanks before a meal. I think I am going to teach my sons a common prayer said in Latin America:
To those who have hunger
And to those who have bread
Give the hunger for justice.
Life is richer with global influence, and your taste buds will thank you too!
If you’re not familiar, mezze is basically small plates for sharing. “To me, mezze is the most disarming, unpretentious, and intimate meal. It is designed for long visits; lots of laughter; and the deepest of conversations with friends and loved ones.” (www.themediterraneandish.com)
• 2 baby eggplants, sliced lengthwise (1/2″ or so in width)
• Olive oil
• Traditional Creamy Hummus or 10-oz tub store-bought like Sabra Classic Hummus
• Homemade Roasted Red Pepper Hummus or store-bought like Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
• 1/2 bell pepper, any color, cored
• Homemade Greek Tzatziki or store-bought like Sabra Greek Yogurt Dip
• 6 Campari tomatoes, quartered
• 6 Persian (baby) cucumbers, sliced into spears
• Pitted Kalamata olives
• 1 15-oz can good quality marinated artichoke hearts
• 6 oz Greek feta cheese, cubed (not crumbled)
• 6 oz baby mozzarella cheese balls
• 3 oz prosciutto di parma
• 6 California fresh figs, halved (substituent: seedless grapes)
• 1 tsp sumac
• Pita bread or your choice of rustic European bread for serving
1 Place the eggplant slices on some paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Let the eggplants “sweat out” any bitterness for 20 minutes or so. Pat dry.
2 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the eggplant slices on a lightly oiled baking pan, drizzle generously with olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes.
3 Meanwhile, assemble the remaining ingredients on a large serving platters. Begin with the two hummus spreads on opposite sides. Place Tzatziki sauce in the cored bell pepper right at the center of the platter. Assemble the remaining ingredients on the platter to your liking. When the eggplant is roasted to a nice medium-brown, remove it from the oven and sprinkle with 1 tsp of sumac. Add the roasted eggplant to the platter.
4 You can cover and refrigerate this mezze party platter; take it out a few minutes before your guests arrive. Enjoy with warm pita and crostini or your choice of crackers!