Abandoning a knife and fork while eating, and using your hands, is common across the world – with this global ritual having various meanings in different regions. Across the subcontinent of India, Veda scriptures from Hindu holy teaching suggest that the fingers are associated with the natural elements of space, air, fire, water and earth, and that each of these are evoked by touching food. This, in turn, grounds and settles the body – and the digestive system – in preparation for the meal.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East and parts of Africa, food is traditionally served in a large communal dish – from which everyone can enjoy as much as they want. The practice emphasises the importance of the communal or family experience around food, putting focus on mindful eating and the coming together of the community, however big or small, to eat.
On a practical level, it's thought in many cultures that by mixing and compiling of a mouthful of food by hand, you become more connected to the scent, texture and flavour of our food. Plus, using hands slows down the eating process, allowing the body more time for digestion and allowing us to be more mindful of when we are full.