Different cultures have different table manners and eat their food differently. Travel or go to an (authentic) restaurant from another culture and you will notice this right away. In 2019, this woman was angered when her friend’s daughter’s teachers said she needed to improve her table manners after eating rice with her hands at school. According to them, knives and forks are the only appropriate way to eat. The woman says their comments are subtly racists. (1)
Woman Says Requiring Knives And Forks Is Subtly Racist
Joshna Maharaj says that saying that using knives and forks is the only “well mannered” way of eating is, inherently, racist. She explains this is because of the idea that these western utensils are the only polite ones to use harks back to the days of colonization. During this era, white European culture attempted to “civilize” how other cultures ate. One day, her friend’s daughter got in trouble for eating rice with her hands at school. The teachers sent a note home saying she needed to work on her table manners.
“ Suggesting that a child who eats with her hands has no manners is an echo of European colonial powers looking to tame the wildness out of the people they controlled,” she explained. “These European table manners were imposed on conquered people in an attempt to “civilize” them. It’s a damaging message about right and wrong ways to do things. It positions the technique as superior and the people who practise it as setters of the standard, leaving those with a different approach to eating with a status of inferiority. The idea of a single standard of acceptable table manners is just one of a host of strategies used to grow and promote racism. It’s a subtle message but one that is reinforced three times a day, every day, which makes it quite powerful.”
Not Everyone Eats With Knives And Forks
Cultural differences are not just noticeable in the types of foods different people eat, but also in how they eat them. Maharaj says she grew up her whole life knowing that different foods were eaten differently. She learned from her parents how to eat using roti as her “utensil” in a clean, tidy manner when eating Indian food. However, her father was very clear that this method was only for Indian food. Other people taught her how to eat certain rice dishes with her hands as they were meant to be. She learned to use chopsticks for things like noodles and sushi. Meanwhile, she learned that forks and knives are the only proper way to eat a turkey dinner.
Her parents still taught her proper table manners, regardless of what food was being eaten or how. She learned early there was to be no horsing around at the table. She learned to be quiet, make conversation, and eat in a way that was neat and tidy.
Recognizing Cultural Diversity When Teaching Table Manners Is Crucial
Teaching children that the only proper and “civilized” way to eat is with a fork and knife teaches cultural prejudice. It teaches children from cultures who use forks and knives regularly that those who don’t are uncivilized and lesser-than. Simultaneously, it discriminates against children who are a part of cultures who eat differently than the “colonial” method.
“Recognizing diversity in cultural backgrounds and food traditions is essential, especially in a country as multicultural as Canada. We shouldn’t be teaching kids that they’re not supposed to eat with their hands at all or that eating with cutlery is a more refined or sophisticated way to eat. Different people eat their food in different ways.” said Maharaj. “There is a very mannered way to eat with your hands, and there are more than a billion people around the world who eat this way.”
In conclusion, we all need to teach our children that there are different ways to eat different foods. There is not a right way or a wrong way, just different methods for different cultures and various reasons. Expose your kids early to different culture’s foods and normalize these different methods. The world will be better off because of it.