Activist’s claim that teaching children not to eat with their hands is ‘dripping with the shame of colonisation’ is condemned by Tory MP

  • MP Lee Anderson said the claims made by chef Joshna Maharaj are ‘rubbish’ 
  • Ms Maharaj wrote ‘Why the way we teach table manners is actually kind of racist’
  • Her article has been shared online recently with people denouncing her claims 

A Tory MP has denounced an activist’s claim that teaching children not to eat with their hands is ‘dripping with the control and shame of colonisation’. 

Conservative MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire Lee Anderson has said the claims made by chef Joshna Maharaj are ‘more rubbish’ in a Facebook post on Monday. 

Ms Maharaj wrote an article with the headline ‘Why the way we teach kids table manners is actually kind of racist’ in July last year. 

She says children should be taught to eat with both utensils and their hands as well as being exposed to different cuisines early on.

Mr Anderson shared a screenshot of the article and posted it to his Facebook page with the comment: ‘When in Rome. Different countries and cultures may have different ways of eating food. Chopsticks, cutlery, fingers etc…

Conservative MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire Lee Anderson has said the claims made by chef Joshna Maharaj are ‘more rubbish’ in a Facebook post on Monday

Ms Maharaj wrote an article with the headline ‘Why the way we teach kids table manners is actually kind of racist’ in July last year

‘I taught my kids to use a knife and fork and not their fingers. Not once did I think of colonisation.

‘In the UK it is good manners to use a knife and fork at the table. More rubbish.’

Although Ms Maharaj’s article was written for Today’s Parent magazine last year it has recently been shared again across social media with many seeing red over her comments.   

The Toronto-based food writer and food activist explained how she believed people should rethink long-held notions of good table manners.

And she said that when she taught friends to eat with their hands in public, she could see how joyful it made them.

She said she was first taught how to eat with her hands using the Indian flatbread roti, before moving onto rice, but her parents also taught her how to use a knife and fork.

Mr Anderson shared a screenshot of the article and posted it to his Facebook page

She said: ‘Recently, I chatted with someone who told me a story about her young niece, who goes to a prestigious preschool and was eating rice with her hands at lunchtime.

‘The feedback her parents received was that this child needed to work on her table manners and use proper cutlery to eat.

‘I immediately felt a rush of anger bubble up inside me when I heard this.

‘The message that eating food with your hands is an unmannered way to eat is a real problem for me because it is dripping with the control and shame of colonisation, which is particularly dangerous in an educational context.

‘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.

‘These European table manners were imposed on conquered people in an attempt to ”civilise” them.

‘It’s a damaging message about right and wrong ways to do things.’ 

She went on: ‘Let me be clear here: I think it’s vitally important to teach children how to behave at a table.

Although Ms Maharaj’s article was written for Today’s Parent magazine last year it has recently been shared again across social media with many seeing red over her comments

‘But I think we need to revisit what we’re teaching and how we’re teaching it. Recognising diversity in cultural backgrounds and food traditions is essential*

‘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… The better message, I think, is that sometimes we eat with our hands and sometimes we eat with cutlery. 

Dozens of people have spoken out about the article on social media. 

Katie Badger said: ‘It is not considered unmannerly to eat with your fingers, it is the accepted way to eat oysters, chops, asparagus etc, if at an Indian restaurant it is the sensible thing to do to use your Indian bread to mop up all the lovely sauce, in a Chinese restaurant give the chopsticks a go but they will happily provide you with a spoon and fork and I am not quite sure how you would enjoy your Tom Yom soup without a spoon.

Dozens of people have spoken out about the article on social media

‘In Italy a spoon and fork for your pasta dish, it is not rocket science you use the best cutlery for the job or your fingers.’

Marian Appleton said: ‘Nothing colonial about using a knife and fork or a spoon.

‘That is the way we eat our food and have done for centuries. As other people have said on here, if you are eating Chinese or other food from another country, use the appropriate utensils or whatever you are happy with. It can be very unhygienic to use your fingers if they have not been washed.’

Mary Smithurst said: ‘I’m getting a bit sick of folks looking for offence in everything!

‘Racism is a very overused word. Racism, as I understand it, is the deliberate act of singling out a person or group, based on their ethnic characteristics, not how they eat their dinner!

‘That’s just a matter of differing manners. Surely, if you follow that argument, it is racist to complain about using a knife and fork.

‘There is racism against all groups, but if you are white and living in a western society, no one cares that you are discriminated against.’ 

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