Finger Food: Pretty Much Everything

Melina Shannon-DiPietro's charming post reminds me of how thoroughly I've changed my habits since reading Walter Hoving's Tiffany's Table Manners For Teenagers, which I found at my uncle and aunt's house at a tender (pre-bar mitzvah) age and which made such an indelible impression that I have given it to many children and a good number of adults too.

Then I fell into the wrong crowd. I started hanging with people who toss salad with their hands--only. Then eat it with their hands too. And why stop at salad? Vegetables, anything not with a messy sauce--Hoving illustrated a teenager holding an asparagus spear with her fingers (one of the only foods freely, unrestrictedly allowed to be eaten with her fingers), and what's wrong with broccoli too?

A lot, I found out when I was having a family meal at my parent's house in Connecticut with my brother and his then-teenaged children. Throughout Friday night dinner, the formal occasion of the week, I ate the broccoli my stepmother had made with my fingers--and without thinking.

Until the next morning, when my brother and I were having a frank and useful exchange, something we were of course seldom known to do (we shared a room growing up) but happened to be doing then, reason long forgotten. "I'll do that," he said, agreeing to whatever let's-do-this-better-in-the-future request, "if you'll promise never to eat with your fingers in front of my children again. Do you know what kind of example you're setting?"

"I'm sorry," I said. "I've fallen into the wrong crowd. Food people eat with their fingers."

Thus it was and thus it will ever be--except when I try, laboriously, to mind my manners. But now we have Melina, backed by Alice Waters no less (and unsurprisingly) to point to, not just Walter Hoving and a few lovely spears of asparagus.