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Left Handed Eating

Using cutlery for eating is an area that causes a lot of confusion and inconsistency for both left- and right-handers:

Right-handers– traditionally eat with a knife and fork using the knife in their right and fork in the left, so they actually feed themselves with their left hand. (in America, some people change fork hand as they go along, cutting with their right then switching the fork into the right to lift the food to their mouth).
When they are using just a spoon, e.g. for eating soup, they change over and use it in their right hand, feeding themselves with that right hand.
When they are using just a knife, e.g. for cutting bread, they are consistent and keep it in their right hand.

Left-handers – we know from our own surveys that 74% of left-handers eat with a knife and fork in the “right-handed” way – with the fork in their left hand and feeding themselves with the left hand.
When they are using just a spoon, 95% use it in their LEFT hand for that as well, so we continue FEEDING ourselves with our dominant left hand.
When left-handers are using just a knife, e.g. for cutting bread, 88% move it into their left hand.

Eating left handedHow does this happen?

It makes sense to use your dominant hand, the one that gives you most control, for delicate and complicated tasks, like cutting something with a knife. When the knife is used on its own, like cutting bread, this all works as expected with left-handers using the bread knife ion their dominant left and right-handers using the right.

But when we complicate it by using a second tool, like a fork, it all gets inconsistent! Right-handers think the knife is the most important tool and keep it in their right hand, while left-handers switch the knife to their right and think that the feeding tool, the fork, is the more important and deserves the use of their dominant hand.

How do we choose which way round to eat?

Is there some inbuilt preference for eating, like writing, or do we learn it from our parents? is the high percentage of left-handers who eat “right-handed” because they just copy their parents? (around 75% of left-handers have two right-handed parents and only 2% have two left-handed parents).

Left handed spoonOur own experience would strongly say no! Keith and Lauren are both left-handed but eat “right-handed” and their son Tom is the same. So when daughter katie came along and turned out to be RIGHT-handed despite all the family genetics and influence, which way would she eat? Would she do what is natural for a right-hander AND the same as the rest of the family? NO! – she has always eaten LEFT-HANDED.

So we really don't know the cause of eating choices and it does seem to be completely inconsistent overall, though very strongly embedded in each individual, seemingly just as much as writing. We have had some email correspondence recently with LHC member Catherine that makes this very clear:

Catherine originally posted a comment on our website saying:
“My son (nearly 8), is mostly right-handed, but eats with his knife and fork the left-handed way. I have recently found out that they are forcing him to eat the ‘correct’ way at school meal times. I was shocked and outraged, but they claim that it is for his own good…. Do you have any evidence of this being harmful to a child (in the same way that forcing a change in writing handedness can be)? He complains of tiredness and headaches, and has started developing a stammer and tics. He is also highly uncoordinated and regularly spills food down clothes when eating this way. I want to force the school to stop, so need some supporting evidence. Please help!”

Keith replied:
The symptoms you mention ARE similar to those that can arise from changing writing hand and while I have not seen any research or evidence about changing eating hands I guess it comes to the same thing. It may also just be that he is stressed from being pressurised by his teachers and that is causing the problems rather than anything to do with brain function”. I would definitely advise letting him eat whichever way seems natural to him. It will be very interesting to see if his symptoms go away when he is allowed to go back to eating his natural way.

and we recently received a wonderful follow-up from Catherine:
Thank you so much for emailing me. Since all this happened, we have told our son to eat with whichever hand he feels most comfortable holding his fork in, and his tics / stammer have all but gone. He is calm and unstressed now. However, the school are not happy about this and claim that eating with your cutlery the ‘right way round' is part of their social development programme. We are actively trying to dispute this and any thoughts you have about this or any research or supporting evidence would be most welcome.

We would be very interested in your experience of changing eating hands and any effect it had so please add your comments below.

Update

We wrote an article about eating left-handed recently and included a comment from one of of our readers who was battling her son's school because they were forcing him to change hands and eat right-handed. We had a lot of feedback on the story and it has now been picked up by the national press with an article in the Daily Mail online version here.

A complaint was lodged after an angry parent said staff at Kersey Primary School near Ipswich, Suffolk made his two left-handed children switch their knives and forks to eat in the standard right-handed manner, with the knife in their right hand and fork in their left. Teachers told him that swapping the cutlery helped ‘improve dexterity' and was part of a child's ‘personal, social and health education'. [really??!]

Left handed cutlery layoutDoes changing to eat right handed REALLY improve dexterity?
Well… in a strict sense it might, because “dexterity” actually means
effective use of the right hand! (dexter being “right” in Latin)

The school has admitted encouraging pupils to eat in a ‘conventional manner', but denied putting pressure on the children to eat right-handed. An independent inspector has looked into the complaint and found that the school was doing nothing wrong, but the father has now lodged an appeal against that decision and asked the school's governors to look into it further.

The father said he was being supported by fellow parents at the school and we at the Left Handers Club think it is entirely wrong to force a child to change their normal way of eating. If you agree, please add a comment below.

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385 comments on “Left Handed Eating
  1. Tuti says:

    Myself and my sister are both right handed… She and I eat left handed (fork in my right hand. Just feels more comfortable. In a resturant the first thing i do is switch the cutlery around; it’s just how i eat.

  2. Ken Johnson says:

    True. However some “ergonomic” right handed mice are painful to use left handed because you have to contort your hand into a bizarre position if you want to hold it in your left hand. If your mouse is symmetrical then you can use it in either hand and you can configure it from your operating system.

  3. Gillian Bergh says:

    The only thing my parents expected me to do right-handed, was eating, but if only using one piece of cutlery, I use it in my left hand. When I became a mother, I decided to let my daughter choose. Like me, she’s left-handed, but always holds her fork in her left hand, and knife in her right. So does her paternal uncle, a born left-hander, who was not told to eat the ‘right’ way. Two of my daughter’s friends, who are natural right-handers, hold their cutlery the opposite way, and say it feels more natural.

  4. Adele says:

    Left handed people have had to adapt to the right handed world for centuries. Being left handed myself, I know this first hand. Being left handed is not something we as babies decide to become. It is something that NATURALLY occurs. If it bothers these people so badly that they have to raise a stink as to which hand should hold what utensil, then maybe they should not be in the occupation they are in. Something as minial as eating utensils, PLEASE! They should be more concerned with reading & writing aspects, not how one eats.

  5. MK Hogan says:

    You don’t necessarily need a left-handed mouse for your computer. I believe in most computers you can go into your settings and simply switch the mouse configuration to be left handed and it will switch the functions of the buttons so that you can use your current mouse with your left hand. Hope that helps some people!

  6. Reb says:

    Red flags occur when I read this article for a two reasons. One, I am left handed (left bodied I say) and understand the struggle of being ‘forced’ to use a hand that seems foreign. This is especially so when one is most comfortable and then being told to change. I remember my own experience in school of the attempts to be changed from left to right hand for writing. It didn’t make sense to me when I could write perfectly fine with my left hand. I mean common sense. Two, I am an educator and am disheartened to say, there are still parents and teachers that continue to encourage the use of the right hand over the left. This is always alarming for me. Unless one has experienced this situation, you have know idea how confusing it is for the lefthander. The damage as seen it the article can go deep. As a lefthander growing up I was always awkward in sports (I throw and catch with the same hand in baseball.), knitting, playing guitar and so on… Only now almost fifty years later do I realize why. It wasn’t anything to do with me really. The world wasn’t set up for me. In the pastI have stapled hands out for staff left handedly, and the staff get quite annoyed, some to the point of restapling. I have been told I stapled the booklet wrong. This is with one little booklet – imagine if it was their entire world that was set up differently, not righthanded – wrong. Lefthandedness does have its challenges but I am learning that it also has great benefits.

  7. Rich says:

    I have always used a fork in my left hand and knife in my right. I was not pressured to switch while growing up. Two out of four children are left handed in my family.
    While working and attending school a majority of desks and various objects are designed for right handed people. I understand that this helps the schools and companies because a majority of people are right handed.
    My sister and I have learned to be more ambidextrous with our lives. I have noticed that right handed people are not able to adapt as well.
    I have always found it interesting watching people and how they approach situations.

  8. Sandy says:

    Time to pull the children out of that awful school and teach them at home. The only thing which gets the attention of any calcified institution is being shaken to the bones. Significant loss of revenue is likely to get the school’s attention. Let the school decide between its tyrannical “social graces” training and its continued existence.

  9. Michael says:

    I believe that this should no longer be an issue in our modern world. Holding cutlery “just so” is a cultural/traditional obligation. That being said, I would like to go further and say that there are some customs/traditions that serve no purpose. Anyone that would get upset over how someone holds a fork and knife is a frivolous individual, to say the least. With tiny matters such as this, we really should practice the principle of “live and let live.” Impertinent formalities are a useless strain on society and should simply be abolished (with the exception of cultural events and reenactments [essentially, for fun]).

    Michael (from “the States”)

  10. Mari Bowen says:

    I am so cross reading about what this poor child has experienced at the hands of draconian teachers! Are we living in 2014 or 1604 for heavens sake? I am a very proud left-handed teacher who eats in the correct way for her, the left handed way. To say this in unconventional is pure ignorance and snobbery. I had my hand tied behind my back as an 11 year old to encourage me to write ‘correctly’. That was in 1979. Why on earth is this still happening today?

  11. Sandra says:

    I m lefthanded use my fork in left hand hubby lefthanded uses his fork in left hand daughter right handed use fork in right hand

  12. Row says:

    I can’t believe in the 21st century we are still arguing this! As a child of the 80s the only issue I had being in a right handed world was eating. I remember being in tears at the dinner table with my father trying to force me to eat right handed (knife in the right hand)- I am the only leftie in my immediate family. Eventually he gave up and I was able to eat normally (for me)! I do still have a habit though of purposely setting a table ‘my way’ figuring the righties can change for once!

    How ridiculous, surely the child should be able to eat however they need too. On an entirely separate note, I do like that the school eat at a table with cutlery – not something we do here in Aus, but we do have a very different lunch with students all bringing their own.

  13. Julie Mitchell says:

    I was quite cross when I read Annie’s comments regarding making leftie children use their cutlery the “right handed”way. I do hope she is in the minority of right handers with her diatrIbe. She thinks is will be a challenge for lefties to eat this way, the poor woman has no idea of the difficulties faced by us lefties in a right handed world. If a leftie wants to eat the right handed way far enough but to be forced to eat that way is wrong. I eat the right handed way but with just a fork or spoon it is in my left, I can’t remember being forced to change my preference at school and certainly not by my parents, I think I must have just got on with it and have eaten this way ever since. I only use kitchen knives in my left hand as I’m hopeless with those in my right. I am quite ambidextrous as I can throw with both hands well, use bats ( except for cricket) in both hands well and can kick a ball with both feet well. I can use scissors in both hands well, I’m 44 and there wasn’t left handed scissors available to me as a child. Just a thought – we ought to challenge Annie to use only her left hand for a week and see what the outcome of that is, it might make her more understanding of left handers, although I do doubt it.

  14. Samantha Eagleton says:

    I hate that I eat right handed! was taught to do so at a young age and have tried in vain to eat as I should but its one thing I cant do!

  15. Geoffrey says:

    I think i must be at least partially ambidextrous, at 70 plus i find it difficult to use equipment designed for us SINISTER people, at school i was made to try and write right handed until i broke my right arm, on return to school in a plaster cast these attempts were abandoned, much to my relief.

  16. Jan says:

    I am a lefty. When eating, I use my left hand for knife, spoon and fork. I am predominantly left sided, including my feet. When working, I used my left foot for the foot pedal, so therefore it was backwards for me. To fast forward I had to use the opposite side of the pedal. I hardly use my right hand for anything. Eating is not the only situation for lefties. I went into Staples and asked them if they had a computer mouse for left-handed people and was told they don’t make them.

    Here is a kind of funny situation – My grandson got a new laptop and brought it over to me to set up. Without thinking right or left, I accidentally set it up for a left-handed person!! He brought it back, thinking something was wrong! I took it over to the guy that works on mine and after a few minutes he figured out what I did. Boy did I feel silly. I know he is right handed!!

    • Alan says:

      It is possible to get hold of left handed mice. Your man in Staples was wrong! However, I’ve only seen gaming mice, so they tend to be rather expensive.

      Most mice are ambidextrous these days anyway. They work perfectly well in the left hand, as the name suggests. I’m awkward, and switch which hands I’m using as I go along, so I have to have an ambi mouse. 🙂

  17. David Ehrlich says:

    Fork on the left, knife on the right is perfect for me: as a strong left-hander, I eat with (and keep the fork in) my left hand. I relegate my gauche (right) hand to the typically dull and imprecise table-knife. That way I don’t have to change hands when eating as less adept right-handers must. However, when using a sharp knife for precise cutting or food preparation, I use the knife in my dexterous (left) hand. (My right hand, being gauche, occasionally suffers a cut.)

  18. Helena Petre says:

    I’m a leftie and undiagnosed dyspraxic (that is, various co ordination and organisation problems, main one being that I am unable to drive a car after hundreds of lessons). I eat ‘right handed’ and find the fork the more important implement. My parents are both right handed. When I was about six or seven and learning to spread bread and butter with a knife, my mother insisted that I should do it with my right hand. I found this very hard and was slow, never making progress. When I was nine and went to boarding school, my table captain took pity on me and advised me to use my left hand for this task. I’ve never looked back! Incidentally, my partner, who is right handed, has (undiagnosed)) Asperger’s syndrome When we are at home, he eats most meals with a fork in his left hand and a dessert spoon, rather than a knife, in his right. He doesn’t find much use for a knife with an ordinary main course (though we don’t eat meat often). He eats right handed with a knife and fork when we’re out.

  19. Loretta says:

    I entirely agree that we should let kids have their normal way of eating. Kids should not be forced to change from normal way to follow the majority of society which is mostly right handed.

  20. George E. Culley says:

    I was born in 1953. 61 years old still with problems at school i regularly had my fork and knife taped to the right handed way, every day till i learnt. It did “STICK IN ” but i carried on everything else left handed. A Leftie does have an odder life ahead.
    I played Football left footed
    Walking left foot forward
    But when i reel its right handed and hold rod in right hand if freshwater fishing ,but its odd a right handed person if sea fishing with a multiplier reel will use the right hand for reeling and the left hand holding the rod ! i do to , perhaps its because the right handed gear is what my dad made me use , so again over time its stuck in.
    I play Cards held right handed , my brother who is solid left handed holds cards the wrong way up.
    Scissors , must have left handed or i over or under cut , i cannot do a circle cut out neatly
    Writing with felt pen or ink pen , a total smudged effort, alwas has been
    Knives , what a pain , meat end up thin bit at top and a wedge at bottom
    Bread , again same nightmare.
    Ruler , i prefer left handed rulers.
    Reading , i am sure books and newspapers are all wrong.
    IPAD , sweep to the right , as you have to.
    Samsung Phone , sweep up , a great help
    Accounts books , wrong way round.
    Pill boxes wrong way round , i always tighten , same with lids on drink
    Turnstiles : why can i not go in the other way round ?
    Toilet reels , always on wrong wall
    Hot and cold taps , no uniformity
    printed cups, wrong way round or handle is !
    laptop, latch wrong way round
    pencil sharpener , totally wrong way round , always do it wrong
    Fish knives , i am sure are the wrong way round.
    Fridge doors , i want to open it opposite to my right handed wife, so the door opens to the right in her favour!i find myself leaning around the door to get a beer!
    similar , she like the toaster against a right handed wall, i find that a nightmare i am in the way to use left hand , same as the microwave the door opens to the left , its a nightmare to use!
    Ice cream and sweets wrapped the wrong way round!
    Even up wrapping a takeaway wrapped by a right handed person , its the wrong way round!
    desks , i hate siting at a right handed desk with a wall on left hand side up to desk, it feels claustraphobic.
    Shirts , buttons were they designed by an idiot?
    tins, i need to get a left handed tin opener to try , i wreck a tin regularly with a standard tin opener.
    Sausages i am sure when i cut them i always undo the twist !
    i am still finding problems at 61 but at least we drive on the left!

  21. Barbara says:

    I too had to contend with teachers who tried to make me change from my left hand to my right hand, but in my case, it was in writing. I refused to do it and was labeled obstinate but I won. The most difficult time I had was using right-handed desks where I had to twist in order to be able to use the writing space. I was often asked if I was trying to copy from another students paper and was moved so that I was facing the wall where I still twisted into the same position. I understand why many other lefthanders write “upside down”. It is because of those stupid desks.

    I am also ambidextrous although not so much now as I was as a youth. I use both hands equally well when eating and using utensils. I used to write with both hands backwards so it could be seen in a mirror. Can’t do that anymore. Takes too much concentration.

    My advice to those young parents with young children. DO NOT let anyone change your kids EVER. Fight with all that is within you for your children. Let them be the way they are. They do not need to be ‘corrected’ or made ‘normal’. These so-called teachers need to see the light about us lefties. We are the normal ones.

  22. David Sims says:

    I am just reading the May Newsletter and picked up this interesting topic. My comments have probably been aired in several different ways within all the earlier comments so my experience may well not be unique.
    I ‘suffered’ being forced to write with my right hand when i was in Infant school and my writing was atrocious. But at that early age I thought up the ruse of of being “puzzled” over what I was trying to do, and was always in a ‘paused’ position, pencil in my right had as the Teacher came down the isle between the desks, and as soon as she had gone further away I would switch back and write with my left hand. My Mother spoke to someone in the School because the pressuring ceased.
    As far as eating is concerned, most people know I am left-handed and I ‘chide’ them for feeding themselves the wrong way round as they are right handed. I tell them that I feed myself correctly for a left-hander by using my left hand to put food into my mouth, so why do they have to be so shallow and just ‘copy’ me and not be their own person? Most of them have never considered the matter from that point of view before.
    I saw something in my local restaurant last week which I had never seen before. A girl a few tables away used her left hand to drink her soup but when the main course arrived she cut the food with her knife in her left hand but used her right to put the food in her mouth. She obviously had more control over her knife with her left hand, but not for manipulating the food once it was on the fork. Very interesting.
    No one else in my family was left-handed. My Parents and two sisters were/are all right-handed. However, my wife, right handed, and i have twin girls and one is left- and the other is right-handed. Funny old world we live in!
    Regards,
    David

  23. Sam says:

    I lived in a household of all right handed people. At primary school in the 70’s they tried to make me eat right handed but I eat left handed naturally… Trying to make me eat right handed was frustrating as I couldn’t do it. Trying to eat right handed in public ended up with me sharing my dinner with the floor. I either had to take a left handed knife with me (which I have owned for over 20 years and got from any thing left handed when you were based in the tiny shop in London) or more embarrassingly my mum had to cut up my meat.. Whichever way a child decides to eat as long as they have table manners what does it matter..

  24. Dave says:

    I agree. It is entirely wrong. I am left-handed (surprise, surprise) but hold my knife and fork in the ‘conventional manner’ (that is right handed) and would feel awkward (physically, not emotionally) doing it any other way. But that’s just me, copying the people around me who are predominantly right-handed. But if a left handed person feels-easier swapping the knife and fork over, then nobody should interfere. (The same applies to right-handers eating the ‘unconventional’ way). We have so few freedoms these days; please, leave us something.

  25. Jacqueline Winklebleck says:

    I agree with Annie. It really makes no difference to a child. Growing up in a house hold of all right handers (My Mother & Father, 3 brothers and 1 sister), I never had a problem having my fork on the left hand side. In fact, I loved having it on the left hand side. It seemed to be the only thing in my world easily accessible to me. Keep them where they are! We are lefties, not incompetent!

  26. Phyl says:

    i agree with Annie. I’ve always eaten ‘right – handed’ although I’m left handed in other situations. nobody forced me to, it just happened naturally. I do get confused, though when using a desert spoon with a desert fork; I usually swap over at least once when eating pudding [ we just had spoons when I was a kid]. looking a the strange contortions my right-handed grandchildren go through when eating [they’re all adults], I’m glad that in this respect anyway, I’m ‘conventional’.

  27. April Luescher says:

    Interesting discussion. My 8 year old son is a leftie. He uses his fork in his left, his spoon in his left (for yoghurt etc), but when chopping veggies for his guinea pigs he uses his right hand (making him one of the 12%)! He recently broke his elbow (left arm!) in a PE lesson at school, and we discovered that he was actually also able to write very clearly and legibly with his right hand (earned himself a Headteacher’s Award!) He also plays violin – holding the violin in his left, bowing with his right – and guitar (holds the neck of the instrument in his left, strums with his right). I read him the email exchange above, and his response was “the world isn’t just for right handed people!”

  28. KeithD says:

    I eat the way that feels most comfortable to me. I honestly don’t care about being proper nor anything else that society feels I should be doing differently just because I am left handed. It is hard enough living in a world designed to cater to the right handed people. If I we use our forks or spoons in our left hand to eat, what harm is it doing to anyone else? Just leave us alone and let us eat in peace in a manner that is at least comfortable.

    I have to make concessions already when determining where to sit at the table so I don’t constantly bump elbows with others. My consideration for that should be more than adequate for you to leave me alone and let me use my left hand to eat.

  29. Mike M says:

    If this forced switching is to improve the child’s dexterity then I would expect the “righties” in the school to be eating with the fork in the right hand to improve their dexterity, wouldn’t you?

  30. Liz says:

    I suppose forcing a child to use their knife and fork the conventional way is bound to have an effect on dexterity, since dexter is the Latin word for right! Are the right handed majority at the school ‘challenged’ to eat the left handed way in the name of ‘personal, social and health education’? When you consider that many children start school unable to use a knife and fork at all, it seems like nit-picking to focus on the orientation of the implements. Much better to have a civilised mealtime where children don’t have their hands in their dinner!

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