Anything Left-Handed > Blog Posts > Left handed life > Left Handed Eating

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. Al Parker says:

    We went to a restaurant in the 1970’s, and during conversation, found out that both owners and over 50% of staff were lefthanded, so we reversed every table setting in the restaurant and, with cooperation of owners, made all customers eat lefthanded. Much fun.

  2. Karen says:

    I say let people kids or adults eat however they are most comfortable.
    Be happy they know how to use a knife and fork period.

    Being left handed myself and one that likes to entertain My biggest issue is setting the table… I never remeber which side what is meant to go in sooooo.I set it how I eat then go around and switch the knives and forks so everyone else is happy….

  3. Duncan says:

    I’m confused! Perhaps it is because the culture is different here in America, but are you saying the children in the situation above in England Want to eat with their fork in their right hand and their knife in their left hand? That seems so opposite to me! As a leftie I have always used my fork in my left hand and my knife in my right hand. It seems the more natural way for a leftie. To want to do the opposite seems more of a cultural thing than a handedness issue? Anyway, I ended up totally confused by this issue as the whole thing seems backwards (leftwards? lol) to me as a leftie.

    Duncan

    • David Ehrlich says:

      I’m the same way Duncan. Possibly because I’m also American. But, when buttering bread or carving a roast, I will use the knife in my left hand, and fork if any in my right hand.

  4. Elaine says:

    When at school I was sat in the corner for writing initially but having grown up in a predominately right handed household I eat with fork in my left hand and knife in my right. But my 9 yr old son who is right handed eats with fork in his right hand and knife in his left. Yes it looks a little strange but surely as long as cutlery is bring used effectively and the food is making it into mouths and not down clothes why should it matter which way round the implements are?

  5. Jim says:

    I was taught to eat the right handed way – knife in the right hand fork in the left. This then does mean that I cant handle situations involving spoon and fork together – as they would both be used in my left hand, so I see no problem with allowing children to learn to eat with the knife in the left hand, surely in these days of equality, it is down to individual preference rather than the “formal way”

  6. Paul Miles says:

    Hi Carol, Thank you for your comments and, yes, I totally agree with you in your bafflement at some lefties who say that the discrimination against lefties is OK, and that some other lefties are over-reacting. It is only when you are a victim of such discrimination and/or witness the psychological harm that such an intolerant attitude can cause, that you realise it is NOT OK – in fact, far from it. But the effect of the an intolerant ‘right is right’ outlook can be insidious and demeaning, and should be challenged whenever encountered. Although we may not agree with their politics, David Cameron and Barack Obama have achieved much in their leadership positions – would t)hey have risen to such heights if they had had to combat prejudice against lefties in their early lives???

  7. Carol says:

    I have been following this thread since the beginning. As I said In previous comments I am shocked and dismayed that such attitudes can still be found in uk schools in the 21 st century and apparently from comments through society in general. However I simply have to say that on reading the comments I am even more shocked and dismayed that amongst them are comments from some who are lefthanded themselves saying people are overreacting or agreeing it is a good idea and supporting it!!!!!! I am utterly baffled ! Even if they are ‘fine’ they are showing a serious lack of understanding the deeper issues and the principles involved here.Very very avery sad indeed!!

  8. Liz Haslam says:

    Thought we had got past this nonsense in the 50’s and 60’s! I was at school in that era and have memories of having to stand on a chair with my hands on my head until I promised to be right -handed. I developed a stammer and became school phobic. As a retired teacher, if I was the parent, I would go for the jugular. How dare schools decide, in their ignorance, what is correct from their point of view!!!!

  9. CJ says:

    I’m right handed but have always eaten the left handed way. I was never encouraged to eat the “correct” way at school or home. My Grandma tried it once at Christmas when I was very young and I couldn’t eat my food!
    Whenever anybody does notice(which isn’t often) they assume I’ve picked it up from my mother as she is left handed, but, she eats the right handed way.
    As long as you are eating nicely who cares which hand you’re using your knife and fork in.

  10. Annie says:

    I don’t agree, does that mean I can’t put my opinion here.
    What a load of rubbish. Traditionally the table is laid fork left, knife right, if you want your child to be singled out then you are on the right track. Any formal meal, even in ordinary restaurants this is how the place setting is laid. Changing this will not change your child just challenge them, like life it’s self will do making them stronger. At least the school is not making them change there dominent hand to write, now there’s a problem you could worry about.

    • Ken Johnson says:

      The problem is that the natural movements of the left and right hand are different. If I hold the knife in my right hand and the fork in my left hand, then I find that I’m trying to tear the food apart with the fork while holding it still with the knife. Leaving the cutlery as laid and then swapping the knife and fork over when I pick them up has never caused me any problems.

      • Charley D says:

        I got it wrong , I agree 100% with Ken Johnson and disagree with Annie ..

      • Ed says:

        As a lefty who eats the conventional way, I don’t think it was a problem for me; I think most lefties are fairly ambidextrous and as both hands are involved, no big deal.
        If your parents let you eat the other way, I don’t think you need re-educating. Living in the states, just using a knife properly is a big deal; who cares which hand it’s in!
        Annie, chill out; all opinions are welcome.

  11. Ken Johnson says:

    Incidentally, remember that some pieces of cutlery are not symmetrical. You can get left handed fish knives – they don’t spin around when you try to cut the fish – and left handed gateau forks, which have the widest tine downwards when you hold the fork in your left hand.

  12. MK says:

    By the way – I’m the only lefty in my immediate 3 person family but I set the entire table to be left sided; utensils, napkins, and glasses on the left side. I have to live in a right handed world everywhere else so I don’t feel bad at all making my home as left sided as I want it to be. They hardly notice it and just go along with it. I don’t think lefties should ever feel like they do things backwards and they should just do what’s natural all the time and righties can deal with it. We sure tolerate righties doing that everywhere. Besides, it will “improve their dexterity!”. ;o)

  13. MK says:

    I’ve always switched my knife to my left hand to cut because I find I need to be more comfortable with the motor skills that do the sawing motion to cut food. Since the other hand only lifts the food to the mouth, it’s easier to do that with my right hand than cut with my right hand. So I do switch them. One way to make it most comfy is to cut your entire piece of food up with your left hand using the knife, then put the fork back into your left hand to eat it all! Then you’re not awkwardly doing either function the entire time you’re eating your meal. Now I will cut my entire steak or chicken breast up into pieces first and comfortably eat my meal with my left hand.

    And if that school is forcing kids to switch their utensils to improve dexterity, I would tell them that I assume they must doing the same thing with right handed kids as well then who would learn the same dexterity the other way around – Just leave them alone and let them eat how they’re comfortable, as well as write and anything else that their fellow righty classmates might be doing ‘backwards’ :o) It’s already hard enough for us to navigate a right handed world.

  14. Jodie Ross says:

    To force anyone to use a certain hand is preposterous in this day and age. Humans are born favoring one hand over the other due to how their brain is wired. It may seem a simple task to switch just how they eat or write, but you are essentially rewiring the brain at a time when it is in its formative state. The brain is a wonderful thing but if you try to manipulate it unnaturally, you risk doing harm when it is totally unnecessary. As adults, maybe they should try training themselves to eat with the other hand and see how well that works, before forcing this junk science on children.

    • Jodie Ross says:

      I noticed in the article it said in America right-handed people eat with the fork in their right hand sometimes. I’m from America and ALL right handed people over here eat with the fork and spoon in their right hand. IF they are sitting meat, they switch the knife and fork around, switching it back before continuing to eat. Left handed people over here eat with our fork or spoon in our left hand. Left handed people sometimes switch the fork over when using a knife to cut meat, BUT switch back. I don’t switch my fork, ever. I feed myself with my left hand and use the knife with my right hand. It’s just how I’ve always done it. I don’t know any people over here that feed themselves with the opposite hand they claim as the dominant hand. Im left handed and do a lot of other things with the right hand but east and write are not two of them.

  15. Maria Christie says:

    I am absolutely horrified that in 2013-14 this is happening nevermind deemed acceptable!

    In 1985 (now reception class) I was forced to knit right handed dispite being able to knit left handed (my mothers left handed friend had taught me) because in class support and parent helpers felt they couldn’t help me if I got stuck. My mother (right handed) was incensed about it then and still is! By the way I still can’t knit even now (aged 34) due to constantly getting mixed between left and right handed knitting.

    Good luck with your complaint I hope it gets taken as seriously as it should have been taken right from the start.

    Best wishes to you and your sons

    Maria (left handed)

    P.S. Please let everyone know how you get on

  16. Juliette says:

    As a lefty, I too was encouraged to use my right hand at school and told to not do so would inconvenience other students. When eating I use fork or spoon in my left hand. If just cutting food, use my left hand. I would starve if I had to use my fork or spoon in my right hand. If food handedness is determined by which hand we use to feed ourselves, surely right-handers are eating left handed if they are holding their fork in their left hand?

    When it came to knitting I had to teach myself as the righties in the family could not work out how to teach me. When I was growing up there were not too many resources for left handers. Left handed scissors simply had the handles changed and the blades were the same as for right handers. Now I have a set of truly left-handed scissors, cutting is so much easier. If only I could get a left-handed cake fork.

  17. Adrienne says:

    I am told that when my family was trying to teach me to use a spoon, they sat me in my high chair and my Grandfather would take the spoon from my left hand and put it in my right hand. The story is that as we played this game for a while, I started to become obstinate and would begin to slam the spoon back into my left hand, flinging the food out toward my Grandfather. He said he stopped trying to convert me after having to clean food off his face several times. The Lefty prevailed!

    • DeReesa Bujak /USA says:

      I had the same type experience! When I was being taught to feed myself, my father would put the spoon in my right hand. I always switched the spoon to my left hand but my father continued to first place the spoon in my right hand. Finally I looked my father straight in the face and said “Debil!” — of course I was also just learning to talk. My father never again put the spoon in my right hand — and my mother never again — welll, at least for awhile — called my father “you devil”!

  18. Alan loan says:

    What a bunch of we know best these people are children should be allowed to develop naturally in there eating habits and what is more comfortable for them we have a museum (beamish) and if you go to the Victorian school they will tell you that left handlers had their hands tied behind their back and were made to write right handed is this the next move by these stupid ignorant people. And while I’m on it makes me mad when football commentators go on about “that was a great LEFT FOOTshot as if it was something freakish #rant over thank you

  19. Pam Brooks says:

    Only after meeting my fella who told me to put the knife into my left hand have I been able to cut meat etc., properly, trouble being that I was 55 at the time! Bought up in a household with both parents and three siblings all being right handed I never stood a chance. That was the 1960’s. Always put spoons in my left hand for cereal, soup, and deserts and forks as a single utensil but never made the connection. Just for information, I lay tables left handed – got me into loads of trouble in domestic science classes at school where of course they changed it all back again. So important this everyday task is recognised as an integral part of being a lefty.

  20. Sue says:

    Hi I’m left handed and was taught to eat right handed yet all my 3 children and my husband are right handed and all eat left handed it’s really weird just thought I’d let you no that right handers also eat the wrong way to.

  21. Joan Petrie says:

    I have always eaten, written and always favour my left hand whatever I am doing. What is wrong with the people in this school? Have they gone back into the dark ages? I am now 65 years old, and there was never any suggestion of my having to change hands to do anything, in school. In fact, I was one of few who were entered for a hand writing competion. May I ask, are all the right handed children being told to change their way of eating, as a means to improving their dexterity? My personal opinion on this issue is that treating this child this way is positive Discrimination.

  22. Tim Merchant says:

    Eating is a basic instinct of survival that all of us are born with. Trying to change the way a child uses his/her hands to eat can have long term effects. Both of my parents were born left handed in the US south and both were forced to switch, for ignorant reasons, and both claim that it caused emotional anguish and stress. Leave alone what God has done.

  23. Maurice Frost says:

    I would recommend parents sticking to their guns on this one.
    As it happens I am a ‘leftie’ who holds his knife and fork, plays drums, cricket and golf (both badly) in a right handed style. However that is what works for me and I have never been forced to do so.
    While about 8-9 years old while having a school photo taken of me painting, the photographer said that I needed to hold the paintbrush ‘in the proper hand’. My parents responded by refusing to buy the photographs. As a result I felt supported and validated. In my view the school are exceeding any authority in their stance.

  24. Jim McClintock says:

    i have always enjoy reversing my silverware when going into a restaurant and seeing the look on the waiters face when he notices. I just look at him and say “left handed”.

  25. Val Banton says:

    I am left handed, but eat fork left, knife right. (ie right handed) I do use my left hand for a spoon. My dad, left handed, uses fork right and knife left, spoon left. My children are all right handed, but 2 of them naturally chose to use fork right and knife left, so we let them do it. I was taught by my mum that using knives right handed would be easier because of the serrations, and she used to let me try both ways. I discovered she was right and always use knives right handed. (No specialist knives when I was growing up). My 2 children have problems cutting a steak – they use left handed knives at home, and although generally food is easy enough to cut left handed with a “right handed” knife, steak knife serration really does make a difference. No one at their school ever tried to change the way they eat. I think that is ridiculous. Carry on the good work.

  26. Lynne says:

    Am amazed that we (left-handers) are in the 21 century and still being treated as if we are some sort of ‘an oddity”! I, along with both brothers despite having right-handed parents, am proud of being one of the chosen few. I had a similar experience to the young boy in the above article in as much as I was pressured into using my right hand whilst in junior school. To be fair this was fifty years ago but believe me the results were very similar. Not only did my class teacher hit me because I wrote with my left hand but because I was the only lefty in the class and she had no idea how to teach me to sew and knit (yes I did say knit). Whilst in this particular class I had nightmares, did not want to go to school and was extremely unhappy. Things came to a head one day when my mum saw fingerprint marks on the inside of my left arm – the teacher concrned had chadtised me quite severly for having ‘made a mess’ of my chainstitching in the sewing lesson. The teacher was reported and never again was I made to feel that I was ‘odd’ because I was left-handed. The teacher in my next class was a kind, caring left-hander! Having spent the last 25 years as a teacher I always make a point of asking who in a class is left-handed and reeling off a list of famous left handers. If a child is left-handed they should be allowed to be just that and feel proud of being a part of our distinguished group!

  27. Faye Tyree says:

    Hello, I am 59 years old, & i am left handed. Back when I was in 1st or 2nd grade, my school tried to make me write with my right hand. I couldn’t do it. Being left handed was just natural to me. Don’t know where it came from. I am the only left hander in my family. And whose to say which is the right way, left or right. We’re all the way God intended us to be. We’re all different. I think schools should leave the left handed kids alone. They could make a child feel like he or she is doing something wrong. And they’re not. I like to think of myself as being special. Parents could tell their kids, they are special. It’s kinda neat being left handed sometimes. Didn’t mean to be do long. To all the left handed kids out there, you are very special! Just keep being yourself!

  28. Jennifer says:

    One thing I would to see happen somewhere is to do an experiment. I’ve seen people get blindfolded and have to wander around to understand about being blind. Having right handed people have THEIR hand tied behind their back and go around using their left. A few years back I actually wrote a research paper for one of my child development classss on being left handed. If I can find it, I’ll share it with the group.

    I’m just adding this in as a follow up to a comment I made a couple days ago on here. In schools everyone is always talkin about how every child
    Learns different and has these needs and this and that and needs to be met. So why isn’t handed ness part of that? I was super lucky that my kindergarten teacher was left handed and taught me how to turn my paper when I started writing. She also gave me a social pencil grip for left handed people. I still have it somewhere by the way. Why isn’t this part of what teachers are taught? They have trainings for everything else. I substitute teach and whenever I see someone else who’s left handed I always point it out. I make it seem really cool and try to get them as excited as I am about being left handed. We learn that some people are visual learners some are auditory and some are kinaesthetic. So why isn’t being left handed added in there some way?

  29. Claire Durham says:

    I remember as a child starting to use my cutlery the left handed way round. Both my parents are right handed and I think this was before they knew I would be left handed as I used to write one word with one hand and then another word with the other hand when I started at school. I remember my parents constantly telling me I was using the cutlery the ‘wrong way round’ so eventually I swapped and since then use them the right handed way round but when I just need a spoon or fork I still use the left hand. I find it strange how right handers have a fork in their left hand and a knife in their right but if they are just using a fork they then swap that into their right hand! Now my parents ask why I don’t use my cutlery the left handed way as they don’t remember telling me it was the wrong way round!

  30. Daz Steeley says:

    This teacher and independent inspector need to be suspended without pay and see how they like being intimidated ( What a coincidence if they both happen to be right handers ). We have two hands and one mouth so what does it matter which hand we use to feed it with!. ‘Conventional manner and dexterity, what an absolute load of rubbish! . Personally in my ideal world I would like to put my left fist in their mush . Change of subject here, my employer wont let me write on cakes (bakery worker) because I do the fancy squiggles in reverse to what he showed me, and after I verbally put him in his place he has left me alone , regardless to say I don’t write on cakes anymore but the point is that these people think they have better and higher standards than us – how wrong could they be.

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