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Food & Hunger

Please slurp your soup: 11 shocking food habits from around the world

Flickr-Caspar Diederik
Let’s take a trip around the world and see how food norms differ from place to place.

1. Morocco

"Forget about using your napkin," said no mother ever, right? Well not necessarily... in some places in Morocco, food is eaten with your hands but you’re not supposed to wipe them on a napkin. Instead a basin of water is passed around before and after a meal to wash your hands.

Flickr: Chris Martino

Morocco might not be using napkins but they’re certainly wiping their hands clean of hunger. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recognized Morocco as one of the countries achieving the MDG objectives in advance regarding the fight against hunger. In fact, Morocco has been doing exceptionally well when it comes to taking on the MDGs, improving the number of children in school immensely.

2. Vietnam

If you ever happen upon Vietnam during their new year celebration, Tet, you’ll run into these big cakes of rice wrapped in bamboo leaves calledBanh Chung. They are square-shaped to symbolize thankfulness.

Flickr: Ben Nguyen

Tet is one of the biggest celebrations in Vietnam, so you can imagine how much rice you’d need to accommodate a whole nation of Banh Chung cakes. In fact, 94 percent of farmable land in the country is occupied by rice paddies.

3. India

If you have a leftie in the family you’ve probably heard them ramble about how they feel discriminated against by school desks, scissors, spiral notebooks, etc. Well you might want to warn them that they’ll experience a whole new level of prejudice if they share a meal in India because using your left hand to eat is taboo. Your left hand is thought to be used strictly for bum-wiping, and since the Indian culture rarely uses utensils, the right hand is reserved for eating.

Flickr: Evgeni Zotov

Unfortunately many in India are having trouble keeping food in either hand. A quarter of all undernourished people in the world live in India, which makes sense considering the fact that about 32 percent of its population live on less than $1.25 a day.

4. Japan

What happens when you’re faced with oodles of noodles in Japan? It’s time to slurp. Noodles and soup are considered best when enjoyed loudly. Also, it’s a sign of appreciation to the chef to slurp through your meal. I wouldn’t go as far as chewing with your mouth open, but no need to eat quietly when visiting this country.

Flickr: David Woo

While it’s nice to have a surplus of anything, Japan might have one oodle too many. In 2010, approximately 18 million tons of food were discarded and five to eight million tons of that was considered edible.

5. Ghana and Ethiopia

What’s mine is yours is the motto in these two countries when it comes to dinner time. It is custom in both Ghana and Ethiopia to share food from a communal bowl and to eat the food that is closest to you.

Flickr: Rod Waddington

Ghana has taken this communal concept seriously and is actually making huge strides in the MDG 1 goal of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger. However, improvements are still needed. For instance, food crop farmers are extremely vulnerable in Ghana because of marketing and price instability of their farm produce.

The adoption of the MDGs in 2000 has proven to show significant progress in reducing hunger and malnourishment in Ethiopia as well. Food poverty is on its way down, however the hunger index was recorded at 28.7% in 2011.

6. South Korea

In South Korea, the elders hold rank at the table, so make sure to wait until they take a bite before you dive in!

Flickr: Ahnfire73

The agricultural sector makes up a quarter of this country’s GDP and has comprises almost half of the entire labor force.

7. China

To me, chopsticks already seemed hard enough to master but when in China there’s a lot of rules to consider as well. It’s generally impolite to point, move bowls, or drum with them...pretty reasonable right? Well there’s also the minor problem of sticking them vertically in rice that you should probably avoid. It’s considered adark omen because it looks like incense sticks that are burned in memory of the deceased.

Flickr: Nicole An Jolie

Unlike the their chopsticks, the Chinese are on the up and up when it comes to their progress on eradicating hunger. While they prioritize food security, there is still a gap between urban and rural areas when it comes to child nutrition.

8. Colombia

Now I know you lefties took that last one as a huge blow but maybe Colombia can win some points back. Not only do they ask that your fork remains in your left hand, they also pass all dishes to the leftwhen sharing a meal at the table.

Flickr: Juhan Sonin

Unfortunately conflict in Colombia has caused over five million people to be displaced from their homes as well as their dinner tables. Almost 95 percent of those victims are considered food insecure.

9. Philippines

When Christmas bells are ringing in the Philippines, the pig roasts are close behind. This is a traditional meal families share to celebrate the holiday.

Flickr: Sarah Sosiak

The Global Hunger Index came out in 2013 to assess the progress of reducing hunger worldwide. The Philippines have lowered their numbers significantly, however hunger is still considered a “serious” problem there with a rating of 13.2.

10. Thailand

Are you the big or the little spoon? Either way, you’ll fit in with this rule because Thailand is all about spooning...well at least when it comes to utensils. It’s #rude to eat with a fork in Thailand. Instead, people use the fork to push the food onto a spoon and then eat it.

Flickr: Michael Klein

Cuddles might be free, but what about people who can’t afford the other type of spooning? Thailand actually made big strides in the 80’s to reduce their number of malnourished from 50 percent to 25 by putting a large network of community volunteers into action to help change people’s behaviors. However, 7 percent of children in Thailand still suffer from malnutrition.

11. Italy

You know what they say, when in Rome…skip the cheese? Seems a little off for a country known for their pizza and pasta. But if you want to steer clear of pissing off an Italian (which trust me, you do) you better not ask for parmesan to add to your meal. If it’s not offered, it’s just not meant to be.

Flickr: Giacomo Bartalesi

Parmesan or not, the Italians started something big when they invented the pizza because nowadays there are about 5 billion pizzas sold worldwide each year.


There are many do’s and don’ts around the world when it comes to mealtime. If you’re traveling abroad it’s important to make sure you stick to the cultural norm so you don’t step on anyone’s toes. And of course show your gratitude! Apparently it’s polite to burp after a meal in China, and some Inuit groups in Canada don’t mind when you fart because it shows that you enjoyed the meal. But what happens when there’s no meal to enjoy? The fact is that there still too many people around the world without enough to eat.

The bottom line is this doesn't have to be. There is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone. In the scheme of things, it’d actually be great if our only problem was offending someone with our chopsticks; the trickier part is simply putting a meal in front of everyone. We don't need a an increase in food production, instead we need to address the systems that keep people poor.