Feeding the City: Work and Food Culture of the Mumbai Dabbawalas

Feeding the City: Work and Food Culture of the Mumbai Dabbawalas Author: Sara Roncaglia
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Every day in Mumbai 5,000 dabbawalas (literally translated as "those who carry boxes") distribute a staggering 200,000 home-cooked lunchboxes to the city’s workers and students. Giving employment and status to thousands of largely illiterate villagers from Mumbai's hinterland, this co-operative has been in operation since the late nineteenth century. It provides one of the most efficient delivery networks in the world: only one lunch in six million goes astray.

Feeding the City is an ethnographic study of the fascinating inner workings of Mumbai's dabbawalas. Cultural anthropologist Sara Roncaglia explains how they cater to the various dietary requirements of a diverse and increasingly global city, where the preparation and consumption of food is pervaded with religious and cultural significance. Developing the idea of "gastrosemantics" a language with which to discuss the broader implications of cooking and eating Roncaglia's study helps us to rethink our relationship to food at a local and global level.

The publication of this book is financed by the generous support of interested readers and organisations, who made donations using the crowd-funding website Unglue.it

Title: Feeding the City: Work and Food Culture of the Mumbai Dabbawalas
Author: Sara Roncaglia
Publication date: July 2013
Number of pages: 234
Dimensions: 6.14" x 9.21" | 234 x 156 mm
BIC subject codes: JHMC (Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography), KNDF (Food manufacturing & related industries), JHM (Anthropology)
ISBN Paperback: 978-1-909254-00-8
ISBN Hardback: 978-1-909254-01-5
ISBN Digital (PDF): 978-1-909254-02-2
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 978-1-909254-03-9
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 978-1-909254-04-6
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0031
Acknowledgements 
Preface 
Introduction 
1. Bombay-Mumbai and the Dabbawalas: Origin and Development of a Parallel Economy 
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0031.01

2. Dabbawala Ethics in Transition 
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0031.02

3. Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust: The Shaping of Dabbawala Relations 
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0031.03

Conclusions: Tastes and Cultures 
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0031.04

Appendix: Theory and Practice for an Ethnography of Diversities 
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0031.05

Glossary 
Select Bibliography 
Index 

Sara Roncaglia is a cultural anthropologist. Her current research is concerned with the cultural dynamics of food and the anthropology of work.

© 2013 Sara Roncaglia


This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licence. This license allows for copying any part of the work for personal and commercial use, providing the work is not translated or altered and the following author and publisher attribution is clearly stated:

Sara Roncaglia, Feeding the City: Work and Food Culture of the Mumbai Dabbawalas. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0031

Further details on CC-BY-ND licenses are available at: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0

Every effort has been made to identify and contact copyright holders; any omissions or errors will be corrected if notification is made to the publisher. Please see the list of illustrations below:

1. Percentage distribution of Bombay population classified by religion, 1881–1931. Rajnarayan Chandavarkar, The Origins of Industrial Capitalism in India: Business Strategies and the Working Classes in Bombay, 1900–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 31
2. Percentage distribution of population classified by language spoken, Bombay, 1911–1931. Rajnarayan Chandavarkar, The Origins of Industrial Capitalism in India: Business Strategies and the Working Classes in Bombay, 1900–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 33
3. Picture of Madhu Havji Bacche. By kind permission of Raghunath Medge
4. Dabbawalas and their customers, 1900–2003. Chandrasekhar, Ramasastry, Dabbawallahs of Mumbai, Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, 2004, available at http://beedie.sfu.ca/files/PDF/mba-new-student-portal/2011/MBA/Dabbawallahs_of_Mumbai_(A).pdf [accessed 28 October 2012], p. 17
5. Mumbai. Flyer informing customers that the service will be suspended for four days for the annual festival celebrating the birth of Mahavira, the spiritual teacher of Jainism. By kind permission of Raghunath Medge
6. The culinary triangle, Mumbai style. From Sara Roncaglia, Nutrire la città (Milan: Bruno Mondadori, 2010), p. 148. By kind permission of Bruno Mondadori
7. Diagram by Pawan G. Agrawal, director of Mumbai’s Agrawal Institute of Management. By kind permission of Raghunath Medge
8. Client agreement form. By kind permission of Raghunath Medge
9. Dabbawala Costs Managing. Ramasastry Chandrasekhar, Dabbawallahs of Mumbai, Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, 2004, available at http://beedie.sfu.ca/files/PDF/mba-new-student-portal/2011/MBA/Dabbawallahs_of_Mumbai_(A).pdf [accessed 28 October 2012]
10. The Flow Logic. Diagram by Pawan G. Agrawal, Director of Mumbai Agrawal Institute of Management. By kind permission of Raghunath Medge
11. Examples of dabba symbols. By kind permission of Raghunath Medge
12. The dabba coding system evolution. Diagram by Pawan G. Agrawal, director of Mumbai Agrawal Institute of Management. By kind permission of Raghunath Medge
13. The dabba coding current system. Diagram by Pawan G. Agrawal, director of Mumbai Agrawal Institute of Management. By kind permission of Raghunath Medge