Feeding the City: Work and Food Culture of the Mumbai Dabbawalas
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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.
emerged out of a movement in Mumbai demanding preferential treatment for Maharashtrians over migrants to the city. Shiva Śiv/Rudra: the Destroyer or the Transformer, a major and ancient Hindu deity. In the Trimurti, the Hindu trinity, he is darkness, the centrifugal force, dispersing and destroying all that exists. Shiva is the second of two interrelated and complementary tendencies. Each degree of manifestation of one is reversed with regard to the degree of manifestation of the other. If
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I work at Andheri and I’m a mukadam. My father wasn’t a dabbawala, he worked in Bombay near Victoria Terminal. He loaded and unloaded many of the ships that docked. I’ve been in this job for seventeen years and I’ve been a mukadam from the start. I have ten to twelve people working with me because I bought the line [the line is the specific route assigned to a mukadam]. There are forty tiffin in a line [here the term line is used to indicate the basket for carrying dabbas], which I bought from
urban life that every civilisation has developed in response to diversity of climate, religion, customs, etc—urban areas generally develop from the need to import food from outside, a necessity that changes in relation to the characteristics of the organisation of society itself.64 In the great metropolises, the supermarket supply chain requires standardisation of foodstuffs. This can be seen in the progressive restriction of offering to a few main brands, in constant food stocks (and thus
in an analytical sense.10 The “Other” was seen as something distant from daily reality, defined by its remoteness, detachment and exoticism. Now the forms of hearing, seeing, feeling and representing that were once detached from us have become those of our neighbours, the passenger on the bus, the colleague, the school mate. Clifford Geertz writes that this proximity requires a readjustment of our rhetorical habits, which does not mean cultural standardisation so much as a review of the