How do we get food from the hands of those who have it, into the hands of those who don't? There are clues to be found in the successful system of the dabbawallas, who manage to deliver food from mothers and wives at home into the hands of their sons and husbands who are off at work. While not necessarily a charitable organization, their process is one that could be envied by many a Meals-on-Wheels outfit (let alone FedEx and UPS!).
In India, where many traditions are being rapidly overturned as a result of globalization, the practice of eating a home-cooked meal for lunch lives on.
To achieve that in this sprawling urban amalgamation of an estimated 25 million people, where long commutes by train and bus are routine, Mumbai residents rely on an intricately organized, labor-intensive operation that puts some automated high-tech systems to shame. It manages to deliver tens of thousands of meals to workplaces all over the city with near-clockwork precision.
This system is incredibly efficient. As explained on the Vimeo page, every day, 4,000 men working as dabbawallas carry lunch containers from homes to office places. "Despite the unsophisticated mode of transport, the lunches always arrive on time (the error rate is 1 in every 16 million transactions). It's a pretty impressive feat and we were lucky enough to follow a couple Dabba Wallas for a day in Mumbai, and see their work first hand."
The Atlantic notes, "Despite the influx of food chains and eateries in Mumbai over the last decade, demand for the lunchtime service is higher than ever before, with customers from multinational corporations and hedge funds. Now, clients can put in a request via text message or e-mail."
Similar systems are only just now starting to pop up on small scales in the US in cities like San Francisco or New York, but they have a long, long way to go before being on the scale of the dabbawallas in Mumbai. If we thought it was too hard to have a hot, home-cooked meal for lunch each day, well, this organization proves us wrong.
The most important clue to be found in the dabbawalla system for how to get food from those who have it to those who don't: