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The World's Lunchboxes

You may be aware that today marks Boxing Day, a tradition that's commonly celebrated in the UK and several of its former colonies.

Dating back to the middle ages, the day after Christmas has traditionally been marked by the giving of gifts (boxed, of course) to employees and the poor.

Boxing day also means post-Christmas sales (hooray!) and the start of a handful of sporting events. (Though, interestingly, boxing doesn't seem to be among them...)

Boy Scouts boxing
A cigarette collectors' card (published ca. 1903-1917), featuring boxing Boy Scouts.*

One of the etymological explanations for Boxing Day roots in a tradition that had servants boxing up Christmas feast leftovers for their home visits and their masters eating boxed meals while the help was away.

For me, all this brings to mind the great diversity of food boxes across the world. Just for a little Boxing Day fun, I'll illustrate a few solutions to the lunch-toting issue herein.

Star Wars Lunchbox
The Star Wars lunch box... a classic!

In the modern U.S., the simple brown bag, the more deluxe insulated cooler bag and the metal or plastic lunch box are popular food transport solutions, though in a bygone era, people would have brought their food with them in baskets, pails or knotted kerchiefs.

The interrupted picnic
A detail from The Interrupted Picnic.*

Pupils at Lunch, 1927, Tinela, Ala
Pupils at Lunch with their lunch pails. Tinela, AL, 1927*

In Japan, bento boxes, those cute, convenient multi-compartmental trays, were traditionally made with durable, beautiful woods and metals and wrapped for travel in a furoshiki cloth, which acted as a dual bag/place mat. Modern bento boxes are often made of disposable materials.

Black Bento Box
Black lacquered bento box from Pearl River

Similar to the bento, the Indian tiffen-boxes (also called dabbas) are a multi-chambered lunch system, but while bentos are horizontally divided, tiffens are tiered.

In India, tiffins/dabbas are carried by tiffin wallahs or dabbawalas, a crack team of heavyweight lunch-luggers, each toting loads averaging 175-200 lb.

Blue Tiffen Box
Multicolored plastic tiffin box via Pearl River

It works this way: wives, servants or caterers pack tasty lunches into tiffins and give them to the wallahs, who transport them the hungry workers. What's really stunning is their accuracy rate — apparently, they average one mistake in every 16,000,000 deliveries.

Honestly, I'd quite like a wallah. The food delivery culture is mighty in New York, but it's sure not like a lunch packed with homemade love.

Anyone know of other lunch transport methods? Jars on heads? Fish in slings? If you know, I'd love to hear about 'em. If you've got anything, throw it down in the comments... in the meantime, a very happy Boxing Day to you!

*Found via the superb NYPL.

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12.26.2007

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Previously: Joyous Christmas & a Tasty New Year! » Previously: Day 24: Curd Crazed » Previously: Day 23: Five Hot Little Gift Ideas » Previously: There's still time to win! » Previously: Day 22: Hot Artichoke Dip » Previously: Day 21: Ginger Toddy » Previously: Day 20: Have a Holly-Jolly Chutney » Previously: Day 19: Orange you impressed? » Previously: Day 18: Tag! » Previously: Day 17: Seasoned Greetings! »