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The return of the Tiffin: an eco friendly way to carry your lunch

The return of the Tiffin: an eco friendly way to carry your lunch

Sometimes we just have to look in the mirror of history to find eco friendly solutions for every day life. And the Tiffin, that clever little stainless steel lunch box traditionally used in India to carry a snack or lunch, is a perfect example of something invented long ago that seems to be thoroughly modern - but it was first used in the 1800s!

With the increasing demand for work outside the home in the 19th century, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, workers in India needed a way to carry their home-made lunch with them. And what better to use than a product of the Industrial Revolution: large scale steel production. Steel kept food hot, it was easy to clean & was a material that could easily be moulded into shapes to create a seal. By creating a container with multiple compartments, all held together with a steel clip, different foods like rice, curries & dhal could be kept separate until it was time to eat them for lunch. 

In the British Raj, where the British custom of afternoon tea was supplanted by the local Indian practice of taking a light meal at that hour, it came to be called tiffin.

It is derived from English colloquial or slang tiffing meaning to take a little drink, and had by 1867 become naturalised among Anglo-Indians in the north of British India to mean luncheon.
— wikipedia
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The Tiffin

An eco-friendly alternative to a plastic lunch box. 

They really are the ultimate zero-waste lunch carrier. Traditionally, they are made from stainless steel, have multiple compartments for different foods, and have a sturdy clip on the outside to stop the lids flying off. 

Because they are made from steel, they are a resource which can be recycled over and over when they finally reach the end of their life. But before that time, the Tiffin can itself be used for years and years - because the steel makes it so durable. It's also a very safe container for food - unlike plastic which can leach toxins into warm food. 

Originally, Tiffins were used to house either snacks like dosas, or full lunches with the different compartments filled with rice, dhal, vegetables and curries. Generally made with 2, 3 or 4 compartments, they all stack together in one neat bundle via the outside clips, and can be carried via a handle on the top. 

Can't microwave the steel at work? No problem, just scoop the different layers artfully onto a ceramic plate (that you keep at work) and pop it in the microwave to warm it up. Because the steel is inert, the flavours of the different foods will be kept deliciously separate in their little compartments. 

Tiffin Box Lunch Ideas

  • Steamed brown rice in the bottom layer // a crunchy salad of green papaya, lemon juice, chopped mint, peanuts & finely diced fresh chilli in the 2nd layer // chana dahl in the 3rd layer, fragrant with garam masala // crispy pappadum in the top layer.
  • Naan bread in the bottom layer // salad of finely chopped red capsicum, Spanish red onion, cucumber, ripe tomato & fresh coriander leaves in the 2nd layer // tandoori mushrooms, aubergines & tofu in the 3rd layer (made with coconut yogurt) // samosa in the top layer.
  • Tri-colour quinoa in the bottom layer // chunks of fresh mango, watermelon, lemon rind and chopped mint in the 2nd layer // creamy spinach, tomato & red lentil curry in the 3rd layer // chunked pre-boiled potatoes lightly fried with turmeric, salt, chili, garlic, brown mustard seeds, with a few tablespoons of creamy coconut yogurt stirred through in the top layer. 
eco friendly Tiffin boxes are a traditional container for carrying lunch in India

There are various manufacturers making Tiffin boxes, but we particularly love these Live, Love Eat versions, made in India by Noah's Ark, a fair trade marketing organisation providing employment for over 300 artisans (largely women) in India. The artisans are paid 20% more than the government's minimum wage, and men and women are paid the same amount for the same job. By providing educational grants to its employees, as well as using part profits to build schools for the artisans' children (which are also free to neighbouring children who would otherwise not be able to attend school), Noah's Ark is helping to create opportunities for the next generation in India. 

Noah's Ark also uses recycled metals in its products - so it's likely that your new Tiffin started life as something else. 

They are available from Oxfam, or from Ten Thousand Villages.
(You can read more about the work Noah's Ark is doing to support artisans, reduce waste and create healthier, safer communities here.)


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