Good News About Food Delivery

I’ve written about the downsides of companies like Instacart and Uber Eats that deliver groceries or convenience foods to our door. App-based fresh food deliveries are wreaking havoc on our neighborhoods and placing punitive demands on workers.

But today I want to focus on a positive aspect of delivery apps. Newly published research from the Brookings Institution has revealed that app companies are offering fresh food to the millions of low-income Americans who can’t easily buy it in person.

While researchers acknowledge the issues with food delivery practices, the two analyzes published Wednesday largely challenge the idea that these services are essentially ways relatively wealthy people save time and avoid hassle while at a high cost to our communities. Delivery practices may be like that, but they’re also democratizing both access to and purchasing fresh food.

Overall, Brookings research is a validation of the notion that good can come from technological change and a call to action to shape emerging technologies to better serve all Americans.

Let’s get into the details. The biggest takeaway from the research by Caroline George and Adie Tomer: Nearly 90 percent of Americans living in places sometimes referred to as “food deserts” have access to at least one of the four digital meal delivery services examined in the study. A food desert is typically defined as a low-income neighborhood where some residents live a short walk or 20-mile drive to a supermarket.

“We are not Pollyanna here, but these four services deserve praise,” Tomer said. “These services come on the line everywhere and where they don’t, it’s more a story of geography than race or other demographic conditions.”

The research looked at Amazon’s fresh food deliveries from Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods, Instacart, Uber Eats and Walmart. (Meredith Kopit Levien, CEO of The New York Times, is a board member of Instacart.)

Living near a supermarket or having an app-provided Instacart grocery store won’t help if food isn’t available, which is the root cause of hunger in America.

But George and Tomer also found that low-income households order food deliveries, and there has been a surge in orders over the past two years after the U.S. government significantly expanded the capabilities of Americans using aid benefits such as Supplementary Nutrition Assistance. Program or food stamps to buy food online.

Brookings researchers also had some concerns about food delivery practices. People living in rural areas may live far from fresh food stores and need these services much more, but the analysis revealed that they have fewer options than city dwellers. Lack of internet access and distrust of the quality of food provided by delivery services are also barriers to accessing food online.

It’s unclear what will happen if these app services become more popular. The Brookings researchers said delivery practices may be contributing more to problems in America’s food system, in part because food delivery often costs more than buying fresh food in stores. Or delivery apps can be part of the solution.

The message from the research is that policymakers and the public should not treat these practices as new curiosities, but as part of the US food system that should serve all of us and take into account our communities, workforce, environment and environment. Economy.

“As the digital food system is still maturing, now is an ideal time to design policies that help harness efficiency for the public good,” the researchers wrote.

Policy recommendations included allowing food stamps to cover delivery fees and other additional costs of ordering online, expanding pilot programs for other government food aids to include online purchasing, and trialling government subsidies so more people can access them.

The Brookings analysis also said that more research is needed to understand the systemic effects of any digital change, including delivery applications, automation in agriculture and food warehouses, food safety monitoring technology and checkout computers in grocery stores.

This is a useful message. Technological change is not just something that happens to us. Using technology and using it to collectively get what we want requires smart and effective policy.

Leave a Comment