The good news about food delivery

I’ve written about the downsides of companies like Instacart and Uber Eats that bring groceries or prepared foods to our homes. App-based fresh food delivery damages our neighborhoods and places harsh demands on our workers.

But today I want to focus on the positive aspects of delivery apps. A new study from the Brookings Institution found that app companies are providing fresh food to millions of low-income Americans who cannot easily purchase them directly.

Researchers acknowledge the problem with food delivery apps, but two revenge The service, published on Wednesday, is primarily against the notion of a way for relatively wealthy people to put a high cost on our communities while saving time and avoiding the hassle. Delivery apps may be just that, but they also democratize both access to and purchasing of fresh food.

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

Let’s dig into the details. The biggest implications of this study are Caroline George And Adie Thomas: About 90% of Americans living in an area sometimes referred to as a “food desert” have access to one or more of the four digital food delivery services surveyed in the study. Food deserts are generally defined as low-income areas where some of the residents live more than 20 miles from supermarkets.

“We’re not Pollyanna here, but these four services deserve recognition,” said Tomer. “These services have borders everywhere, where they are more of a geography issue than an income, race or other demographic condition.”

This study looked at fresh food delivery by Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods on Amazon, Instacart, Uber Eats, and Walmart. (The New York Times chief executive, Meredith Kopit Levin, is a member of the Instacart board.)

Living near a supermarket or having Instacart grocery shoppers available on the app doesn’t help when food, the root cause of hunger in the United States, can’t be afforded.

But George and Tomer also note that low-income families are ordering food delivery, and orders have risen in the past two years after the US government has dramatically expanded Americans’ ability to use support benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance. found that A program or food stamp to buy food online.

Brookings researchers also had some concerns about food delivery apps. People living in rural areas can live further away from stores that sell fresh food and need these services much more, but analysis shows they have far fewer options than city dwellers. Lack of internet access and distrust in the quality of food offered by delivery services also hinder access to food online.

It’s not clear what will happen if these app services become more popular. Brookings researchers say delivery apps could further contribute to problems in the U.S. food system. Partly because food delivery costs more than buying fresh food from the store. Alternatively, a delivery app could be part of the solution.

The message of this study is that policy makers and the public should treat these apps as part of the U.S. food system rather than a new curiosity. economy.

“As digital food systems are still maturing,” the researchers wrote, “now is an ideal time to design policies that help leverage efficiencies for the public good.”

Their policy proposals include allowing food stamps to cover delivery and other additional costs of ordering online, expanding pilot programs for other government food benefits that include online purchases, and subsidizing government subsidies for Internet services to make them more accessible to more people. Experiments were included.

The Brookings analysis also said more research is needed to understand the systemic effects of all types of digital transformation, including delivery apps, automation in agriculture and food warehouses, food safety tracking technology, and checkout computers in grocery stores.

This is a useful message. Technological change is not unique to us. We need smart and effective policies to harness technology and achieve what we collectively want.

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