I’ve written about the downsides of companies that bring groceries or prepared foods to our doorsteps, like Instacart and Uber Eats. App-based fresh food deliveries affect our neighborhoods and impose punitive requirements on workers.
But today I want to focus on the positive aspect of delivery apps. Newly published research from the Brookings Institution finds app companies are delivering fresh food to millions of lower-income Americans who can’t easily buy it in person.
While the researchers acknowledge problems with food delivery apps, two analyzes released Wednesday largely counter the notion that the services are primarily a way for relative Wealth saves time and trouble while incurring a high cost to our community. Delivery apps may be, but they are also democratizing both access to and purchase of fresh food.
Overall, Brookings’ research is a validation of the view that good can come from technological change and a call to action to shape emerging technologies to better serve all. America.
Let’s find out the details. The biggest takeaway from the research by Caroline George and Adie Tomer: About 90% of Americans living in what is sometimes called a “food desert” have access to at least one of four food delivery services. digital is examined in the study. A food desert is generally defined as a lower-income neighborhood where some residents live a short walk or 20-mile drive from a supermarket.
Tomer told me: “We are not Pollyanna here, but these four services deserve credit. “These services are everywhere, and where they are, it’s mostly a story of geography rather than income, race, or other demographic conditions.”
The study looked at fresh food deliveries from Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods, Instacart, Uber Eats and Amazon’s Walmart. (The New York Times CEO, Meredith Kopit Levien, is on Instacart’s board of directors.)
Living near a supermarket or having Instacart grocery shoppers available in the app won’t help if food can’t be afforded, which is a root cause of hunger in America.
But George and Tomer also found that lower-income households are ordering food delivery, and an increase in orders has occurred over the past two years, after the US government significantly expanded its ability to deliver food. capabilities of Americans using benefits, such as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance. Program, or food stamps, to buy food online.
Brookings researchers also have some concerns about food delivery apps. People living in rural areas may live further away from fresh food stores and have a greater need for these services, but the analysis shows that they are less likely to be selected than urban residents. city. The lack of internet access and distrust of the quality of food provided by delivery services are also barriers to accessing food online.
It’s not clear what will happen if these app services become more popular. The Brookings researchers say delivery apps may be contributing to problems with the US food system, in part because food delivery often costs more money than buying fresh food in the store. row. Or, delivery apps could be part of the solution.
The message from the study is that policymakers and the public should treat these applications not as novel curiosities, but as part of the US food system, one that will serve all. all of us and considers our community, our workforce, the environment, and the economy.
As the digital food system is still in development, now is an ideal time to design policies that effectively harness it for the public good, the researchers write.
Their policy proposals include allowing food stamps to cover delivery fees and other additional costs when ordering online, expanding pilot programs to other food benefits. government to include online purchases and test government subsidies for internet service, so more people can access it.
Brookings analysis also says more research is needed to understand the systemic impact of all types of digital change, including delivery apps, automation in agriculture and food storage, and tracking technology. Food safety monitoring and payment calculators in grocery stores.
That’s a helpful message. Technological change is not something that just happens to us. It requires smart and effective policy to harness technology and use it to get what we want.