The good news about food delivery

I’ve written about the downsides of companies that bring groceries or prepared foods to our doorstep, such as Instacart and Uber Eats. App-based fresh food deliveries require a Great on our neighborhoods and imposing punitive demands on workers.

But today I want to focus on one positive aspect of delivery apps. Research published recently by the Brookings Institution found that app companies are making fresh food available to millions of low-income Americans who can’t easily buy it in person.

While researchers recognize the problems with food delivery apps, the Two analyses released on Wednesday are largely a counterpoint to the idea that these services are primarily ways for relatively affluent people to save time and avoid trouble while inflicting a high cost on our communities. Delivery apps may be that, but they’re also democratizing both accessing and buying fresh food.

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

Let’s go into the details. The biggest takeaway from the search for Carolina Giorgio Other Farewell Tomer: About 90 percent of Americans living in what are sometimes called “food deserts” have access to at least one of the four digital food delivery services surveyed in the research. A food desert is typically defined as a low-income neighborhood where some residents live more than a short walk or 20-mile drive from a supermarket.

“We’re not Pollyanna here, but these four services deserve credit,” Tomer told me. “These services are borderline everywhere, and where they aren’t it’s more a story of geography than of income, race or other demographic conditions.”

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

Living near a supermarket or having an Instacart grocery store available via the app doesn’t help if the food is inaccessible, which is a major cause of hunger in America.

But George and Tomer also found that low-income families are ordering food deliveries, and that there has been a resurgence in orders over the past two years, after the U.S. government greatly expanded the capabilities of Americans using the benefits of food. assistance, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or meal vouchers, to buy food online.

Brookings researchers also had some concerns about food delivery apps. People living in rural areas may live away from shops that sell fresh food and need these services much more, but the analysis found that city residents are much less likely to have the option. Lack of internet access and distrust in 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. Brookings researchers said delivery apps could contribute further to problems with the American food system, in part because food delivery often costs more than buying fresh food in stores. Or, delivery apps could be part of the solution.

The message of the research is that policy makers and the public should treat these apps not as new curiosities, but as part of the U.S. food system, which should serve all of us and take into account our communities, our workforce, the environment. and the economy.

‘As the digital food system is still maturing, now is the ideal time to design policies that help harness efficiencies for the public good,’ the researchers wrote.

Their policy suggestions included permitting food stamps to cover delivery costs and other additional costs of online orders, expanding pilot programs for other government food benefits to include purchasing online, and testing government subsidies for the Internet service, so that more people could access it.

Brookings’ analysis also said that more research is needed to understand the systemic effects of all kinds of digital change, including delivery apps, automation in agriculture and food warehouses, security monitoring technology. food and cash computers in grocery stores.

It is a useful message. Technological change isn’t something that just happens to us. It requires a smart and effective policy to harness technology and use it to achieve what we collectively want.