I’ve written about the downsides of companies like InstaCart and Uber It’s bringing groceries or canned food to our doorsteps. Delivery of application-based fresh food affects our neighbors and demands punishment on workers.
But today I want to focus on the positive aspects of delivery applications. New research published by the Brookings Institution has found that app companies provide fresh food to millions of low-income Americans who cannot easily afford it individually.
While researchers have acknowledged problems in food delivery applications, the two analyzes published Wednesday are largely a counterpoint to the assumption that these services are primarily ways for relatively affluent people to save time and avoid trouble when high costs are imposed on our communities. Delivery applications may be that, but it is also democratizing both access to and purchase of fresh food.
Broadly speaking, Brookings research is a recognition of the notion that technological change can do good, and is a call to action to shape emerging technologies to better serve all Americans.
Let’s dig into the details. Biggest withdrawal from research by Caroline George and Eddie Tomer: Nearly 90 percent of Americans living in what is sometimes called a “food dessert” have access to at least one of the four digital food delivery services surveyed. The food desert is generally defined as a low-income neighborhood where some residents live a short walk from the supermarket or more than a 20-mile drive.
“We’re not Polyana here, but these four services deserve credit,” Tomer told me. “These services are boundaries everywhere, and where they are not there is a story of geography rather than income, race or other demographic conditions.”
The research looked at deliveries of fresh food from Amazon’s Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods, InstaCart, Uber Eats and Walmart. (Meredith Copit Lavian, chief executive of The New York Times, is a member of InstaCart’s board of directors.)
Staying close to the supermarket or making the InstaCart grocery store available through the app doesn’t help if food is unaffordable, which is the root cause of hunger in America.
But George and Tommer also saw lower-order households order food delivery, and orders have increased over the past two years, after the U.S. government dramatically increased the ability of Americans to use aid benefits such as supplementary nutrition assistance. Program or food stamp for buying food online.
Researchers at Brookings also had some concerns about food delivery applications. People living in rural areas may be away from stores selling fresh food and need these services more, but the analysis found that they are much less likely to find an alternative 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 is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. Brookings researchers said delivery applications could contribute more to America’s food system problems, in part because food delivery often costs more than buying fresh food in stores. Or, delivery applications may be part of the solution.
The message of the research is that policy makers and the public should view these apps not as a novel curiosity, but as part of the US food system, which should serve all of us and take into account our communities, our employees, the environment and so on. Semantic system.
“As the digital food system is still maturing, now is the ideal time to design policies that help increase efficiency for the public good,” the researchers wrote.
Their policy proposals include allowing food stamps to cover delivery fees and other additional costs of online ordering, expanding the pilot program for other government food benefits, and experimenting with government subsidies for Internet service so that more people can access it.
Brookings’ analysis also states that more research is needed to understand the systemic implications of all kinds of digital transformation, including delivery apps, automation in agriculture and food warehouses, technology for tracking food security, and checkout computers in grocery stores.
That is a useful message. Technological change is not something that just happens to us. It needs a smart and effective policy to use technology and use it to achieve what we collectively want.