I’ve just moved in to a house with three twenty-something-year-old dudes. I don’t know how much role gender has in this, but there have been no less than FIVE UberEats deliveries to our apartment this weekend—and maybe being a guy has something to do with it.
While I’m quick to blame the opposite sex, I freely admit that I had a delicious corn and zucchini veggie burger yesterday, courtesy of a presumably cold and soaking wet delivery cyclist who enabled my dinner during a thunderstorm. It was Saturday, I was slightly hungover, it was an unseasonably cool and rainy day—put simply, I was too lazy to make something or go somewhere.
We live in a world powered by convenience. We drive instead of walk, text instead of talk, and shout at Alexa or Siri instead of type. Family dinners (at those things called tables that were common features of homes in the 1960’s) are rare and now prepackaged meals and delivered meal kits have become the best friends of professionals after an increasingly long work week.
Fast food is arguably no longer the fastest, easiest eating option—a quick scroll and a few taps on an app is all that is needed before being able to stalk your pizza/pasta/burger/smoothie/ice cream/bottle of wine all the way from the shop to your door.
What and how we eat has drastically changed over the past few years. Hunting and gathering now means scrolling through the seemingly endless options of cuisines and meals before inserting a credit card number. Food delivery apps—including the giants, UberEats, Deliveroo, GrubHub, and Foodora—are certainly impacting the food system.
The Gig Economy
Much of what we do is now is in some way connected to or supported by what is known as the ‘gig economy’. In its essence, the gig economy is a shift away from traditional permanent work to short-term contracts or freelance opportunities. If you’ve ever booked a ride with Uber or spent the weekend in an AirBnB, you’ve contributed to the gig economy.
While the gig economy could be examined in a positive light, there are many reasons why it can be quite worrying when it comes to the food industry.
When the gig just doesn’t pay off
I know many people—young and old—who have turned to freelancing in order to get a little extra cash. Whether it’s to save up for a vacation or wedding, or to make things a bit easier after welcoming a first child into the family, the flexibility offered by these jobs makes them a viable option.
But is it always rainbows and sunshine for these freelancers? Just think about it, when your 4 a.m. pizza delivery arrives, does the bearer of said pizza look happy to have to deal with your middle-of-the-night-craving? Probably not.
Even with the millions of customers and billions of invested dollars, the livelihoods of food delivery agents are anything but prioritized. You may spend a significant proportion of your income on delivered food, but the people actually involved in bringing it to you are many times not provided with a salary, benefits, or a consistent schedule.
In Australia alone, $2.6 billion dollars are spent annually on food delivery.https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/retail/australias-shocking-food-delivery-bill-revealed-by-new-research/news-story/169772bd58ae0f3bd923b390c75b5769
Unfair wages and working conditions have actually prompted freelancer protests around the world; here’s a few reasons why. Cancelled orders mean that the driver misses out on any pay—even if they’re on their way or already at the restaurant. Traffic, parking, and long waits at the restaurant can result in a dwindling hourly wage. In fact, there’s been a reportedly growing number of Deliveroo and UberEats contractors who are making below minimum wage. While in many cases the deliverers of donuts and deep dish pizza work like regular, full-time employees, they’re not entitled to the wages, leave, and benefits as a result of their agreement.
Alternative food delivery systems and a shifting food industry
Looking beyond the food workers themselves, there are several other ways your delivered Meal Deal # 3 is impacting the food system.
- Packaging – If you’ve ever ordered a smoothie or a laksa, you will have received plastic—a lot of plastic. One of the biggest differences between eating at a restaurant and eating it in your bed is that instead of coming on a plate that can be washed and reused, your meal comes wrapped in disposable packaging with disposable cutlery.
- Changing ingredients – Restaurants are now altering their ingredients and menu items to accommodate a shift from a 15-20 second delivery period to a 15-20 minute one. Longevity is considered when it comes to ingredients; lettuce is replaced with a hardier bok choy and buns are chosen with added preservatives so that they don’t become soggy in the commute to your couch.
- Health – While it’s totally possible that all of your MenuLog purchases are organic quinoa salads and veggie-packed wraps, many of the foods offered by these delivery services are foods that should be consumed occasionally, or not at all. With more than 7,000 food delivery orders made every hour in Australia, it’s likely that a lot of these include pizza, fried chicken, french fries, and desserts. Food delivery is so convenient and simple that it may be shifting our attention and knowledge away from how to healthily prepare and consume food. The portion sizes, food sourcing locations, and ingredient lists are under the control of the restaurants and a future of increased delivery orders may mean a future with little understanding of the food preparation and consumption methods upon which our health and wellbeing depends.
- Restaurants – Entire sections of restaurants are being converted to delivery command centers. With roughly ten percent of orders coming in through delivery service apps, restaurateurs are filling formerly diner-filled areas to spaces equipped with several iPads and paper delivery bags waiting to be picked up. Unfortunately, this shift in a customer based coupled with a 35% commission fee, often means decreased profitability for restaurant owners.
It would be silly to not take advantage of the advancements and conveniences provided in the 21st century. But at the same time, it’s important to be mindful of the impacts of our decisions. One of the biggest issues in the food system is the naivety and unconscious consumption of eaters. We all do it. With a lot on our plates (both literally and figuratively) we don’t put much thought into what we put in our mouths.
Purchasing and growing ingredients before preparing our own meals is empowering, it’s a way to retain knowledge passed down by generations before us. Simply choosing between a large or family size pizza or adjusting the toppings on our ordered burger may be jeopardising that knowledge, while implicating food system workers, restaurants, our health, and the environment in the process.