Food delivery services, which rely on a workforce predominantly made up of people of colour, are continuing to process orders after curfews were introduced in many US cities.
As civil unrest rages through 50 states and more than 140 cities, and strict curfews are imposed, food delivery apps continue to process food orders throughout the US.
Uber Eats told BuzzFeed News that it would not process orders after curfew in Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Oakland, at the request of city officials. However, the service was to continue in other cities, including New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.
Food delivery platforms have provided a lifeline to many struggling restaurants and food businesses during the coronavirus crisis, but there are concerns that the personal safety of delivery drivers is not a consideration.
According to statistics, delivery drivers are more likely to be people of colour. In San Francisco, for example, 78% of ride-hail and delivery drivers are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. The gig economy, in which these services operate, provides no workers’ benefits or provisions for their safety, forcing them to continue to work in dangerous conditions, whether it be a pandemic or a violent protest.
A business model that puts disadvantaged communities under pressure to work, in order to serve more privileged consumers and business owners, has come under criticism from some who say it represents all that is wrong with our broken food system.
Although different services have had very different responses to changing circumstances, one Los Angeles delivery driver posted a screenshot on Reddit showing a $1 bonus for deliveries within areas affected by rioting and looting.
The obvious choice, for those not wishing to perpetuate such a system, is not to use them at this time. But those living in food-impoverished areas hit by social unrest have little choice. This further underlines the need for food education and empowerment in those communities.
Many believe the onus for socially responsible consumer choices must fall on customers. At one time, food delivery services were a welcome alternative to eating out. However, the society in which they operate has changed immeasurably in a very short period of time. Perhaps we must ask ourselves whether we can still use them with a clear conscience?
More and more restaurants are turning away from the high economic and human costs of engaging with the big food delivery services, and are employing their own staff to make deliveries or facilitate pick-ups.
Tock, the digital reservations platform, has developed Tock To Go, a pro-restaurant delivery service that allows restaurants to develop their own delivery and pick-up operatives, thereby keeping them on the payroll, with all the benefits that entails.
Things will be very different in the hospitality sector when we emerge from the most disruptive period in living memory. Restaurants will be desperate for custom, but diners may well place more emphasis on conscious consumption.
Previously, diners patronised a restaurant for the quality of its food and ambience. But in the future, consumers may choose a restaurant because of the community it serves or a specific set of values. Diners may become regulars in restaurants that effect social change. And where previously the chefs called the shots and customers flocked, there might be more of a two-way conversation going forward.
Diversity, equality, and farm-to-table sustainability are often regarded as side orders in the world of gastronomy. But very soon, they could become the main course.