A few days ago, a local radio show ran a segment that discussed SkiptheDishes – a food delivery service that predates Uber Eats‘ arrival in my part of the world by several years – branching out and now offering liquor delivery in Edmonton. There are several services that have popped up over the years to provide this service, a couple of which I’ve used myself. Even though I discovered just this past week that I’m only a handful of blocks from the closest new bottle of whiskey (knowledge my wallet and my liver both wish I don’t possess), I found myself excited about SkiptheDishes expanding their food delivery service in this way.
I missed parts of the discussion on the radio show, but there seemed to be two opinions on the proliferation of food delivery services such as SkiptheDishes and Uber Eats for takeout – either people pay too much for delivery and/or service fees, so they have more money than sense… or they’re too lazy to be bothered to cook at the end of the day.
These ideas sat really uncomfortably with me. I don’t eat out much – lately my eating out tends to be with my run crew after a Sunday run. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I had food delivered (my phone says October 29, but I know I ordered one pizza since then). Are there people who eat out too much, over-stretching their budgets? Sure. Are there times when people don’t want to cook at the end of the day, even if they have a fridge and a pantry stocked full of yummy food? No doubt. But chronic over-spending and eating unhealthy and/or over-priced food is a choice that people make, whether or not food is being delivered or purchased by an individual directly from a brick and mortar store, and the shaming conversations around food delivery services and choices leave out a whole swath of the population – those whose culinary experience and quality of life can be enhanced by equal access to choice.
I don’t drive. The whole wide world is grateful that I don’t drive – if you’re not, you should be. As such, my choices for restaurants have previously been limited to places I could walk or bus to from home or work, or access by car when a friend or family member or my husband drove. Not so long ago, the only food I could get delivered to my house was pizza or Chinese. Thanks to SkiptheDishes or Uber Eats or Door Dash, I for one am grateful for the amount of choice that’s now been opened up to me. I can try new foods and flavours, or I can order food from that great restaurant a friend and I ate at once, like five years ago, but it’s out on the far end of the city and buses are unreliable at best. Ordering delivery is cheaper than taking a taxi, so in some ways, given my options, food delivery is the best of all worlds, on the rare occasion I choose to use it. Some buildings aren’t accessible to people who use wheelchairs; other restaurants – with lighting and ambiance – could contribute to sensory overload, so some patrons may wish to enjoy the food without those little “extras.” There’s a hundred reasons why people – some with disabilities, many without – choose to use delivery services. There’s no shame in ordering a pizza once in a while – and I’ve never heard shaming language used about Friday night pizza night – so why is having food delivery at our fingertips viewed as a symbol of affluence, apathy, or laziness?
This is food, a basic requirement for life. Not having access to food is a big problem.
Even throwing out the arguments that takeout delivery services are expensive and a luxury and unhealthy… what if you had to use SkiptheDishes or Uber Eats or Door Dash because you couldn’t access a grocery store?
I could have found myself in that position this past week, and it further altered how I viewed the so-called “luxury” services that are becoming part of our everyday lives.
For the past year, I’ve used Instacart to buy groceries. Think of Instacart like the Uber Eats for grocery shopping. Sure, I’ve gone shopping with friends who are just picking up a couple things, and I’ve had friends or neighbours provide open invitations to drive or assist in getting my groceries. When I go alone to a grocery store and ask for shop assistance, it’s a gamble as to whether the person assisting me will be respectful (I was once asked if I was blinded in an accident) or knowledgeable about products (I once had to explain what salsa is). I prefer being able to select my own brands – if not the products themselves – independently, and actually have a little fun impulse-shopping, and a service like Instacart gives me that freedom.
Last week, the Instacart app broke. My screen reader would read aloud items only if they were on the main page. The instant I went into any section – canned goods, meat, produce – all that was read on the screen was “back, canned goods” or “back deli.” I couldn’t even search for products. Emails and messages to Instacart went ignored, after I provided a screen shot (even though visually the app functioned effectively). For nearly two weeks, I was able to access the electronic equivalent of the ends of the aisles, literally barred from going down every single one of them.
I’m fortunate. I have choices available to me – access to a desktop computer, whose version of the site wasn’t broken. Friends who were willing to take time out of their day – lots of time – to provide wheels and assistance to this disorganized grocery shopper. Enough food in my cupboards to make it through until the updated app that fixed the problem got pushed to my phone.
What if I didn’t have those choices?
This is food!
I realized how blessed and fortunate I am, in more ways than one. I have access to services like Instacart, but I can also walk into a grocery store if I need a few things. But when it looked like I had few options but to ask a friend to take time out of their day to help me out – or use inconsistent shop assistance – I realized the other things that I’ve somewhat taken for granted.
- I don’t have to choose between privacy and need (there are just some things you don’t want to say out loud that you need)
- I don’t have to impose on my friends… or at least I don’t have the feeling that I’m imposing on my friends
- I don’t have to wait for shop assistance that may or may not be respectful or useful or knowledgeable. This saves an untold amount of mental energy.
- I don’t have to juggle seven grocery bags and a pack of paper towels… and a guide dog… and worry about finding and paying for a taxi, which I also have to pay for.
- I can flit around the electronic aisles, spending as much time as I want, and it doesn’t matter if I put eggs in my cart and forgot about the yogurt when I’m almost ready to check out.
- I don’t have to squint because the bright grocery-store lights are hurting my eyes.
- I can buy that cookie dough ice cream without thinking about possible judgment.
- I can ultimately feel like I’m making all of my own food choices, in a way I didn’t realize I have never felt before.
My groceries were delivered this morning. And I’m grateful. I’m grateful that I have choices in how I can access one of life’s most basic necessities, and that we all have choices. Maybe it’s time to recognize some people’s choices as the best (and sometimes only) good choice they have. For some, it means driving to the store and choosing that perfect roast for dinner. Sometimes it means sitting around a restaurant table with family and friends. For others, it means answering the door after clicking a few buttons and paying with a credit card. If you think your eating and shopping habits make you unmotivated and sluggish and unproductive, or prone to overspending, then perhaps it might be something worth changing. But one person’s convenience is another person’s lifeline and there should be space for both at the dinner table.