Obesity stats show us losing a societal battle. This isn’t news. Meanwhile entrepreneurs and software developers went to work making it easier to put high calorie food in your hands. Profiting from convenient food isn’t new and furthers the struggle with genetics wired for an ancient world. Convenient food delivery isn’t the stake in the heart of our health but it’s another nail in our collective coffin. This convenience sneaking into our lives isn’t the innocuous time and effort saver we fool ourselves into believing. Ubiquitous food delivery is an insidious problem if we fail to set boundaries on its use.
Skip The Dishes(a popular Canadian service and phrase we use for all food delivery) was sold for $110 million (in our Canadian Monopoly money) in 2016. DoorDash’s projected valuation exceeds $6 billion, UberEats at $20 billion, and Grubhub over $10 billion. Food delivery services are here and gaining popularity. Restaurants are signing on to have their meals arrive at your door. Food delivery was mainly confined to pizza and Chinese food. Now you can get almost anything without leaving the house. According to a client working for a restaurant chain, their top food delivery item is brownies. People are paying the delivery cost for brownies. Anecdote suggests our new Canadian legalized marijuana at play here.
Starbucks is rolling out coffee delivery through UberEats with a $2.49 booking fee. $5 specialty coffee delivery for $7.50. When life gets to the point where we can no longer home brew or French press coffee we need an intervention. Though most workplace coffee is bad enough to warrant the expense of delivery. Point conceded.
How did we get here?
Most now agree our obesity epidemic is driven by availability of cheap tasty high calorie food combined with a more sedentary and convenient lifestyle. Technology is making our lives more convenient. Much of this convenience is beneficial, in theory freeing us for more leisure or work productivity. Work and life involve less physical activity now than in past generations. We eat more and move less.
Businesses like Uber disrupt traditional industries, in this case taxis, with ride sharing services. It was only a matter of time until technology changed the restaurant industry and expanded food delivery. Those with the prerequisite tech skills and business savvy now seek the newest way to create AirBnB or Uber in an app. Profiting from disrupting traditional industries is the new dot com bubble. Imagine faster future delivery as flying drones replace drivers. What could possibly go wrong?
Your meal options were once limited. You cooked at home with what you had available. This expanded in recent generations to going out to restaurants or fast food outlets. More and more we can pickup convenient meals. I remember occasionally eating TV dinners. The ones with the small berry dessert in the middle flanked by veggies, mashed potatoes, and turkey in gravy. Reflecting I realize Mom was probably tired. Most of the time Mom cooked chicken, roast beef, veggies, or her world class fettuccini recipe. Dad made oatmeal for us each weekday morning and grilled steaks often.
I have clients and friends who cite the regular use of food delivery apps. More people see food delivery as a regular option, overriding the choice to plan ahead and pickup groceries to cook meals at home. The option to order any high calorie tasty food at any time damages our ability to control food environment. Not keeping trouble food in the house works for people who struggle with healthier eating decisions. The ability to summon anything to our door shatters this barrier. Pizza was always an option, yet we know frequent pizza isn’t healthy and we are consciously making the unhealthy choice. We can fool ourselves into thinking many of the other deliverable options are healthy for us. There’s a whole fast food industry built on the health halo illusion. Booster Juice, Subway, and many other faux healthy foods that can deliver the same calories as a McDonalds combo meal without the guilt. Then we feel entitled to an unhealthy treat because we ate well during the week. Do this several times a week and we fail to live within a calorie and financial budget.
The growth of meal prep services is worth noting as a positive exception. These services deliver a week of healthy meals, often macro and calorie tailored to the customer needs, at reasonable cost. You’re getting better quality food and not spending excessively, negating the two main issues with food delivery. The main pitfall is taking people out of the regular habit of cooking food at home.
After we adopt new lifestyle options, they’re difficult to discard. I used to enjoy owning CD’s. In time I began to download music(paid). I became content owning music on my phone. Now I pay monthly for a cloud service to download whatever I want. I use the very service I swore never to and can’t foresee going back. I fear the consequences for those who allow regular food delivery apps to pervade their lives and remote chance of unplugging this convenience. Consider how many conveniences have crept into our lives we now feel we couldn’t live without.
Delivery isn’t free. Paying $5 extra between delivery and tipping the driver isn’t an issue for biweekly pizza. Now some people get food delivery multiple times a day. It’s not only the cost of delivery. The food is fast or restaurant food, costing between $10-$30+ per person for the meal equivalent of what we could cook at home for $3-10 per serving. I can grill sirloin steaks, nuke frozen veggies, and bake potatoes to prep 4-5 high quality meals in an hour for $6-7 per meal. Not the restaurant version drowned in oil and butter either, preceded by bread. One client guessed he orders 3-4 times a week estimating $12,000 in lifetime food delivery since adopting the service. He also noted “You quickly run out of healthy choices.” The food we perceive as a healthier usually costs more. Meanwhile those trying to keep cost in check skew to the cheaper higher calorie food. Frequent food delivery adds up in cost and calories. Some services knock down the delivery fee when you order above a certain price point, further encouraging us to spend more money and eat more calories.
We’re drawn to convenience, needing to be busy, necessitating food delivery instead of preparing our own meals. We lose enough time scrolling social media each day to prepare good meals. Cooking extra servings add minimal prep time and save hours of weekly effort. We’re convinced cooking physically and mentally taxes us. Instead we couch surf Netflix awaiting dinner at our door. Television isn’t recuperative, merely lazy and easy. Instead take time with a loved ones in the kitchen while preparing a meal. Enjoy shared quality time. When alone listen to music or audiobooks. Cooking, like driving is a favourite way to create time to consume more books. I’m doing something I must do anyways. It’s a way to create new time merging these activities by stacking habits. I find it rewarding and restorative and consumed 80 books this way last year. We feel entitled to hours on the couch, but what do we have to show for it? Ask yourself if you’re grateful you watched all those tv shows? Enjoy Game of Thrones to see who’s alive at this season’s end. Enjoy Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and Star Trek The Next Generation(the best Trek series - fight me). It’s the Storage Wars marathon and Friends reruns sapping our valuable life away with nothing to show for it.
What can we do individually to combat this trend?
If you haven’t started using these apps resist the temptation. Reserve food delivery for the occasional pizza or Chinese food treat. We’ve long existed comfortably without this service. If you’ve started, set some firm boundaries to limit usage. Guard against regular food delivery creeping into your life. Make getting high calorie food harder not easier. Don’t let food delivery stand on even footing with cooking as daily option.
Plan bulk grocery buying to have high quality food on hand to cook and snack on. Prioritize time to prepare meals. Enjoy other positive experiences while cooking, shared social time or listening to books or music.
Reserve restaurant food for special occasions of socializing with friends and romantic evenings. Don’t dilute the value of these experiences by regularly bringing the food to your door. Delivery won’t replicate the experience. Food delivery isn’t always a good deal for the restaurant. They pay service fees and usually generate less profit on already slim operating margins. Servers and kitchen staff lose out on much needed tip income. Support businesses you value before they close shop.
Set time to workout regularly. Not only do we see increased calorie expenditure, added muscle, and recovery from workouts, they function as a linchpin habit for making other positive lifestyle choices. Working out and eating better quality food have a strong relationship. When working out consistently we feel as though we wasted the effort if we eat poorly.
Food delivery service isn’t making your life better. It invites more calories into our lives at greater financial cost. Laziness replaces regular cooking habits. Once you invite the option into your life and grow used to the convenience it’s difficult to remove. Our society already eats too much and saves too little. Convenient food delivery exasperates both.