Peapod: A Means for Food Justice

I admit that I have done little research before writing this post, but there is an idea that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently and may update over the next week:

The Peapod grocery delivery service could end access-related food security issues in the urban United states.

For those of you that don’t know about Peapod (i.e. for anyone that, unlike New Haven, actually has a nearby grocery store) – it’s a grocery delivery service run by Stop and Shop. You can order just about anything that Stop and Shop would usually have in their grocery stores and all your groceries will be delivered to you in plastic bags, often within 24 hours (you can pick a 2 hour delivery time window)

You can buy everything: milk, meat, fruit, vegetables, cheese, coffee, spaghettio’s, marshmallows, beer, and even items outside the common graduate student’s diet. I’ve used Peapod for a few months now and have been really happy. Others claim that bananas show up brown or the lettuce goes bad quickly. Regardless, it has made life a lot easier for me: a graduate student without a car and limited food budget.

The public health implications of this service are incredible. Low-income families often suffer in a automobile-dominated society. If you don’t have a car, you can’t drive to the grocery store. Low-income neighborhoods aren’t a great market for big supermarkets, so you don’t find many Whole Foods in inner-city Detroit. These “food deserts” are becoming a major social problem and were recently featured by a  New York Times Magazine article:

The term is generally used to describe urban neighborhoods where there are few grocers selling fresh produce, but a cornucopia of fast-food places and convenience stores selling salty snacks.

Food injustice” has become a buzzword term featured in several articles to discuss the disparities that exist in the US regarding the access to groceries:

If you don’t have access to groceries, you don’t have access to healthy foods, and therefore you don’t have access to proper nutrition. In case you haven’t read a newspaper in the past ten years: obesity is a pretty massive problem in the US, particularly affecting low-income families. If you can improve access to fresh produce, you can improve diets, you can improve health (or so the arguments goes).

Clearly, Peapod isn’t a perfect solution:

  1. There is a delivery cost that might make grocery delivery financially unavailable to the low-income families that need access to groceries. Government subsidies (or Stop and Shop philanthropy) could make this a non-issue.
  2. Without education, access means nothing. If you have access to all these new healthy foods but just buy beer and marshmallows, your health probably won’t improve (though apparently a twinkie diet can make you a lot healthier).
  3. Rural areas are still kinda left in the dust. Peapod’s grocery delivery probably is not a cost-effective way to improve access to foods to the boondocks.

But there is still a lot of potential.

I think there is an ideal pilot project here somewhere that combines:

  • food stamps
  • Peapod promotional materials
  • education materials regarding diet (including quick, cheap meals cookbook)
  • some kind of subsidy to cover delivery costs

Someone make it happen.

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