Whether they’re doing so voluntarily or due to orders from the state, restaurants across the country are closing their dining rooms and pivoting to take-out or delivery only, which has raised concerns over the safety and ethics of asking someone else to go pick up your food and bring it to you during a pandemic. There is no perfect solution, but there are steps you can take to ensuring you are eating as safely and ethically as possible.
Is it safe?
According to an article by Amanda Mull for The Atlantic, the food prepared at a restaurant is unlikely to pose a threat. In an email interview with Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, Morse explained that the risk of spreading the coronavirus through cooked food is slight:
Even if the person preparing it is sick, he told me via email, “cooked foods are unlikely to be a concern unless they get contaminated after cooking.” He granted that “a salad, if someone sneezes on it, might possibly be some risk,” but as long as the food is handled properly, he said, “there should be very little risk.”
This does, of course, hinge on the health and safety standards of the restaurant, but it’s worth remembering that restaurants have been following strict food handling regulations for quite some time now, and that most have put even stricter systems in place in light of the pandemic. If that isn’t enough to assuage any fears, you can always check a restaurant’s score on your local health department’s website, or stick to restaurants you already feel comfortable dining with.
In terms of delivery, minimising person-to-person contact is the safest thing you can do for yourself and the delivery person, and requesting your order be left outside your door, or in the lobby or foyer of your apartment building is an easy way to do this. Postmates has an official “no-contact” delivery option, but you can add delivery instructions requesting this type of delivery to almost any delivery app.
If you choose to pick up your food, try to go during a time that won’t be busy, and keep a distance of at least six feet between you and any other customers, and avoid crowding around the pick-up counter. Obviously, if you are experiencing any coronavirus symptoms, or feel sick at all, stay home, and either have food delivered, or ask a healthy friend to pick it up and leave it outside your door.
Is it ethical?
There has never been any truly ethical consumption under capitalism, and a global health crisis does not help. Going out to get food when you’re supposed to be staying in feels bad, but asking someone else to do it feels worse, even though doing so may be their major source of income.
There are a lot of ethical factors in play, but the best thing you can do is try to be as considerate of the worker as you possibly can. Besides requesting contactless delivery, not ordering at peak times or during bad weather can help alleviate some stress. If you’re concerned about how the various delivery app companies are treating their workers, Eater has a comprehensive list that outlines what each are offering in terms of sick leave and compensation.
If you have a particular local restaurant you wish to support, it’s worth checking their social media to see what their preferred pickup or delivery method is. Restaurants rarely make much money off of delivery through the apps, and they honestly need all the financial help they can get right now. Just take the precautions listed above, avoiding busy times and keeping a safe distance away from fellow customers and restaurant workers as much as possible.
Be considerate and tip really well
Most of us have never lived through anything like this before, and we are in uncharted waters to some extent. Tensions are high, and a lot of people are facing financial uncertainty, among other stressors. It’s extremely important to be kind and considerate to your fellow humans right now, particularly workers whose jobs require them to be out in the world among crowds of people. (There is absolutely no excuse for being rude to grocery store employees right now; they’re putting themselves at risk to provide food to their communities)
Also, don’t take more that you need. This applies to toilet paper—please stop hoarding it!—but it also applies to food and resources. Not everyone is capable of preparing food for themselves due to disability or illness, and high demands can make it hard for these people to feed themselves. If it seems like delivery apps are experiencing a surge in your area (higher prices and longer wait times), wait a while before ordering or eat something else if possible.
There is no perfect way to feed yourself right now (and honestly there wasn’t before), but you have to eat. Be mindful of the workers who are most at risk in this ethical equation, minimise person-to-person contact as much as you can, and for God’s sake, please tip.