Trade-offs are inevitable: a gain in convenience may cost in packaging or nutrition. A more perfect-looking apple may be less nutrient rich than its uglier tree mate. A mission to source from smaller farms may have unintended consequences. Just like life, our food systems are multifaceted and complicated. What has surprised you lately?
Meal delivery is having a major moment. And now two unlikely players are getting in on the action. Amazon is teaming with Tyson Foods to launch Tyson Taste Makers, “a line of chef-inspired meal kits in premium proteins for home delivery with Amazon Fresh this fall," said Tyson CEO Donald Smith. And the New York Times (through its Cooking section and app) is teaming up with meal delivery startup Chef’d to offer recipe kit packages. “Orders packed with the necessary ingredients will be delivered within 48 hours, and Chef'd and the Times will split the revenue from the venture.”
All these ventures seem to be responding to emerging studies about what Millennials want: highly transparent meal sourcing, partially prepared to save time, while providing a hands-on experience. How will these meal services differentiate themselves and find a way to consolidate their logistics? In the long run, it won’t make sense to have multiple meal service deliveries crowding our driveways.
Recipe kits or prepared meal deliveries aren’t the only new-fangled dinner options out there, as NPR’s food blog The Salt explores. “There's food trucks, takeout, drive-throughs, or delivery ordered through one of many, many apps. Even old concepts like the cafeteria are getting revamped.”
We should welcome all comers, since we may want prepared meals on Monday, ingredients for our own preparations on Tuesday, a chef-prepared meal on Wednesday. Our varied lifestyles will require choices for all schedules and budgets.
Unfortunately, dining convenience is often accompanied by excessive or high-waste packaging. Take single-cup coffee pods, for instance. Billions are tossed each year, and the expectation to disassemble them to recycle their parts is lost on most consumers. A Canadian academic sees room for innovation in compostable or edible packaging.
Packaging is the dirty little secret of meal delivery services. If you’ve ever ordered from one of these services, you are aware that it’s a big problem that needs a solution if we are going to support food-related solutions that don’t generate additional waste streams. Seems like there’s plenty of opportunity now for materials scientists and biochemists to rethink food packaging in new and imaginative ways. We’d love to see some startups in this area at our next Food+City Challenge Prize.
“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Turns out that old chestnut may apply to produce, too. The scars and blemishes on fruits and vegetables destined for the landfill — for being too unsightly to sell — may actually indicate a hard-fought battle with an environmental stressor and a surge in nutrients. “Some blemished produce pack[s] an unexpected nutritional punch — courtesy of its own battles to survive,” explains Jill Neimark in NPR’s The Salt.
It’s also true that food processing — that reviled concept in some food movements — actually makes nutrients more digestible.
Finally, amid its recent problems with food-borne pathogens, Chipotle is trying a variety of approaches, including hiring some big names in food safety to overhaul their practices: more rigorous and frequent ingredient testing, changes in preparation methods (e.g., blanching peppers to kill germs), and cutting ties with some small suppliers. Is this the end of the chain’s goal to work with local farmers? “The goal was to make it easier for Chipotle to trace the origins of the products…. Chipotle [spokesman] said the chain would continue to support smaller farms, and has committed to spending $10 million to help them meet its standards."
This is an important case to follow because it involves a restaurant chain that tried to innovate in the local food space, taking risks (which it may regret now) and providing valuable experience to those who want to follow in Chipotle’s footsteps. Let’s hope they find a way to continue their work to provide healthy food at scale.