But there’s no comprehensive, up-to-date database with this information for all the places you can get food from. In the absence of that, Jayaraman suggested a general guideline: “I would say employers that have already demonstrated before coronavirus that they care about their workers and prioritize them are going to provide you with safer and healthier environments, not just for their own workers but for you as a customer.”
To some extent, it’s also possible to gauge whether a business is taking the pandemic seriously just based on your own observations. Some grocery stores have cart wipes, hand-sanitizer dispensers, plexiglass dividers at registers, and limits on how many shoppers are allowed in at once, to prevent crowding. If you go to a store that isn’t doing those things, see if other nearby stores are—for your sake and for workers’.
Certainly, though some things are quicker and easier than others.
Alberto Giubilini, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, said that when people perform essential work but must take on extra risks to do so, they should be compensated accordingly. Ideally, he said, the employer or, failing that, the government would see to it that the worker gets paid extra. “If there is no compensation scheme in place—either by the government or by the individual employers—then there certainly is a moral obligation to tip a lot,” he wrote in an email. “We ought to tip way more than we do in normal circumstances.”
Then there are the things you can do to support workers more broadly. “The question isn’t so much about individual choices as much as why the system is failing delivery workers,” said Wilfred Chan, a writer and food-delivery worker in New York City who volunteers with the Biking Public Project, an advocacy group that focuses on food delivery. “Whether customers decide to order, we need their help in fighting for workers to get fair wages, hazard pay, insurance, sick leave, and the protection they need.”
What does that sort of help look like exactly? “The best thing consumers can do is to pressure companies to change their practices, and to vote for politicians that support a robust safety net,” Debra Satz, a philosophy professor at Stanford, wrote in an email. “People should reward the best corporate actors—some stores/chains are stepping up.” In other words, vote with your wallet, and with your actual vote.
Schaffner, the food-science professor, approves, so long as you are able to stay six feet away when you drop off or receive it, and wash your hands before and after preparing or eating it. (And don’t sneeze on it or anything.) He says the same of CSAs, or community-supported agriculture, in which local farms distribute their produce to people’s homes.
The experts I interviewed aren’t all picking just one means of procuring food because they have some public-health or ethical concern on their mind. They’re going to the grocery store, getting food delivered, and picking up takeout like many other people. There’s no single most ethical way to feed yourself—whatever you choose, if you’re careful and conscientious, that’s the best you can do.
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