Is it ethically okay to get food delivered now?

In normal circumstances, most people don’t dwell much on that fact, but during a pandemic, it makes deciding just how to procure sustenance highly fraught: Because every option comes with potential negative consequences for you andothers—cashiers, shelf stockers, delivery people, restaurant workers, and so on—it can seem like there’s no right way to get dinner. Meanwhile, sticking to your own kitchen is safer for everyone involved—but it means not financially supporting workers and businesses that maydesperately need the money. ____________________________________________________ More on coronavirus: ____________________________________________________ What follows is an attempt to work through specific food dilemmas such as this one, including the ethics of getting delivery and how often you should go to the grocery store. By doing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your handsand avoid infection that could occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose. Bydoing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that could occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose. Thermal scanners are effective in detecting people who have developed a fever (i.e. have a higher than normal body temperature) because of infection with the new coronavirus. There is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from infection with the new coronavirus. There is some limited evidence that regularly rinsing nose with saline can help people recover more quickly from the common cold. Whatever food choices you end up making, it’s important to follow the pandemic eating commandments that many journalists (including my colleague Amanda Mull) and public-health experts have already laid out: Don’t shop at a crowded grocery store; have a shopping list and don’t browse; ask delivery people to leave food on your doorstep (and not hand it off to you); stay home ifyou have symptoms of COVID-19 or are at greater risk of dying from it; and of course, wash your hands before and after getting food, try not to touch your face, and wear a mask when yougoout. Taken together, these guidelines are a powerful way of reducing the potential health risks to you and others that come with getting food—whether from a grocery store orarestaurant,via pickup or delivery. For instance, a crowded grocery store is riskier (for you and for workers) than one that caps its occupancy, and a restaurant that gives paid leave to its staff when they’re feeling sick issafer (again, for everyone) than one that doesn’t. Grocery-store, restaurant, and delivery workers, though, are all at risk of getting or spreading the virus no matter which choice you make. Even if you opt out of delivery and spare a courier another potentially risky trip, leaving home to get groceries yourself still heightens others’ risk. “You may be in the store for half an hour, but the workers are there for eight-,nine-, 10-hour shifts, so they have the potential for far more interactions with people,” said Elizabeth Carlton, a professor at the Colorado School of Public Health. When I peppered Robert Salata, a medical professor at Case Western Reserve University, with questions about the various health considerations of each method of obtaining food, he said that I was probably splitting hairs—if you’re not in an at-risk group, choosing one method over another will likely not add so much risk to you and others that it would nullify any other concernsyou might have, such as wanting to support a local restaurant or contribute to delivery workers’ income. But no matter what choices you have, as long as you’re observing the aforementioned general principles, no option seems to be significantly riskier than the others on a per-trip basis—butthe risk does go up with each trip, and getting restaurant food is something you’d probably have to do more often than (and in addition to) getting groceries. Lastly, a bit of good news: “We have no evidence that the virus is transmitted by food,” said Donald Schaffner, a food-science professor at Rutgers University. So wherever you get your food from, it’s most likely safe to eat, though discarding the packaging that takeout meals come in and washing your hands after bringing home groceries are good practices. (You might also consider buying foods that last longer, such as root vegetables, apples, yogurt,andhard cheeses.) Keeping your number of grocery-store visits down doesn’t mean eating like a prepper, with dehydrated meal kits and Spam. (Of course, this way of thinking is also an implicit argument against ordering food from restaurants at all, because if you can get a week’s worth of foodfrom a grocery store, that spares you and others from making any other food-related trips on your behalf that week.) It simply created short-term shortages in stores(and food banks), which were replenished fairly quickly.” The people ferrying food from grocery stores and restaurants to paying customers are currently caught in a terrible bind: They can either make money and risk exposure to the virus or stay home and forgo some or all of their income. “Right now, I think workers would largely ask you to please keep ordering,” said Saru Jayaraman, the director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley. Our industry is definitely worried about people’s safety, including their own, but they’re also worried about survival and feeding their kids … It’s not that they don’t thinkthisis a scary time to be doing delivery, but they also need their jobs.” Besides, the ethical calculations might not be as simple as they seem at first, because going to the grocery store also puts other people at risk—you could be infected and contagious but not know it. “In a moral sense, that at least makes it more gray,” said Christopher Robichaud, a senior lecturer in ethics and public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Because there’s no clear correct answer, “it’s probably far more important that you simply do your best to be decent, conscientious, gracious, and so forth in all your dealings with everyone you interact with right now,” Jorah Dannenberg, a philosophy professor at Stanford, wrote in an email. One last ethical consideration, though: “We’d want to make sure that those who are at highest risk have opportunities to have food delivered to them,” Robichaud said. Many small businesses are in danger of going bankrupt during the pandemic, and one common suggestion for supporting local restaurants is to purchase a gift certificate from them, providing them with a cash infusion. With “gift certificates, it’s not clear what will happen to the money, because restaurants are in such dire straits right now just to pay basic bills and stay afloat. But gift certificates are great if you can do both.” Somewhat hard—which is unfortunate, because both you and food-industry workers are at lower risk of getting the virus when employers provide paid sick leave as well as hand sanitizer, masks, and the like. For instance, my colleague Olga Khazan noted that Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Stop & Shop, and Target all give workers two weeks of paid leave if they contract COVID-19. Agitation for safer and fairer pandemic protocols has made headlines, too, providing further hints as to which companies are prioritizing workers. 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, notjust 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. 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. “If there is nocompensation 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. “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 toorder, 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. 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. 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.