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Online marketing and grocery delivery increased during the epidemic. They can solve America’s hunger problem.

The problem of hunger is growing in the United States. More than 35 million people in the country went hungry in 2019, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. In a report published in March 2021, the non-profit organization Fidding America estimates that approximately 42 million people – or one in eight Americans – could face food insecurity this year. , Which is caused by the increasing number of COVID-19 epidemics.

The problem is particularly acute in minority communities: black and Latin or Hispanic families. Experience Food insecurity is almost twice as high as in white households. Although recent figures are limited, between 2000 and 2010, one in four American Indian or Alaskan Native households was food insecure. In some areas, epidemics have exacerbated the problem. Needless to say, as schools moved to distance learning, children who relied on school meals were at greater risk of food insecurity.

But while the epidemic has exacerbated food insecurity in a number of ways, it may also have provided a roadmap for mitigating the problem. Public Health Emergency has promoted the development of a vast online market for food and grocery delivery – a market where government nutrition support can and should be used to modernize.

Even before the epidemic, the prevailing pattern of food insecurity was changing. For decades, policymakers have called it the “Food Desert” – a shorthand for areas with very little geographical access to healthy food options – the main cause of food insecurity in the United States. But a 2015 analysis of the National Household Food Procurement and Purchasing Survey found that the average American household does not purchase food at a retailer near their home. Instead, most bypass it for the preferred store. And a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that opening a grocery store in the food desert has only a small effect on people’s purchases. In other words, people who used to eat unhealthy food before coming to the grocery store will continue to eat unhealthy food later.

If brick and mortar stores can’t fix our nation’s food inequality, maybe they can go digital.

In 2019, the USDA. Launched A two-year online shopping pilot program in New York State that allowed participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to purchase and purchase groceries from authorized online retailers, including Walmart and Amazon. In January 2020, the pilot. Expansion Washington, then Alabama, Iowa and Oregon in March. On April 1, 2020, it became available in Nebraska.

The online shopping program grew as the epidemic spread across the country, part of the USDA’s Covid 19 response. It now operates through dozens of grocery store chains and independent grocers in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

Snap’s arrival at online retail has allowed families to purchase food while avoiding unnecessary health risks associated with the corona virus epidemic. But this new digital approach to food aid must remain in place even after epidemic precautions have been taken.

On the one hand, it has the potential to reduce the stigma and misunderstandings associated with the use of federal food aid. SNAP participants typically pay groceries using a Recognizable Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. (Before that, SnapCurrency took the form of a paper coupon called a food stamp.) But many EBT card users report that they have received grocery store cashier clerks and people waiting in line behind them. Feel the decisions. Older people, especially those with food insecurity, have the lowest SNAP participation rate despite their eligibility and are one of the demographics that feel extremely embarrassed about enrollment. Ordering online ends up being a face-to-face conversation that can lead to embarrassment and frustration. Online food delivery also makes grocery shopping easier for the elderly, people with disabilities and those living in limited transportation areas.

But changes in online food ordering can also affect the type of food participants use. A little pilot. the study Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that people who shop for groceries online choose healthier foods. And More than one the study It is suggested that smartphone apps can promote positive changes in healthy food consumption. The digital approach to food support can be both designed to improve the management of food benefits and to engage participants towards a healthier lifestyle.

For many communities around the United States, grocery stores are far from accessible as far as fresh produce is concerned. Online delivery can solve this problem.

N Preble / Insplash.

Of course, in order to make online shopping truly accessible, it would be necessary to allow flexible payment methods and, ideally, to waive delivery fees for SNAP-eligible families. Initially InstaCart. Sorry Snap customer delivery and pick-up fees for the first three orders to encourage online ordering, but pilot program participants were generally expected to pay delivery fees, service fees and tips. Also, online delivery requires consumers to have digital literacy and access to reliable broadband Internet. During epidemics, the Federal Communications Commission began offering discounts on phone and broadband services to low-income consumers, and SNAP recipients became automatically eligible.

Online shipments and purchases will have a small impact in rural areas, where popular online delivery services such as InstaCart are less common. But in urban areas, it’s promising. In eight states Participated In the initial USDA pilot, online grocery delivery was available to more than 90% of Snap households in the desert areas of urban food.

For all its horrors, the epidemic has transformed our food culture into a modern age, with platforms such as Uber Eats, Grubhub, and Instacart changing how we buy food. Our federal food support programs need a similar digital overhaul. In an age when fresh food can be delivered to virtually any doorstep, there is no reason why anyone should live in a food desert.

Mia Jackson Bartlett is a graduate student at the School of Architecture, University College London, studying the effects of urban design decisions on health and academic outcomes.

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