Here’s What You’re Doing to Workers Every Time You Buy One of Those Meal Kits

A new investigation uncovers dark truths about Blue Apron.

<a href="http://www.istockphoto.com/photo/plate-with-a-question-mark-on-desk-gm506148820-84067689?st=_p_dinner%20plate%20question%20mark">AndreyPopov</a>/iStock

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When I dug in to the meal-kit business earlier this year, the math didn’t make much sense to me. For as little as $8.75 per dinner, companies like Blue Apron have workers daintily pack a few sprigs of herbs and pinches of spice in little plastic bags along with a couple of chops or fish filets in boxes cooled with dry ice, to be over-nighted at peak freshness to your door. And they’re apparently not skimping on the groceries—Blue Apron boasts of “specialty ingredients that are fresher than the supermarket” and “meats naturally raised on antibiotic- and hormone-free diets.”

Given the hand labor, the high ingredient/packaging/shipping costs, and the enticing price tag, I concluded that profit margins for such a business model must be razor-thin, and thus that the path to big returns could only come through reaching massive scale. Which means that meal kits, as fresh and revolutionary as they may be, are a destined to be a lot like the rest of the food industry: largely dominated by a handful of massive companies that make big profits selling high volumes of low-priced food.

According to an investigation by Buzzfeed, Blue Apron is like other food businesses in another way (think fast food restaurants or large meat-packing companies): employees are complaining of low pay and tough working conditions. The story focuses on the company’s facility in Richmond, Calif., where, Buzzfeed reports, “14 former employees describe a chaotic, stressful environment where employees work long days for wages starting at $12 an hour bagging cilantro or assembling boxes in a warehouse kept at a temperature below 40 degrees.”

Considering the economics, I can’t say I’m surprised.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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