While recognizing that my somewhat cushy existence as an at-home dad/musician/writer doesn’t give me much leeway for complaining, after being the primary meal planner and preparer of the house for the past twenty years, I decided that I needed a break. It wasn’t so much the shopping and cooking that bothered me as it was the planning. Deciding what to eat in order to satisfy everyone’s tastes and restrictions was getting to be a mental chore, so for my 50th birthday I requested a gift certificate to Blue Apron, a meal delivery service that supplies its customers with all the ingredients needed to cook recipes you choose on-line. Easy peasy, and it seemed like a fine antidote to the meal planning virus I’d contracted.
While I’ve enjoyed aspects of the service, after eight weeks of using Blue Apron, I’ve decided that the pros don’t outweigh the cons, and this morning I cancelled my service. Let me preface this by saying that if both my wife and I were working full-time, I might not be so quick to abort the mission. The fact that I have a lot of flexibility to shop and prepare meals changes the ledger considerably.
So why did I cancel? There were three things that made me feel uneasy about the service, as good as it might be.
First, it’s not cheap. I of course knew that going in, but seeing the bill show up on the credit card each week started to wear on me, especially knowing full-well that I could easily drive to a grocery store to pick up whatever food I needed at a fraction of the cost. I was paying $10 per person per meal, so $80 a week. This is not unbelievably expensive, and I doubt a company could do it for much less, but nevertheless, price was one nagging concern.
Second, I found my shopping to be much less frequent, which on the surface is a good thing, but my trips became so infrequent and my habits so poor that our food inventory suffered as a result. It was so easy to say “I’ve got dinner all set for tonight – we can hang in there one more day before I do another shopping run” that we’d be left to face a breakfast of toast and a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches (not that there's anything wrong with that). We also kept running out of basic items like milk, yogurt and bananas. In short, I grew terribly lazy and used Blue Apron as an excuse to avoid shopping at all costs.
But the biggest reason for cancelling the service is the staggering amount of waste created each week by the Blue Apron deliveries. As a guy who started recycling two decades before curbside pickup was a thing, unnecessary waste is an important point for me. Ellen Cushing wrote a nice summary of the waste incurred with a service like Blue Apron (competitors have similar issues) and the somewhat disingenuous claim that most of the materials can be recycled. Blue Apron used to have a free recycling program that allowed customers to send all the contents back to the company, but this has been cancelled, no doubt due to the cost.
If Blue Apron or a service like it could be localized so that – like the Chicago-based Oberweis dairy deliver service – we could have a cooler with reusable ice packs, I would be on-board. Eliminate the box and the ice packs, include a synthetic insulator to separate cold items from the rest, and this could be a service that yields nothing more than a few small plastic bags.
There are also grocery delivery businesses like Instacart and Peapod that are good fits for some people, and I may one day yield to that temptation, but for now I’m going to go back to shopping more regularly and forcing my family to share the burden by choosing a few meals each week that they want me to shop and cook for. At least that’s the plan. How long before it goes awry?