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="">AndreyPopov</a>/iStock

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

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.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend