FERN’s Friday Feed: The price of convenience

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

Why I quit food delivery apps

The Guardian

“Ordering precisely what you feel like eating, silently and seamlessly, only to have that hot meal delivered to your door within 30 minutes is an obscene luxury, for a small fee,” writes Josephine Tovey. “It’s the kind of service-on-demand once reserved for the ultra wealthy. Now regular, middle-class nobodies lying hungover on their couches, working late in their living rooms, or isolating at home during a pandemic (all me) can do it too. Like most cheap, modern luxuries though, there are hidden costs. And in 2020, it got harder to pretend we couldn’t see them.”

How a shadow army of ghost kitchens took over America’s restaurants


“As I downed a chicken burrito bowl in my car, I considered the unintentional irony of Chipotle opening its first ghost kitchen just outside the gates of West Point. After all, the burrito bowl is practically the civilian equivalent of an MRE field ration,” writes Adam Chandler. “And just as the military continues to invest in drones, futuristic robot pilots, and even cyborg warriors to reduce the human footprint, so too are restaurants deploying tech to operate more efficiently and with fewer labor costs … It’s a new kind of underground culinary warfare not based on ambiance and real estate, but on crude, efficient optimization.”

An illicit trade in Brazil is sending tiny songbirds to their deaths

Yale Environment 360

“Thousands of saffron finches are being snatched out of South American forests and sold in Brazil for use in brutal, illegal fighting rings,” explains Jill Langlois. “Lax wildlife laws have made it difficult for authorities to crack down on the lucrative trade, leaving traffickers and ring runners undeterred.” The birds are not endangered, but as various subspecies are hybridized “to make bigger, more aggressive fighters,” scientists warn of threats to the subspecies native to Brazil and the ecosystems they are a part of.

How AI kept a poor African farmer in business during the pandemic


When Covid-19 made it hard for Eric Dossekpli, a 49-year-old farmer from Togo, to sell his peanuts, black-eyed peas, maize and cassava, he turned to a new government program giving direct payments to people in need. But how did the government confirm that Dossekpli needed the cash?” writes Malaka Gharib. “As it turned out they couldn’t — without the aid of artificial intelligence.”

Watch an omakase restaurant pivot to takeout

Eater (video)

“When the pandemic hit, Kissaki chef Mark Garcia needed a plan for weathering the shutdown of his four sushi restaurants across the New York area. That’s when he came up with the idea of developing omakases to-go, though he was initially hesitant, assuming that demand would be low, and that he’d be sacrificing quality. To the chef’s surprise, it was a runaway success. ‘It never occurred to us that we would have to speed up that process quicker, because on any given night, we would do about 200 to 300 boxes,’ Garcia says.”