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Shoppers' Anxieties And Workers’ Realities: The Truth About Food During COVID-19

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

Grocery clerks and delivery drivers are on the frontlines alongside healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus. But, unlike nurses, coming in contact with highly contagious diseases was not included in their job description. Low wages, limited benefits, and now the pervasive threat of illness?

On March 27, Triangle fast food employees went on a day-long digital strike asking for better sanitary supplies and protective equipment, paid sick leave and a $15 minimum wage. The local strike follows a wave of national labor organizing throughout the food system, including the United Food and Commercial Workers, Amazon warehouse workers, Whole Foods staff and Instacart delivery drivers. Meanwhile, Amazon is looking to hire 100,000 more warehouse and delivery workers across the country amidst predictions of a 32% unemployment rate. WUNC ReporterJason DeBruyn talks with host Frank Stasio about food workers’ labor organizing amidst the uncertain job market and strained supply chains.

Credit Chimin Xiong
Customers in Burke County can reduce their trips to the store by staying updated on shortages and the restocking schedule at this Southeast Asian specialty store thanks to Chimin Xiong's regular social media posts.

For many consumers, grocery stores are the epicenter of anxiety. Food shortages, crowded aisles and worries over contaminated packages have many avoiding stores altogether.

Experts say neither food nor food packaging are likely sources of infection.

But there are steps shoppers and eaters can take to ensure they reduce their chances of bringing the novel coronavirus into their homes and mouths. Stasio talks with Natalie Seymour, a food safety extension associate with North Carolina State University, about staying safe around food and the greater repercussions of the pandemic on our agricultural and food systems. 

He also talks with Stacy Wood, the Langdon Distinguished University chair of marketing at North Carolina State’s Poole College of Management, about the sometimes unexpected behavior consumers exhibit during times of stress and uncertainty. Wood says depending on how long buyers are forced to modify their habits, their new ways of interacting with food, businesses and each other could persist long after a return to so-called normal.

Grant Holub-Moorman coordinates events and North Carolina outreach for WUNC, including a monthly trivia night. He is a founding member of Embodied and a former producer for The State of Things.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
Jason deBruyn is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Digital News, a position he took in 2024. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016 as a reporter.
Jennifer Brookland is the American Homefront Project Veterans Reporting Fellow. She covers stories about the military and veterans as well as issues affecting the people and places of North Carolina.