The Overlooked Ethical Issues of the Coronavirus Pandemic: Food Waste and Digital Disadvantage

It is likely you have seen and heard Coronavirus headlines dominating the news and social media in the recent weeks and months. Amongst many ethical issues relating to the Coronavirus pandemic, this blog will explore two very different ethical issues which have presented themselves due to the restrictions in place in response to the Coronavirus.

Many counties in England entered Tier 2 from the 2nd of December. Image: Wirral View.

The most recent of these issues is food waste, which was initially reported back in March where ‘panic-buyers’ cleared supermarket shelves, leading to tonnes of unopened food being wasted. This time, food waste has been linked specifically with Tier 2- this is the tier in which the majority of the country falls under. There has been a significant amount of negative press regarding the new tier system, which was established after England’s 4-week lockdown in November. The biggest issue appears to be ambiguity relating to the restaurant and pub rules- under tier 2 you are able to go to a pub or restaurant as long as you order a substantial meal with your drink(s), and you cannot just order drinks. This has caused a variety of interpretation by different establishments- with some pubs who traditionally didn’t serve food, having to diversify to serve microwave meals in order to stay open. A rise in food waste has surfaced, as some pub-goers are ordering food alongside their drinks to comply with the new legislation, but order the food intentionally knowing that they will not eat it and will simply drink their drinks and leave.

This issue first came to my attention after hearing one chef of a tier 2 pub speak out about this issue, as he was “scraping whole meals, untouched, into the bin because the people who bought them fancied one pint before catching the train home”. Aside from the obvious ethical issue of wasting food and the damage this causes to the environment, there are also moral issues at play. With the financial hardship many people have endured, especially throughout this year, it seems morally wrong for customers to be ordering food for it to be thrown away, untouched, in a few minutes time. This comes just after Marcus Rashford’s public campaign to ensure free school meals were extended throughout the Summer and October school holidays, and the increased reliance on food banks, which both illustrated the vast number of people in this country who are struggling to afford to eat. However, it could be argued that those who work in pubs should be grateful of the trade and extra income they are receiving as a result of these rules. How does this issue make you feel- do you feel it is insensitive and morally wrong or do you think it is ok because it allows restaurants and pubs to recoup lost earnings?

Untouched food being thown away in tier 2 pubs. Image: Twitter.

The second issue of internet and digital disadvantage has been present since the start of the first lockdown in March, where those not in a key worker role, and students, were urged to work from home. Although this move was necessary in order to protect the health of many, there are ethical and social implications attached to working from home, especially when the internet is relied upon for the vast majority of roles. Working from home is arguably much more successful in larger towns and cities where there is access to faster WiFi and phone signal, although I am sure working from home presents issues wherever you are. However, living in a rural area makes life a lot harder as the WiFi is often a much slower speed, and download times are virtually non-existent. This was difficult enough before the pandemic where it just took longer to browse the internet or stream programmes.

Coronavirus restrictions have caused a significant rise in working from home. Image: Royalty free.

The issue of how significant rural digital deprivation can be was first brought to my attention back in March, at the start of the first lockdown, by an article in The Tab where one student had to “sit on a particular step on my stairs to access Blackboard”. This particular student called on Universities to void the year and use predicted grades to counteract the disadvantages some students faced. Being from a rural area myself, and having studied from home since March, it is clear that this certainly brings its own challenges, especially when it comes to Zoom calls and MS Teams meetings. On the other hand, I am sure many people have had to adapt to working from home where they have had to make video and conference calls for the first time. Some of those people may have had little computer training, putting them at a disadvantage to others who are more accustomed to using technology and different computer programmes on a regular basis. So, is it ethical for those who are digitally disadvantaged to be treated the same as those who have access to better WiFi and better computer literacy?

Although the Coronavirus pandemic has presented many ethical issues over the past few months, these issues seem unique in that little press has been given to digital disadvantage, and the issue of food waste is only beginning to resurface. What do you think to these issues- is it ethical for customers to order food in pubs and restaurants knowing they aren’t going to eat it? Is it fair that those with digital advantage are treated the same as those with digital disadvantage?

Thank you for reading.

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