The CEO of salad chain Sweetgreen is taking all kinds of online scorn for his recent post about COVID, one that he deleted when the backlash began brewing. Jonathan Neman argued that "no vaccine nor mask will save us," but that healthier eating can. The sentiment has not landed well. Coverage:
- His post: Neman posted his thoughts Tuesday on LinkedIn, and an archived version is here. He started by asserting that 78% of COVID hospitalizations are of people who are obese or overweight, and he suggests that this is the "root cause" of our health problems. "We have been quick to put in place Mask and Vaccine Mandates but zero conversation on HEALTH MANDATES," he writes. (Neman says he is vaccinated and supports the shots.)
- Elaborating: After stating that COVID is "here to stay," Neman floated some alternatives to the "government overreach" of mandates for vaccines and masks. "What if we made the food that is making us sick illegal? What if we taxed processed food and refined sugar to pay for the impact of the pandemic? What if we incentivized health?"
- Backlash: It began in earnest when Vice picked up on the story with snarky headline, "Sweetgreen CEO: Vaccines and Masks Will Not Save Us, But Salads Might." For the record, Neman did not explicitly mention salads, but that theme is common in criticism. "Salad CEO Bravely Proposes Salad as Solution to Relentless Global Pandemic" is the even snarkier headline at Eater. Commenters also accused Neman of "fat-shaming," notes Business Insider.
- A critic: It's true obesity is a mortality factor for COVID, notes Jonathan Chait at New York. "Like a tiny clump of berries in a pile of leaves, there is one small thing of value inside Neman’s salad of nonsense," he writes. But it's ridiculous to take it as far as Neman did, he adds. Getting vaccinated provides a high level of protection. "Being thin helps much less."
- On that point: CDC researchers did indeed report that roughly 80% of hospitalized COVID patients last year were overweight or obese, notes the Washington Post. But unlike Neman, they urged vaccines and masks.
- Bad timing: CNBC notes that Sweetgreen filed for an IPO in June, making this a not-so-great time for the company to endure controversy. It also notes that a tax on processed food and sugar would likely hit low-income people the hardest, in contrast to people willing to plunk down $10 or $15 for a Sweetgreen salad.
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