The Sweetgreen CEO’s Cruel, Dangerous Pandemic Plan

Jonathan Neman truly appeared to believe he was onto something. Recently, in a prolonged, now-deleted post on LinkedIn, the CEO and co-founder of the high end salad chain Sweetgreen stated on a subject that may appear a little far afield for a dining establishment executive: how to end the pandemic. “No vaccine nor mask will save us,” he composed. (The vaccines, it must be kept in mind, have actually up until now shown to be near-miraculously reliable at conserving those who get them.) Rather, he regreted that Americans are just too fat to endure COVID-19, a truth that he states might be attended to with “health mandates.”

Neman did not enter into numerous specifics about how health must be mandated, or what such requireds would imply for handicapped individuals, though efforts at nationwide enhancement that concentrate on those designated as physiologically unfavorable have actually traditionally ended badly for them. He did use one proposition: The federal government might choose which kinds of food Americans are enabled to consume. More particularly, he argued, the federal government might prohibit or greatly tax some foods, consisting of any sort of processed food, a classification so meaninglessly broad, it would erase essentially whatever equipped on the inner aisles of the typical supermarket—not to point out much of what is offered by Sweetgreen’s rivals.

Neman dealt with reaction after Vice’s Edward Ongweso Jr. reported on the post. The CEO said sorry to Sweetgreen’s personnel in an e-mail, and later on, at a town-hall conference with workers, acknowledged that undoubtedly “Sweetgreen alone is not going to solve this. Salads alone are not going to solve this,” according to a recording gotten by Vice. However, Neman protected the intent of the proposition. And Ongweso has actually because discovered proof that Neman formerly promoted comparable procedures within the business. (Sweetgreen did not react to numerous interview ask for this short article.)

It is, obviously, nearly hilariously practical for a male who’s made millions slinging pricey lettuce to think that the future of the republic may depend upon the feds force-feeding individuals the food he currently offers; that salad is the perfect medication for an extremely infectious breathing infection may not be a reliable argument originating from an actual salad millionaire. More intriguing, however, is how informing Neman’s salvational ramblings are of a hazardous conviction about health that America’s most affluent, most fortunate class long ago washed into sound judgment: that individuals who, unlike them, wind up ill or bad have actually just declined to make the best options and assist themselves. Hypothesizing that America’s health-care crisis might be fixed if everybody simply needed to consume some salad is not just lazy and incorrect; it’s perpetuating a mindset that is making health—and the pandemic—even worse for countless individuals.

As evidence for his concept, Neman provided an argument that’s frequently pointed out by individuals aiming to reframe America’s pandemic failures as those of specific duty rather of institutional rot: According to one CDC research study, 79 percent of individuals hospitalized with extreme COVID-19 in the United States in 2020 had actually a BMI classified as obese or overweight. The portion is disconcerting in a vacuum, and the CDC does assert that high body weight is a threat aspect for extreme COVID-19. However it’s far from clear that it’s a significant danger aspect—the CDC’s own numbers recommend that nearly 74 percent of all Americans over the age of 20 fall under that exact same BMI variety, which implies that, even if weight had no connection to or result on results, you’d still anticipate about three-quarters of those hospitalized with COVID-19 to have a high BMI.

BMI’s uselessness as a proxy for health is a fight for another day, but even if you leave out confounding factors that might help explain the five-point difference—for example, that poor people are more likely to have a high BMI, to delay seeking costly medical treatment, and to work in-person jobs that expose them to the coronavirus—it hardly justifies making cookies illegal. If a bodily variation causes a difference in COVID-19 danger, that doesn’t mean it must be eliminated by force. If you disagree, I’d love to hear your plan for dealing with men, who are much more likely to be hospitalized or die after catching COVID-19 than women.

Neman appended to his LinkedIn post a link to a CNN article that details a report on the global distribution of 2020’s COVID-19 deaths. The report, released in March by the World Obesity Federation, found that the overwhelming majority of deaths occurred in countries where more than half the population has an obese or overweight BMI. CNN used Vietnam’s impressive track record against the pandemic and the nation’s low obesity rates as a foil for Americans’ own failures, both in the pandemic and on the scale.

But ample evidence exists that Vietnam didn’t contain the pandemic because its people are slender. The country relied on the kinds of interventions that aren’t very profitable to outside businesses: proactive governmental action, robust contact tracing, strategic testing, and free food and housing for those who need to quarantine. Vietnam also benefits from a populace whose median age is six years younger than that of the U.S.—a meaningful difference when the worst outcomes of a disease are more closely associated with advanced age than anything else.

The CNN article omits any information about Vietnam’s COVID-19 response or other risk-mitigating population differences. It also doesn’t disclose that the World Obesity Federation is an advocacy group that receives funding from corporations who profit when people are pressured to get thin: a number of pharmaceutical companies that already sell weight-loss drugs or have new ones in much-hyped clinical trials, as well as WW, the diet company formerly known as Weight Watchers.

Neman gets one basic thing right, though, which is what helps these kinds of ideas gain acceptance even among those they might harm, or among those notionally opposed to state punishment for poor health: Fresh, high-quality, nutritionally dense food plays a distressingly minor role in the diet of millions of Americans. Before the government starts slapping chicken nuggets out of your hand, though, it would be useful to consider why that is, beyond the apparent belief that most Americans are too stupid or gluttonous to be given a choice in what they eat. For many of them, the choices don’t exist. Research has shown that poor people know what they’re missing from their diets, and they want quite badly to have those things. Still, the gap between how well high-income people eat and how well low-income people eat has continued to widen.

The problem isn’t them. High-quality ingredients are expensive and time-consuming to prepare when they’re available at all, and people with low wages and long hours—the people most likely to have suffered catastrophic effects of the pandemic, no matter their weight—do not have much time or money to spare. Sweetgreen and restaurants like it exist precisely because so many Americans are time-poor, but they address the problem of food prep only for those who can regularly purchase $15 greens-and-grains bowls. People who now must subsist on frozen dinners and the McDonald’s dollar menu wouldn’t start eating salads topped with salmon and roasted vegetables if their current food sources were taken away, even if they wanted to. Many of them would simply go hungry, which I suppose is one way to lose weight.

Requiring people to prove that they’ve made all the right choices before their lives are valued underpins virtually every cruelty in American health. Lots of people feel no apparent shame in asserting that those without full-time jobs don’t deserve the exact same access to medical care as those who are more economically productive, or that individuals with addictions deserve to pass away or rot in jail for their failures of discipline, or that hospitals should deny life-saving care for COVID-19 to people who are not yet vaccinated.

The people who benefit most from this belief system tend to be those who have parlayed personal advantages into even more enormous personal wealth; they were born on third base and swear they hit a triple. One of Neman’s most prolific forebears in this regard is the Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey, who has been arguing publicly versus affordable health care since at least 2009, and who said in January, during the pandemic’s deadly winter spike, that health care wouldn’t be necessary if individuals would just make the right lifestyle choices, and that medicine wouldn’t solve things; his father, who was an investor in Whole Foods, was also the CEO of a health-care company. Neman and his Sweetgreen business partners met while in school at Georgetown University, and their parents, who helped fund Sweetgreen’s founding, all own their own companies. This is Marie Antoinette telling starving French peasants to eat cake, except the cake story is apocryphal, and this one happened for everyone to see on LinkedIn.

No room exists in this worldview for generosity toward others, or for a basic belief in the inherent value of human life. It’s a policy of coercion and deprivation. Absent from Neman’s call for mandates was any intimation that perhaps the government should use its power to ensure that no American has to choose between low-quality food and starvation; that everyone can find fresh, nutritionally dense, affordable foods in their neighborhood; that people have enough time away from work to prepare meals for themselves and their families if they so choose. Those solutions don’t do much to reinforce the superiority complex of the wealthy, and they probably wouldn’t be really rewarding for business that offer high-end groceries, premade salad, weight-loss pills, or diet plan strategies.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.