Oh, Cool, Another CEO With Thoughts On COVID You Should Feel Free To Ignore

Sweetgreen co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman has very unuseful thoughts about COVID and obesity.

Update, September 2, 2021: And just like that, Sweetgreen co-founder Jonathan Neman has deleted his LinkedIn post in which he expressly stated that masks and vaccines will not save us from COVID but that "incentivizing health" might do the trick. It seems that all the clarifying parentheticals and postscripts in the world couldn't keep the post from being dragged all across the internet. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to espouse anti-fat rhetoric on LinkedIn and remove all doubt.

Original post, September 1, 2021: Unfortunately, I love Sweetgreen. I could eat one of its delicious fast casual salads every day of my life and never, ever get tired of it (a theory I have come close to testing). One of the few apps I allow to take up my phone's storage is the Sweetgreen rewards app. But after reading CEO Jonathan Neman's recent musings on LinkedIn, my next Harvest Bowl—if there's a next one at all—is going to taste just a little sour.

On Monday, Neman wrote a post on LinkedIn with all the anti-fat rhetoric that many of us have come to expect from men in power. "78% of hospitalizations due to COVID are Obese and Overweight people," it begins, and of course, it doesn't get any better from there. "Is there an underlying problem that perhaps we have not given enough attention to? Is there another way to think about how we tackle 'healthcare' by addressing the root cause?"

I'm not very comfortable with Neman's decision to put "healthcare" in quotes. Are you?

The post goes on to encourage the government to enact HEALTH MANDATES (Neman's caps lock, not mine) in addition to mask and vaccine mandates, both of which he says "will not save us" from COVID-19. He also talks about identifying the ROOT CAUSE (again, his caps, not mine!) of all the death and destruction wrought by COVID, and by so doing, turn this pandemic into a big crisitunity to achieve a future in which we all look like athleisure models. TL;DR, stop being fat and making yourself sick, okay?

In its reporting on the post, Vice mentions some key phrases within Neman's post that appear to have been edited out since it was originally published:

"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?"

In the current version on LinkedIn, only the final sentence of that passage remains. There's also a hasty addition at the end that might have been added as a result of backlash from readers pointing out the deliciousness of a salad-hawking millionaire CEO saying that we all need to eat healthier. It reads:

FWIW – I am not suggesting that salads are the answer, that taxes are the answer or to actually make unhealthy food illegal. My intention was to spark a conversation on how we treat "Health" vs "Sickness". Sweetgreen will not solve this alone, nor will our government. This is a mindset shift on how we view health.

The problem with the "I'm just here to spark conversation" excuse is that Neman's Big Questions are by no means subversive for the sake of argument; indeed, they've been the cornerstone of anti-fat bias for a century, and the conflation of diet and virtue has had real, measurable negative impacts on Americans' health. Think about what happens when doctors think of fatness as Neman does: a biohackable "problem" that people are too lazy to "solve." That mindset makes doctors far less likely to listen to their fat patients, much less treat them for whatever ailments they might be suffering. Seeing the stats on how many people are hospitalized by COVID shouldn't make us think about how to blame people for comorbidities. It should make us eager to stop the spread of COVID.

But hey, I get it. Fighting COVID by following CDC-recommended guidelines just doesn't have the same flashy social capital as looking at our current pandemic and responding with a set of "what if?"-style Big Questions. At one point in the post, Neman adds the parenthetical, "(in full disclosure I am vaccinated and support others to get vaccinated)." Which really should have been the entire post, without any of the paragraphs that surround it.

To those who have read any interviews with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who takes every available opportunity to deride the American public for its "bad decisions" that lead to obesity, Neman's comments will sound familiar, rooted in big concepts like "mindset" and "impact," and very explicitly not in concepts like "accessible healthcare for all humans whether they meet your personal definition of health by eating salads every day for lunch or not." Isn't it funny how all these Big Thinkers land upon Big Ideas from which they already profit handsomely?