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Sweetgreen co-founder faces backlash after comments linking COVID to poor diet

In a now-deleted LinkedIn post, Jonathan Neman, whose salad chain filed to go public in June, linked the pandemic to obesity and called for a ban on “food that is making us sick.”
Photograph: Shutterstock

A co-founder of Sweetgreen, the fast-casual salad chain that filed for an IPO about two months ago, drew widespread criticism Wednesday for a since-deleted LinkedIn post linking obesity to the COVID pandemic and calling for the food that is making us “sick” to become “illegal.”

In his post, Jonathan Neman cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistic noting that 78% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 have been overweight or obese.

“We have been quick to put in place Mask and Vaccine mandates but zero conversation on HEALTH MANDATES,” Neman wrote in the deleted post which has been shared widely online. “All the while we have printed unlimited money to soften the blow that shutdowns have caused to our country.”

He added: “What if we focused on the ROOT CAUSE and used this pandemic as a catalyst for creating a healthier future??”

Los Angeles-based Sweetgreen, which has more than 120 units, confidentially submitted a draft registration statement for an initial public offering in June. It has not yet released any further details on the IPO.

The chain announced last week it would be acquiring Spyce, a robot-powered bowl concept with an electric delivery fleet, with plans to use the technology in its restaurants.

Sweetgreen was founded in 2007 by Neman, Nicholas Jammet and Nathaniel Ru—all Georgetown University students at the time. By 2018, it was valued at $1 billion. Most recently, it has an estimated valuation of $1.78 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Sweetgreen did not immediately respond Wednesday to a Restaurant Business request to comment on Neman’s LinkedIn post.

In his comments, he called for a tax on food deemed unhealthy, or even banning it outright.

“What if we made the food that is making us sick illegal?” he wrote. “What if we taxed processed food and refined sugar to pay for the impact of the pandemic.”

On Twitter Wednesday, Neman’s post drew a large number of angry comments, with some vowing never to eat at the salad chain again.

Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens wrote, “I eat my fair share of salads and was hospitalized with a pretty severe bout of COVID that damaged my heart and knocked me out of commission for 6 weeks. I’m gonna go with masks and vaccines. And never, ever make another visit to Sweetgreen.”

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